Christmas in Mayberry

People can grumble all they want about Southern Illinois, but I love it, and I love living in Marion! Especially at Christmas. My husband, Nathan, and I took some friends to the WBVN Very Merry Christmas concert last night. It reminded me of all the things I adore about this community. A packed auditorium filled with some of the nicest people you ever want to meet. Many of them rocking their crazy Christmas sweaters and Santa hats, joining together to sing praises to Jesus.

There is something about the community, with all its diversity, singing Christmas carols that makes my heart melt. I am so grateful to our local radio station, WBVN, for giving us that gift. And our beautiful Civic Center, for making these events possible and affordable. In a time when a family can’t afford to go to the movies and buy popcorn, people can take their children out for a wonderful night of top-notch entertainment and snacks in downtown Marion.

Our town square looks lovely! We have a beautiful nativity scene, a spot for Santa, and the Hanukkah Candle. And guess what? No one is bent out of shape about any of it. And right off the square, at Southern Illinois Mercantile, you can find the coolest gifts ever, all made by area residents. It’s like walking into a Pinterest display with an ice cream counter and fresh coffee! Heaven.

What a blessing it is to have towns that go out of their way to provide holiday meals and entertainment for their residents. I’m happy I can go in stores and hear Christmas songs about Jesus and have checkout people say Merry Christmas. I love piling in the car and going to Candy Cane Lane with my family and dogs. But you know what I like best? There is always someone standing out there to greet us when we go through, AND they hand out dog biscuits to our pooches. They don’t have to do that, but they are giving a gift of love to our community. Look around. Our towns are full of people looking for creative ways to spread some joy. That’s beautiful, and in case you’ve lived here all your life, let me assure you, it’s quite unique.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to bust out of this town and see the world, so I joined the military and did some traveling. I lived in Europe for 2 years, came back stateside, bounced around, and wound up in Florida. I had nearly 25 Christmases away from Marion in places from London to Key West, and while those were great, what we have is better.

I used to sarcastically call this town “Mayberry, USA.” After my scorch-and-burn lifestyle chewed me up and spit me out, I realized what an idiot I was. I found out Mayberry/Marion is a pretty great place to live. All the things I used to despise are now the things I love. Maybe that’s middle age, or perhaps it’s because I have finally found the things in life that matter. Faith in God and caring for others. This area exemplifies those values.

Jesus said, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” I had a lot of Christmas parties where I laughed all night but woke the next day with a hunger in my heart and an emptiness in my soul. I thank God those days are over. And while Christmas in Key West is a sight to behold, take it from someone who’s been there, what we have is worth coming home for. So, from me, Nathan, and the McCloskey Dog Pack, All our Love and Merry Christmas!