'And a Creature Was Stirring' Is Here Again!

Jerry Forbes' radio classic has become a part of celebrating the Christmas holidays in Edmonton

BY EMIL TIEDEMANN

IT'S that time of the year, when West Edmonton Mall starts looking like the halls of a stadium concert, except there's less beer and smoke mushrooms billowing above thousands of hurrying heads. It's when the TV networks rerun those familiar holiday standards like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (or my personal favourite, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation). And it's when random houses are lit up in flashing hues that make those cold bus rides home in the dark early evenings a little more bearable.

But for many local families it's the time of the year for another Christmas staple that is special to Edmonton. 'And a Creature Was Stirring' (see video below) airs every Christmas season on 630 CHED and has been for decades now. The 4-&-a-half-minute radio piece was written and voiced by Jerry Forbes, and produced by Bob McCord, and is now one of the longest-running productions in the history of Canadian radio. And it originated right here in Edmonton!

Forbes wrote the inspiring piece based on experiences from another "project" of his, Santa's Anonymous. "Wouldn't it be great if there would be no needy kids...and every kid had a present...not a used present...with wheels stuck on and repainted...but a brand new present," Forbes said after he was once asked why he started Santa's Anonymous, a non-profit organization that delivers free toys to underprivileged children throughout the city.

"From that modest start we said well...let's do it," he continued. "So we went ahead and for the first few years we ran it up on the second floor [at 630 CHED] with my staff and from there it just grew and grew and now it's part of the overall system of the Christmas Bureau."

Forbes, who passed away in 1981, and the rest of the 630 CHED staff took the idea and ran with it in 1954, when they collected about 300 toys in the radio station's basement on 107 St. (it's since moved). Volunteers delivered the toys to the homes of families down on their luck, because Forbes hated that there were too many kids "who simply went without a gift during the Christmas season." They called it Santa's Anonymous.

Since those humble beginnings, the program has grown to accommodate more than 25,000 children each year, and has become "part of the social fabric of Edmonton." 630 CHED continues sponsoring the annual event, in coordination with the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton.

'And a Creature Was Stirring' has itself become a staple of the organization and of 630 CHED, as Edmontonians still gather around their radios to catch the haunting tale of a young man with "shoulder-length hair," a "shaggy beard" and a "sheep-skin wrap" who delivers toys to the needy in the cold city winter. He comes across a barren house on "Maple Street" to drop off some wrapped presents to a single mother of three, and walks away with a gift of his own.

"...It might not ever happen again, but that small child in that small house on Maple Street gave the strange lad in sheep-skin coat the most beautiful Christmas gift he had ever recieved."
-Jerry Forbes' 'And a Creature Was Stirring'

You'll have to listen to the piece in order to see what that gift is, but let's just say that it can't be wrapped up in some box and driven around house to house in a '68 Chevy.

'Creature' also inspired me, 12 years ago, to write my own version of the classic, called 'Street Angels.' But we won't get into that right now...or ever, for that matter!

My point is is that such a simple little chronicle--accompanied by applicable music and sound effects--could easily inspire anyone who spends the less than five minutes it takes to listen to Forbes remind us what Christmas is all about. It's not about busy shopping malls, red-nosed reindeer or grinches, or even about colourful houses aligning the snowy sidewalks. It's simply about the giving, and all the rest is just gravy.

Happy holidays Edmonton!

You can also check out the audio on the website for Santa's Anonymous year-round. The organization is still accepting donations up until Monday, December 14, and will deliver the toys to some 25,000 Edmonton homes between December 19-20. You can visit the website for main drop-off sites and community drop-off sites, or to volunteer. We'll do our best to keep you informed on when 630 CHED (or Global Television) airs 'And a Creature Was Stirring' via I Heart Edmonton's Twitter page.

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