The Grinch was up to his old tricks this Christmas. On December 21 somebody decapitated the large angel and damaged two other figures in El Cerrito's annual Sundar Shadi Christmas Display, and the residents are hopping mad.
I'm going to be charitable and assume the vandals don't understand what they have done, so let me clue them in.
Mr. Shadi came to El Cerrito from India in 1921. Because of prejudice against immigrants, the only job he could get was pumping gas.
But he worked hard, saved his money, made some good investments, and retired a moderately wealthy man at age 50 in 1949.
That's when he began his true calling. That Christmas, his neighbors awoke to find a large star made out of papier-mache in his yard.
He added a fe more sculptures the next year, and the next, and the next, and before long the hillside was covered with the entire town of Bethlehem - wise men, angels, doves, sheep, lambs, shepherds, cows, horses, donkeys, and camels - all lovingly created by Mr. Shadi himself. He kept it up until failing eyesight forced him to call it quits in 1997.
The community quickly took the Christmas display to heart. Little kids grew up and brought their own kids, and then their grandkids, to see it.
Charter busses full of tourists came from as far away as San Jose and Sacramento - more than 70,000 every year.
For many people, Mr. Shadi WAS Christmas. He was a real-life Santa Claus who gave us something more precious than toys: the true spirit of the holiday.
Paradoxically, he wasn't a Christian himself. He was a Sikh. He chose a Christmas display because that was the way he could say, "I love you" in a language we all could understand.
Mr. Shadi died in 2002 at age 101. And then something wonderful happened. The people of El Cerrito refused to let his legacy die.
Under the leadership of former Mayor Jane Bartke, they restored the Shadi sculptures, which had deteriorated badly. That December the Christmas Display made a triumphant return at the corner of Moeser and Seaview. It's been there every Holiday season since, and there's never been a bit of trouble – until now.
So here's a message for the vandals: You may have broken our sculptures, but you have not broken our hearts.
John F. Kennedy famously said, "Don't get mad; get even," and the best way we can get even is to make next year's Christmas Display better than ever.
That's going to cost money, of course. The damage sculptures have to be repaired, and security will have to be beefed up.
But the people of El Cerrito have never failed to come through before, and I see no reason to expect they won't come through this time, either.
You can "adopt" the figure of your choice. A Wise Man (camel included) goes for $500, a shepherd for $350, and sheep are a real steal at only $25. Send a tax-deductible check to the El Cerrito Community Foundation, Inc., P. O. Box 324, El Cerrito CA 94530.
But even more than money, what they really want is you. Whatever skills you have to offer, call Bartke at (510) 235-1315, and she'll find a way to put them to use.