Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year, Y’all!

by Nikaela Frederick

DJ’ed by Athens Latin and emceed by state representative Deborah Gonzalez, the special holiday edition of Rabbit Box was a riveting smorgasbord, as the theme suggests. To start the night off, host Deborah Gonzalez asked the audience to join her in singing the popular tune “Feliz Navidad.” Her inviting presence and relatable humor set a comfortable tone for community sharing.    

The first storyteller of the night, Naji Lyon, comes from humble beginnings in Appalachian America. He described one particular Christmas morning when he and his brother were playing hockey with a makeshift puck and sticks on a frozen lake. In a split second everything changed when the ice cracked under his feet. Naji learned that life was about more than toys. To this day, snowy Christmas mornings make him think back to his miracle on ice in the beautiful Appalachian mountains.

Melissa N. Biehl described what it was like growing up celebrating the holidays with Italian, French, German, and Brazilian relatives. Years ago, after enjoying the food, wine and fellowship with her family, Melissa and her cousins snuck away to have what she described as their own “private Christmas” by distributing food to local street children in Brazil. She and her children have continued the tradition of leaving the comfort of their home on Christmas to share what they have with others.

Adam Lassila shared an intriguing story about Christmastime in Uruguay while hitchhiking and camping under bridges throughout Latin America. Characters in his story included kind strangers, the country’s archbishop, and the president — a leader he so admired. Adam stressed the beauty of not having a plan, handing yourself over to life, because there is a good chance you will be pleasantly surprised by the amazing, unexpected things that unfold.    

Leara Rhodes grew up experiencing what she referred to as “dysfunctional Christmas” each year. Despite that dysfunction she has fond memories of going door to door singing Christmas carols for sick and shut-in church members as a Baptist preacher’s kid. It was not until recent years reflecting back on those times that she has an appreciation for that ritual. Sharing with others not out of obligation but out of a pure desire to spread joy is essentially the true meaning of Christmas. 

Ivan Sumner, who is not a big fan of Christmas, brought a different perspective to the evening. Growing up in the industrial town of Detroit, he knew jobs were hard to come by. It was extremely difficult for his parents to provide for the family not only at Christmas but year round. But one year he really, really wanted a bicycle.

Tim Denson’s mother-in-law was galvanized with an idea: she wanted to surprise a cousin grieving the recent loss of his longtime pet with a new cat for Christmas. While family members were skeptical about the idea, several went to the humane society to choose a cat and hid it out of sight until the whole family gathered ’round the tree on Christmas morning. Would handing over the gift — accompanied by excited, shrieking young cousins — be a touching Hallmark moment?

In the words of Katie Leikam, “There can be many kinds of presents. Sometimes they are dead birds.” Her whimsical story centered around her eccentric grandmother who had a hard time parting with things. Katie grew up helping her grandmother tote her thrift store finds to the basement. Over the years she built up quite an unusual collection of items, including a creepy naked mannequin. When her grandmother’s beloved bird Sunshine died in the late 1980s, she couldn’t bear to part with it. So, wrapped in paper, into the freezer the bird went. Would Sunshine ever find a final resting place?

For the last storyteller of the night, Project Safe’s Executive Director Joan Prittie, gazing at her Christmas tree is particularly pleasurable because the ornaments remind her of some of her favorite life memories — travels, traditions and time with loved ones. She described her southern, conservative, Christian parents’ special holiday tradition: her Dad would whip up a very strong pitcher of Bloody Marys. Everyone imbibed only a single glassful, but Joan recalled a few amusing incidents when decorum teetered.

Throughout the night Deborah read New Year’s resolutions that audience members had submitted on slips of paper provided by the Rabbit Box team. And to end the night, Deborah shared one final story and said she was going to break the Rabbit Box rule of not using visual aids on stage. She shared that growing up in a Puerto Rican household celebrating Nochebuena, her parents taught her to honor guests who came to visit for the holidays by giving them a gift. Extending that tradition to the audience, Deborah revealed that she had Christmas crackers — a  British tradition — for everyone in the building. This surprise filled the night with an even more festive spirit of the holidays, and audience members gathered their coats and filed out with a feeling of leaving a friend’s house. Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, y’all.