December 15, 2005
Pearson-- Some people ask: Why can't the spirit of Christmas last the whole year instead of a few weeks?
It does for one person whose family Christmas tree stays up year round and knew long ago the kind of music he wanted to play.
"Christmas music," replied Chris, and, today, decades later, he only knows how to play just those songs. His deep love for the season remains, spending a lot of his own money to decorate the school where he teaches.
Inflatable soldiers, reindeer, huge lighted wreaths, large jingle bells and snowflakes suspended from the fence greet visitors to Pearson Elementary School.
For those who think Christmas is only for kids, "Slide this back and plug him back in," says Chris Smith, a teacher and master designer for the school's Christmas decorations.
Really, he's a big kid at heart who finds it impossible to wait a whole year for Christmas. "My Christmas tree at home was up all year," says Chris, who added that he changes the decorations occasionally. He has volunteered to decorate his school for the past 25 years. "Two or three years at this scale," says Chris, as he directs students to move a life size Santa dressed in Hawaiian clothing to just the right place.
In one of the school's hallways sits about a dozen decorated trees, a simulated snowfall since it hasn't snowed in Pearson in 15 years, all parts of a Hawaiian Christmas theme. "Let's do something no one else would think to do," says Chris when asked about why a Hawaiian theme.
An underwater scene made of Christmas trees with fish swimming certainly qualifies as something different, and where he uses the decorations to teach problem solving. "I want you to fix my fish. It needs to turn like the other two fish are doing," says Chris as eager students listen to his request.
The team of seventh graders discovers a small pin needs replacing to make it work. "The cooperation and everything brings us closer together," says Marissa Crouso, who replaced the pin in a motor-lever assembly.
The idea of a Hawaiian Christmas began months ago, back when few people even thought about how they would decorate for the season. "Have to look during the summer for Hawaiian stuff," says Chris. It's hard to find a Santa wearing a straw hat and dancing in a hula skirt in winter.
Another Santa reclines in a beach chair wearing sunglasses and sandals, and much harder to find Frosty the Snowman riding a surfboard. Seeing the elaborate display prompts the question: Who pays for the decorations? Money to buy Hawaiian Santa, as well as the rest of the Christmas decorations, comes from the sale of suckers throughout the year at 25 cents each. Proceeds go to a special student council fund.
But sucker sales don't come close to paying for the elaborate decorations. Chris Smith adds of lot of his personal money. How much? "I have no idea," says Chris who enjoys finding and bargaining for holiday items in the off-season.
While he doesn't keep a record of the money he donates, he has an idea for next year's Christmas theme. "I'm toying with it right now, doing some western stuff," says Chris. Would Santa Claus wear a cowboy hat and pack a six-shooter? We'll have to wait and see.
Why does an elementary school teacher go to such personal lengths to decorate for the holidays? "It's more of a spirit to me than anything else. A genuine love you have for it," says Chris, who practices the old saying that it's better to give than receive.