by Christian Shuck
photos by Alia Shuck
Mixed in with the hilarious “glow of electric sex in the window” and dogs barging into the house to ruin the turkey, there is a scene in A Christmas Story I love more than any other. I’m talking about when the Parker family is standing together on the sidewalk, Randy on his father’s shoulders, watching the holiday parade work its way down the street. There’s another shot of kids with their noses pressed up against a window, imagining which toys on the other side of the glass might be theirs Christmas morning.
It’s a Norman Rockwell image taken straight from the The Saturday Evening Post. It is also, for some reason, something I have always wanted to experience for myself. Unfortunately, a certain store chain moved into Greencastle which pulled most of the businesses away from the square before I reached an age when I could form coherent memories. The last “holiday” parade I remember involved standing in a jacket that was too thin next to my dad, complaining that I didn’t want to watch my sister walk with her Girl Scout Troop dressed as a Christmas present. The closest I ever came to realizing that scene from my favorite Christmas movie was a visit I made to F.A.O. Schwartz in Chicago when I was probably ten or eleven. It was pretty cool, but not exactly what I was hoping for.
Truth is after I moved out and graduated from college I gave up on my wishful image. It wasn’t my family’s big holiday, we tended to focus on Thanksgiving. Christmas was dominated by my ex-wife’s family with rules including who was allowed to get out of bed first, what we were allowed to eat, who opened presents first, etc. It had nothing to do with the traditional meaning of the holiday or giving to other people. In my mind it defeated the whole purpose, which probably pushed that nose-against-the-window image away even more. Armed with fake smiles partnered with inauthentic “thank yous” everyone exchanged gifts of things we didn’t want.
It wasn’t until I moved back to Indiana the nostalgic image of what I identified as a “good old fashioned Christmas” returned to me. Like a brick to the head I realized what I wanted was the feeling of the season. I wanted the feeling of family, of honest giving. The traditional part of it doesn’t resonate with me any more but the sense of coming together as a community does. Enter “Miracle on 7th Street”, the downtown holiday celebration put on by the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce. This year was the eighth annual event and my first full experience. It was a blast.
The first Friday of every month is called, well, “First Friday” in Terre Haute. Most of the businesses stay open late, families visit downtown for dinner and shopping. Live bands perform in bars on Wabash. My favorite thing to do is catch a movie at the Indiana Theater. You can even find the occasional inflatable slide. Slap the holiday theme on top of what is already a very successful monthly happening and you have Miracle on 7th. It’s grown so much it lasted two days this year. It was also the first parade for this particular event and my first holiday parade in over twenty years.
When my good friend called to ask if we wanted to go downtown with he and his two kids, Alia and I were both on board. So ready, in fact, it was my bright idea to go downtown to eat dinner. Pizza on me! Forty-five minutes after we were supposed to leave the house we actually made it and had to park two blocks away from the action. Clearly, people were just as interested in a holiday parade as I was. Just a few steps up to Wise Pies and we quickly discovered just how many more people were interested. The pizza parlor was standing room only. I shrugged and suggested we try another place across the street. Quickly we walked over past small, sporadic groups of five or six people. With just under an hour until the parade was supposed to begin, lawn chairs had begun to appear on the sidewalk along Wabash Avenue.
The other restaurant wasn’t standing room only, but there was a group of twenty that had just been seated. No dice. With two hungry small humans we bundled up and headed down the street after being told “We’ll text you when you can sit down”. Navigating our way from 6th to 7th Street grew more difficult the closer we got to the action. A brief stop in front of the Chamber office to say hi to some friends working the event, then we bee-lined it to the Terre Haute Children’s Museum. Not surprisingly at this point, it too was crammed full of people. There was an animal show inside, it was warm and right by the beginning of the parade.
My anticipation was getting out of hand, I couldn’t miss the parade. I was hoping it would start soon and distract all of us from the visions of pizza slices dancing through our heads. Instead we found ourselves under a tent full of vendors selling homemade goods like soaps and “pour a pie”. That’s a large mason jar filled with the necessary ingredients to complete your very own homemade pie. I love these types of things because it gives small business owners a chance to get out and show what they have to offer. The celebration didn’t just offer vendors, either. There was an ice skating rink, window decorating competition, canned food drive and a “train” that would give you a ride around downtown. Paying cash for those activities was an option or you could pay your way by donating canned goods. I loved it.
Finally the floats began to make their way down Wabash. So there I was, holding my good friend’s five year old up to see the lighted parade floats. He didn’t want to get on my shoulders because he said it made his legs fall asleep. His older sister stood next to us with their dad and Alia. If I could have snapped a picture of us, I bet we would have looked a lot like the Parkers. We waved to friends who were walking with different organizations such as Indiana State University, The Dance Studio and the Terre Haute City Firefighters. The winning float received a replica of the “leg lamp”. Hot chocolate wafted through the air; so did Mrs. Lee’s egg rolls from the Chinese market we stood in front of to watch the parade. That only made it better. The kids were excited, I was excited, hell even Olaf the reindeer they brought to the Terre Haute Children’s Museum was excited.
It felt like Christmas.
We traversed back toward our dinner reservation. Still no table available. We ended up back at our original dining destination. Thinking about it now I’m still impressed with how many patrons faced the cold to enjoy the celebration. Every restaurant was jammed. The window fronts of the other businesses crowded with shoppers. Like the scene when George Bailey is running down the street shouting Merry Christmas at passersby, I was full of appreciation.
I know those Norman Rockwell images aren’t accurate depictions of what everyone seems to believe was an easier time. Those days weren’t always easy and the days certainly aren’t easy now. That’s the whole point of supporting and participating in Miracle on 7th. For just a few hours, everyone in attendance stood on the same level and relished in a sense of community belonging. It was about making kids smile, supporting small businesses, friendly competition and the anticipation of a holiday morning just weeks away. If an event like that can cause a cynic like me to find the true spirit of the holiday season after all this time, why not keep that nostalgia alive just a little bit longer?