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The Life and Times of Santa Claus WV

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The Season of Hope

John Johnson

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Alfred C. Gilbert was a great toy maker. In fact, he is responsible for many of the classic toys of the early twentieth centuries, including the erector set and personal chemistry sets. He made everything from toy planes to toy trains and beyond. However, at the start of World War I all of this would change.

Gilbert's factory had been singled out to become a war munitions plant, a need that meant his Country before his beloved toys, a sacrifice made more dear as his own brother was drafted. His factory was soon modified and he began to make things like bullets, Colt pistols, gas maskes, and bayonets. He was miserable.

Not long after this, in the height of the Great War, the US War Department created a campaign that would tear at his heart. They wanted to postpone Christmas. "As the soldiers will have no Christmas," they said, "we too will sacrifice the same." Propaganda posters were soon hung up around the country with sayings like "Santa Claus Wants You To Give Up Christmas." But the worst for Gilbert were those that said he personally was asking boys and girls to give up toys. Coersed by his government contract he even spoke to other toy makers about this point and it was unanimously agreed that Christmas would not take place until after the war. Or would it?

Mr. Gilbert went to Washington. He lobbied at the War Department to reinstate Christmas. He explained that toys were a way to open the minds, hearts, and hopes of the generations and that now more than ever Christmas was needed. In fact, he amazed the politicians by explaining that it was his toys ysed by their department to create engineering plans and strategies. After a vote, Mr. Gilbert's point was carried home where his factory was back to the toy business. He was now serving his Country in another way, by bringing hope to the hopeless. He continued in this effort until his death in 1961.

A toy is a small thing to many, as Christmas to them is just another day. However, there is much more to both. The toy is a gift and a reminder of the hope that the Season brings, just as the day is a reminder of the Hope that was given to mankind long ago through a Baby in Bethlehem. Both have a way of stimulating the mind and the heart of an individual in seen and unseen ways. We are made better by both. May we live each and every day not only sharing the virtues of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men, but may we truly impart the wonder and the hope that it gives in all that we do, not only as Santas but as brothers and sisters in the human experience.



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