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Bells, kettles noticeably absent

No matter where you go, it’s impossible to miss the signs of the Christmas season, especially here in Demopolis, home of the Christmas on the River extravaganza.

I’ve never seen a place that does Christmas bigger – or starts gearing up for the holiday earlier – than the River City. But in a city that glows so brightly with the Christmas spirit, there seemed to be one thing missing: The ringing of bells.

Almost everywhere I’ve lived (five cities in five years, but that’s another story for another day) the dinging of Christmas cash registers has been accompanied by the steady jingle of Salvation Army bell ringers.

But here in Demopolis, that gentle, sometimes insistent, ringing has been absent.

So I started asking around. Joyce Baty, the kind-voiced employee at the local Salvation Army thrift store, said they paid one gentleman to man the kettle at Wal-Mart for a short period this month, but he just wasn’t getting enough spare change for the cash-strapped charity to justify his salary.

“We just weren’t coming out ahead,” she told me.

It seems that volunteers, usually from businesses or civic organizations, usually ring the bells at local stores. A request did go out for local groups to volunteer, Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce Director Jay Shows said, but it was just a few weeks ago.

That far into the Christmas season, in the midst of Christmas on the River craziness, no groups could imagine taking on yet another Christmas project, no matter how good the cause.

Now I’m not trying to say Demopolis isn’t exceptionally generous during the holiday season. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Joyce told me the Salvation Army’s AngelTree program, which solicits Christmas presents to light up the eyes of needy children, was a great success here in Demopolis. Thirty-three kids in our area – all but one from the city limits – had their Christmas wishes fulfilled yesterday, when she delivered the presents (just don’t tell them, or they’ll start ripping apart mom and dad’s closets and ruin Sunday’s fun).

I had just noticed the lack of ringing, and realized I had more spare change laying around than I usually would this time of year. Bell-ringers, to me, are as much part of Christmas as anything Santa-related.

Next year, Joyce said, civic clubs or businesses who are looking to do something for the community, should give the Salvation Army a call. But not during the Christmas season, necessarily … more like football season.

If they can start lining up volunteers in September, she said, the bells can be ringing, our pockets can be a bit lighter, and more children’s eyes can be brightened on Christmas morning.