By Dan Haley
Here are some things that make me happy and blessed as Christmas approaches:
There are a lot of things that make me feel good about the annual Holiday Food and Gift Basket Program. That hundreds of local people who are having a tough Christmas get some presents donated by hundreds of other local people who are a bit better off this year is what living in Oak Park is really about. That my daughter Mariah and I have for years now been among the countless folks who gather on a Saturday morning and make the actual deliveries fills me with tenderness toward her and what this has taught both of us about our town. But what warms me the most is Oak Park police cars filled with the large black plastic bags carrying the loot as officers join in on the deliveries. Something just terrific about that.
Didn't make it this year, but I love First Baptist Church's live nativity scene — Journey to Bethlehem — which plays out in all weather alongside the church at Oak Park Avenue and Ontario. Part of it is just remembering how amazed our kids were when they first saw the camels and llamas and goats. But there is something blessedly simple in seeing the story of Christ's birth acted out by these church volunteers. And on a cold night, they serve the best hot chocolate.
Not all Santas are meant to be St. Nick. But The Avenue has a grand Santa this year. You'll find him Saturday afternoons at Scoville Square at Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue. … There are cookie walks everywhere you turn. Some, but not all, of the cookies are great. But then you think they all came out of the kitchen of someone connected somehow, trying to do some good and raise some Christmas spirit when what they likely needed was a good night's sleep. … Community Bank rents out a theater at The Lake and shows Miracle on 34th St. Did the guy playing the twitchy shrink get an Oscar nomination? … Through the magic of On Demand we moved The Family Stone one year closer to becoming a holiday tradition at our house. … Starting tonight — that would be 12-12-12 — and continuing through Dec. 15, Mancini's on Lake Street is donating 12 percent of its total revenues to Hephzibah Children's Association. Darned good Italian and there isn't a social service agency in town more worthy than Hephzibah. Plus Al Mancini is offering 12 specials priced at $12.12.
Christmas is about many things but, let's face it, partly it is about finding great gifts that make people you love happy. And that is why I love independent retailers. Did you see all the cool stuff in our Holiday Gift Guide last week? So many lovingly chosen gifts, selected by creative people who started shops because no one else could put up with them. Ahh, entrepreneurs.
Don't you just love walking into a shop at Christmas and knowing the owner? Is there a better feeling than knowing you've just found the perfect gift and because you bought it from a shop in the Arts District, or an indie on Marion Street, that it will be unlike anything else. That's how I felt in 1964 when I bought my first Christmas present. It was for my brother John. I found it at the Harrison Shop at Lombard and Harrison. It was owned by two sisters, Betty and Eleanor.
Took me a long time to figure out which was which. And then, years later, Betty became one of the early investors when we started Wednesday Journal. The gift? Why it was the James Bond 007 board game. Sure it was no "Monopoly," but it was unique.