Holiday lights lined the far end of bleachers. A sprightly spruce stood on the center line, and musicians clustered inside the 3-point line. The gym at North Augusta High School woke Friday morning to the tune of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” as 1,600 students filed in for the annual Christmas Assembly.
A humorous video – complete with a tongue-in-cheek (or tongue-on-pole) reference to "A Christmas Story" and a TikTok-inspired hot cocoa dance aboard the North Augusta Yellow Jackets bus (aka Polar Express) –showed high on the wall at one end of the gymnasium.
The assembly is a more than 30-year tradition at NAHS. It was first begun by Martha Butts, a NAHS teacher who died of cancer last August. Its purpose has been to give cheer to those kids who might otherwise go without during the holiday season.
“I don’t know why she asked me to help continue it, but I feel honored,” said lead organizer Craig Gilstrap.
Students, clubs and organizations this year donated toys worth in total around $8,000 or $10,000, said Gilstrap. Included in that total was a single donation of 19 bicycles from a family that had graduated from NAHS in the 1990s and who had Butts, nicknamed the “Christmas Lady,” as their teacher.
The donations will help about 40 kids in North Augusta, and Gilstrap estimated that another five kids not originally on the list this year might also benefit thanks to extra donations.
The assembly is organized by the school’s Teacher Cadets. The Cadets are a group of students, headed by Gilstrap, who aspire toward teaching. The high school works closely with the Christmas Store, housed at North Augusta’s First Baptist Church, to distribute the gifts to the kids. The Christmas Store will hold a dinner for the families next week, during which the gifts will be picked up.
“It’s nice to help out and get them some of the things that they can’t afford. And it’s just nice to help out in the community,” said NAHS senior and Teacher Cadet Liberty King. King said it was that part about helping people that first nudged her to join the Teacher Cadet program.
“It’s the biggest community service that our high school does for our community,” added Gilstrap, who commented that some of the students at NAHS had been recipients of the program when they were little. It’s become a matter of kids who had been helped out in past and now turning around to help others, he said. “It’s always better to be Santa than to receive from Santa,” he said.