Since 1950, Bridgeport, Connecticut, has erected a “Christmas Village” in its Beardsley Park every year at Christmastime. The Village features all kinds of beautiful holiday scenes (elves, reindeer, etc.) in addition to a fellow dressed up as Santa Claus who hands out presents. The presents are donated by the Police Athletic League, who sponsor the event each year. The Village is especially important to the area’s impoverished children, some of whom would receive no gift without it.
On December 7, 1982, the Village was all prepared for its opening on December 12 when tragedy struck by way of an early morning fire that consumed the large building in which the Village was housed. The entire building, except for one wall, burned to the ground. Not only were all the holiday scenes and decorations destroyed, $14,000 worth of toys were as well. People wept openly. Many children wondered aloud if Santa had died in the fire. To make matters worse, it was quickly determined that the fire had been deliberately set. The arsonist was never caught.
Even though it seemed obvious that the city would have to cancel the Village altogether that year, Leonard Paoletta, the city’s mayor at the time, wouldn’t hear of it. By 11:00 a.m. the morning of the fire, he was already putting plans into motion to get the entire Village rebuilt and in proper working order by December 12. He put out an area-wide call for volunteers to show up at the site ready to work and was beyond pleased when hundreds showed up each day.
Some were expert builders and craftsmen. Others could only carry lumber and other supplies. But everybody worked. The work went on 24 hours a day, each and every day, oftentimes in temperatures that were below freezing.
In addition to all the manpower, many individuals made monetary contributions. Several companies, institutions, and trade unions did as well. The whole project became a perfect example of what people can do when they diligently work together toward the achieving of one goal. And through their efforts a new building was built, new scenes were built, and new toys were purchased and donated. The fire took place on Tuesday, the 7th, and the rebuilt Village was completed and opened on Sunday, the 12th.
The story of the Village’s rebuild was carried by word of mouth, newspaper articles, and television broadcasts until it reached the ears of President Ronald Reagan. On December 12, he placed a personal phone call to the city to compliment them on what they had accomplished. He also mentioned the story on national television on three separate occasions. Today, the Christmas Village is annually erected at a new site in Beardsley Park, but a granite monument stands at the original site to commemorate the amazing rebuild of 1982.
Now, despite the fact that a nativity scene is not a part of Bridgeport’s Christmas Village (at least as best I can tell), there is still a spiritual application that we can draw from the story of the 1982 fire and rebuild. That application is quite simple: No matter how hard Satan tries to destroy Christmas, he can’t do it. And so every year, for at least one month out of the year, the story of Christ’s birth comes front and center. Even more than that, if the story is told properly, mention is also made of Christ’s vicarious death and His glorious resurrection. How Satan must hate that. That’s why we Christians are right to make a big deal of Christmas and right to keep Christ at the center of it.