At Christmas time, we have to make it a point to stop from the hurried nature of the holidays to enjoy the spirit of the Holiday Season and remember the true meaning of Christmas, for He is the reason for the season.
As we think about Christ, we consider what he is and what we want to become. His life exemplified the attributes that we should have if we want to become like he is.
There are many stories about Christmas that demonstrate the feelings of love, giving, and gratitude. These stories can cause those same feelings in those that read them.
May these stories touch your heart and help you feel the joy that should be felt as you consider what Christ has done for all mankind.
Compiled by Brent Frampton
The Old Blue Bike
Amid the bustle of the Christmas Eve excitement, my father was preoccupied. His thoughts kept returning to the used bicycle hidden carefully in the garage rafters. Next to it lay the boxes holding two brand-new shining black, matching three-speed bikes which he had purchased for my two older sisters.
The budget strains of Christmas had prevented Dad from buying a third black three-speed for Leanne, my third sister. Instead, he set about restoring the old single-speed, fat-tired bike the older two no longer rode. Scouring pads and elbow grease made the rusty spokes shine. The inner tubes were patched, and a new coat of paint erased the battle scars of collisions and neglect. A replacement set of handgrips made the handlebars look almost new .
This Christmas Eve, when he finished the bicycle assembly projects and rolled out and placed the rejuvenated old bike next to the new ones, the stark contrast of the old half-sized, blue, thick-tubed bike against the sleek, black beauties made the revamped two-wheeler suddenly look small and old-fashioned. Had he made a mistake in trying to redo the old bike for Leanne? Would she feel slighted?
Early Christmas morning, we were poised in our annual positions in the hall--all in a row, youngest to the oldest. Dad was in the living room making the movie camera and the lights ready to record our grand entrance. My older sisters spotted their black beauties, gave them the once over with due praise and admiration, and moved on. Amid the chaos and clutter,
Leanne stood firmly next to the old blue bike. She was touching every part and talking aloud, "Look, it has new grips and new paint! Just look at those pedals, and it's my very own, my very own bike!" She stayed near the bike and repeated the same speech several times, though no one was listening, no one, that is, except my father. He stood silently, the movie camera held low on his side, listening to Leanne. Tears of joy streamed down his face as he witnessed this perfect acceptance of his imperfect gift.
Joel R. Bryan, "The Old Blue Bike," New Era, Dec. 1991, 21 .
My Christmas Miracle
For many of us, one Christmas stands out from all the others, the one when the meaning of the day shone clearest.
Although I did not guess it, my own "truest" Christmas began on a rainy spring day in the bleakest year of my life. Recently divorced, I was in my 20s, had no job, and was on my way downtown to go the rounds of the employment offices. I had no umbrella, for my old one had fallen apart, and I could not afford another one. I sat down in the streetcar, and there against the seat was a beautiful silk umbrella with a silver handle inlaid with gold and flecks of bright enamel. I had never seen anything so lovely.
I examined the handle and saw a name engraved among the golden scrolls. The usual procedure would have been to turn in the umbrella to the conductor, but on impulse, I decided to take it with me and find the owner myself. I got off the streetcar in a downpour and thankfully opened the umbrella to protect myself. Then I searched a telephone book for the name on the umbrella and found it. I called, and a lady answered.
Yes, she said in surprise, that was her umbrella, which her parents, now dead, had given her for a birthday present. But, she added, it had been stolen from her locker at school (she was a teacher) more than a year before. She was so excited that I forgot I was looking for a job and went directly to her small house. She took the umbrella, and her eyes filled with tears.
The teacher wanted to give me a reward, but--though $20 was all I had in the world--her happiness at retrieving this special possession was such that to have accepted money would have spoiled something. We talked for a while, and I must have given her my address. I don't remember.
The next six months were wretched. I was able to obtain only temporary employment here and there, for a small salary, though this was what they now call the Roaring Twenties. But I put aside 25 or 50 cents when I could afford it for my little girl's Christmas presents. (It took me six months to save $8.) My last job ended the day before Christmas, my $30 rent was soon due, and I had $15 to my name--which Peggy and I would need for food. She was home from her convent boarding school and was excitedly looking forward to her gifts the next day, which I had already purchased. I had bought her a small tree, and we were going to decorate it that night.
The stormy air was full of the sound of Christmas merriment as I walked from the streetcar to my small apartment. Bells rang and children shouted in the bitter dusk of the evening, and windows were lighted and everyone was running and laughing. But there would be no Christmas for me, I knew, no gifts, no remembrance whatsoever. As I struggled through the snowdrifts, I just about reached the lowest point in my life. Unless a miracle happened I would be homeless in January, foodless, jobless. I had prayed steadily for weeks, and there had been no answer but this coldness and darkness, this harsh air, this abandonment. God and men had completely forgotten me. I felt old as death, and as lonely. What was to become of us?
I looked in my mailbox. There were only bills in it, a sheaf of them, and two white envelopes which I was sure contained more bills. I went up three dusty flights of stairs, and I cried, shivering in my thin coat. But I made myself smile so I could greet my little daughter with a pretense of happiness. She opened the door for me and threw herself in my arms, screaming joyously and demanding that we decorate the tree immediately.
Peggy was not yet 6 years old, and had been alone all day while I worked. She had set our kitchen table for our evening meal, proudly, and put pans out and the three cans of food which would be our dinner. For some reason, when I looked at those pans and cans, I felt brokenhearted. We would have only hamburgers for our Christmas dinner tomorrow, and gelatin. I stood in the cold little kitchen, and misery overwhelmed me. For the first time in my life, I doubted the existence of God and His mercy, and the coldness in my heart was colder than ice.
The doorbell rang, and Peggy ran fleetly to answer it, calling that it must be Santa Claus. Then I heard a man talking heartily to her and went to the door. He was a delivery man, and his arms were full of big parcels, and he was laughing at my child's frenzied joy and her dancing. "This is a mistake," I said, but he read the name on the parcels, and they were for me. When he had gone I could only stare at the boxes. Peggy and I sat on the floor and opened them. A huge doll, three times the size of the one I had bought for her. Gloves. Candy. A beautiful leather purse. Incredible! I looked for the name of the sender. It was the teacher, the address simply "California," where she had moved.
Our dinner that night was the most delicious I had ever eaten. I could only pray in myself, "Thank you, Father." I forgot I had no money for the rent and only $15 in my purse and no job. My child and I ate and laughed together in happiness. Then we decorated the little tree and marveled at it. I put Peggy to bed and set up her gifts around the tree, and a sweet peace flooded me like a benediction. I had some hope again. I could even examine the sheaf of bills without cringing. Then I opened the two white envelopes. One contained a check for $30 from a company I had worked for briefly in the summer. It was, said a note, my "Christmas bonus." My rent!
The other envelope was an offer of a permanent position with the government--to begin two days after Christmas. I sat with the letter in my hand and the check on the table before me, and I think that was the most joyful moment of my life up to that time.
The church bells began to ring. I hurriedly looked at my child, who was sleeping blissfully, and ran down to the street. Everywhere people were walking to church to celebrate the birth of the Savior. People smiled at me and I smiled back. The storm had stopped, the sky was pure and glittering with stars.
"The Lord is born!" sang the bells to the crystal night and the laughing darkness. Someone began to sing, "Come, all ye faithful!" I joined in and sang with the strangers all about me.
I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all.
And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.
Trouble at the Inn
For years now whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally's performance in one annual production of the Nativity Play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.
Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in the town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.
Most often they'd find a way to keep him out, but Wally would hang around anyway - not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who'd say, "Can't they stay? They're no bother."
Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play's director, Miss Lambard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally's size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.
And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town's yearly extravaganza of crooks and crèches, of beards, crowns, halos and a whole stage full of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lambard had to make sure he did not wander onstage before his cue.
Then came the time when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.
"What do you want?" Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.
"We seek lodging."
"Seek it elsewhere." Wally looked straight ahead, but spoke vigorously. "The inn is filled."
"Sir we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and we are very weary."
"There is no room in this inn for you." Wally looked properly stern.
"Please good innkeeper, this is my wife Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."
Now for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
"No! Be gone!" the prompter whispered from the wings.
"No!" Wally repeated automatically. "Be gone!"
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband's shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside the inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, and his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.
And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.
"Don't go Joseph," Wally called out. "Bring Mary back." And Wallace Purling's face grew into a bright smile. "You can have my room."
Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were other- many, many others- who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants that they had ever seen.
Christmas Day in the Morning
By: Pearl S. Buck
He woke suddenly and completely. It was four o'clock, the hour at which his father had always called him to get up and help with the milking. Strange how the habits of his youth clung to him still! Fifty years ago, and his father had been dead for thirty years, and yet he waked at four o'clock in the morning. He had trained himself to turn over and go to sleep, but this morning it was Christmas, he did not try to sleep.
Why did he feel so awake tonight? He slipped back in time, as he did so easily nowadays. He was fifteen years old and still on his father's farm. He loved his father. He had not known it until one day a few days before Christmas, when he had overheard what his father was saying to his mother.
"Mary, I hate to call Rob in the mornings. He's growing so fast and he needs his sleep. If you could see how he sleeps when I go in to wake him up! I wish I could manage alone."
"Well, you can't Adam." His mother's voice as brisk, "Besides, he isn't a child anymore. It's time he took his turn."
"Yes," his father said slowly. "But I sure do hate to wake him."
When he heard these words, something in him spoke: his father loved him! He had never thought of that before, taking for granted the tie of their blood. Neither his father nor his mother talked about loving their children--they had no time for such things. There was always so much to do on the farm.
Now that he knew his father loved him, there would be no loitering in the mornings and having to be called again. He got up after that, stumbling blindly in his sleep, and pulled on his clothes, his eyes shut, but he got up.
And then on the night before Christmas, that year when he was fifteen, he lay for a few minutes thinking about the next day. They were poor, and most of the excitement was in the turkey they had raised themselves and mince pies his mother made. His sisters sewed presents and his mother and father always bought something he needed, not only a warm jacket, maybe, but something more, such as a book. And he saved and bought them each something, too.
He wished, that Christmas when he was fifteen, he had a better present for his father. As usual he had gone to the ten-cent store and bought a tie. It had seemed nice enough until he lay thinking the night before Christmas. He looked out of his attic window, the stars were bright.
"Dad," he had once asked when he was a little boy, "What is a stable?"
"It's just a barn," his father had replied, "like ours."
Then Jesus had been born in a barn, and to a barn the shepherds had come...
The thought struck him like a silver dagger. Why should he not give his father a special gift too, out there in the barn? He could get up early, earlier than four o'clock, and he could creep into the barn and get all the milking done. He'd do it alone, milk and clean up, and then when his father went in to start the milking he'd see it all done. And he would know who had done it. He laughed to himself as he gazed at the stars. It was what he would do, and he mustn't sleep too sound.
He must have waked twenty times, scratching a match each time to look at his old watch-midnight, and half past one, and then two o'clock.
At a quarter to three he got up and put on his clothes. He crept downstairs, careful of the creaky boards, and let himself out. The cows looked at him, sleepy and surprised. It was early for them too.
He had never milked all alone before, but it seemed almost easy. He kept thinking about his father's surprise. His father would come in and get him, saying that he would get things started while Rob was getting dressed. He'd go to the barn, open the door, and then he'd go get the two big empty milk cans. But they wouldn't be waiting or empty, they'd be standing in the milk-house, filled.
"What the--," he could hear his father exclaiming.
He smiled and milked steadily, two strong streams rushing into the pail, frothing and fragrant.
The task went more easily than he had ever known it to go before. Milking for once was not a chore. It was something else, a gift to his father who loved him. He finished, the two milk cans were full, and he covered them and closed the milk-house door carefully, making sure of the latch.
Back in his room he had only a minute to pull off his clothes in the darkness and jump into bed, for he heard his father up. He put the covers over his head to silence his quick breathing. The door opened.
"Rob!" His father called. "We have to get up, son, even if it is Christmas."
"Aw-right," he said sleepily.
The door closed and he lay still, laughing to himself. In just a few minutes his father would know. His dancing heart was ready to jump from his body.
The minutes were endless--ten, fifteen, he did not know how many--and he heard his father's footsteps again. The door opened and he lay still.
His father was laughing, a queer sobbing sort of laugh.
"Thought you'd fool me, did you?" His father was standing by his bed, feeling for him, pulling away the cover.
"It's for Christmas, Dad!"
He found his father and clutched him in a great hug. He felt his father's arms go around him. It was dark and they could not see each other's faces.
"Son, I thank you. Nobody ever did a nicer thing--"
"Oh, Dad, I want you to know--I do want to be good!" The words broke from him of their own will. He did not know what to say. His heart was bursting with love.
He got up and pulled on his clothes again and they went down to the Christmas tree. Oh what a Christmas, and how his heart had nearly burst again with shyness and pride as his father told his mother and made the younger children listen about how he, Rob, had got up all by himself.
"The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I'll remember it, son every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live."
They had both remembered it, and now that his father was dead, he remembered it alone: that blessed Christmas dawn when, alone with the cows in the barn, he had made his first gift of true love.
A Gift from the Heart
Norman Vincent Peale
New York City, where I live, is impressive at any time, but as Christmas approaches, it's overwhelming. Store windows blaze with light and color, furs and jewels. Golden angels, 40 feet tall, hover over Fifth Avenue. Wealth, power, opulence-nothing in the world can match this fabulous display.
Through the gleaming canyons, people hurry to find last- minute gifts. Money seems to be no problem. If there's a problem, it's that the recipients so often have everything they need or want that it's hard to find anything suitable, anything that will really say, "I love you."
Last December, as Christ's birthday drew near, a stranger was faced with just that problem. She had come from Switzerland to live in an American home and perfect her English. In return, she was willing to act as secretary, mind the grandchildren, do anything that was asked. She was just a girl in her late teens. Her name was Ursula.
One of the tasks her employers gave Ursula was keeping track of Christmas presents as they arrived. There were many, and all would require acknowledgment. Ursula kept a faithful record, but with a growing concern. She was grateful to her American friends; she wanted to show her gratitude by giving them a Christmas present. But nothing that she could buy with her small allowance could compare with the gifts she was recording daily. Besides, even without these gifts, it seemed that her employers already had everything.
At night, from her window, Ursula could see the snowy expanse of Central Park, and beyond it the jagged skyline of the city. Far below, in the restless streets, taxis hooted and traffic lights winked red and green. It was so different from the silent majesty of the Alps that at times she had to blink back tears of the homesickness she was careful never to show. It was in the solitude of her little room, a few days before Christmas, that a secret idea came to Ursula.
It was almost as if a voice spoke clearly, inside her head. "It's true," said the voice, "that many people in this city have much more than you do. But surely there are many who have far less. If you will think about this, you may find a solution to what's troubling you."
Ursula thought long and hard. Finally on her day off, which was Christmas Eve, she went to a great department store. She moved slowly along the crowded aisles, selecting and rejecting things in her mind. At last she bought some- thing, and had it wrapped in gaily colored paper. She went out into the gray twilight and looked helplessly around. Finally, she went up to a doorman, resplendent in blue and gold. "Excuse me, please," she said in her hesitant English, "can you tell me where to find a poor street?"
"A poor street, miss?" said the puzzled man. "Yes, a very poor street. The poorest in the city."
The doorman looked doubtful. "Well, you might try Harlem. Or down in the Village. Or the Lower East Side, maybe."
But these names meant nothing to Ursula. She thanked the doorman and walked along, threading her way through the stream of shoppers until she came to a tall policeman. "Please," she said, "can you direct me to a very poor street ... in Harlem?"
The policeman looked at her sharply and shook his head. "Harlem's no place for you, miss." And he blew his whistle and sent the traffic swirling past.
Holding her package carefully, Ursula walked on, head bowed against the sharp wind. If a street looked poorer than the one she was on, she took it. But none seemed like the slums she had heard about. Once she stopped a woman, "Please, where do the very poor people live?" But the woman gave her a hard stare and hurried on.
Darkness came sifting from the sky. Ursula was cold and discouraged and afraid of becoming lost. She came to an intersection and stood forlornly on the comer. What she was trying to do suddenly seemed foolish, impulsive, absurd. Then, through the traffic's roar, she heard the cheerful tinkle of a bell. On the comer opposite, a Salvation Army man was making his holiday traditional Christmas appeal.
At once Ursula felt better; The Salvation Army was a part of life in Switzerland, too. Surely this man could tell her what she wanted to know. She waited for the light, then crossed over to him. "Can you help me? I'm looking for a baby. I have here a little present for the poorest baby I can find." And she held up the package with the green ribbon and the gaily colored paper.
Dressed in gloves and overcoat a size too big for him, he seemed a very ordinary man. But behind his steel-rimmed glasses his eyes were kind. He looked at Ursula and stopped ringing his bell. "What sort of present?" he asked.
"A little dress. For a small, poor baby. Do you know of one?"
"Oh, yes," he said. "Of more than one, I'm afraid." "Is it far away? I could take a taxi maybe?"
The Salvation Army man wrinkled his forehead. Finally he said, "It's almost six o'clock. My relief will show up then. If you want to wait, and you can afford a dollar taxi ride, I'll take you to a family in my own neighborhood who needs just about everything."
"And they have a small baby?" "A very small baby."
"Then," said Ursula joyfully, "I wait!"
The substitute bell-ringer came. A cruising taxi slowed. In its welcome warmth, she told her new friend about herself, how she came to be in New York, what she was trying to do. He listened in silence, and the taxi driver listened too. When they reached their destination, the driver said, "Take your time, miss. I'll wait for you."
On the sidewalk, Ursula stared up at the forbidding tenement-dark, decaying, saturated with hopelessness. A gust of wind, iron-cold, stirred the refuse in the street and rattled the reeling ash cans. "They live on the third floor," the Salvation Army man said. "Shall we go up?"
But Ursula shook her head. "They would try to thank me, and this is not from me." She pressed the package into his hand. "Take it up for me, please. Say it's from ... from someone who has everything."
The taxi bore her swiftly from the dark streets to lighted ones, from misery to abundance. She tried to visualize the Salvation Army man climbing the stairs, the knock, the explanation, the package being opened, the dress on the baby. It was hard to do.
Arriving at the apartment on Fifth Avenue where she lived, she fumbled in her purse. But the driver flicked the flag up. "No charge, miss."
"No charge?" echoed Ursula, bewildered. "Don't worry," the driver said. "I've been paid." He smiled at her and drove away.
Ursula was up early the next day. She set the table with special care. By the time she was finished, the family was awake, and there was all the excitement and laughter of Christmas morning. Soon the living room was a sea of gay discarded wrappings. Ursula thanked everyone for the presents she received.
Finally, when there was a lull, she began to explain hesitantly why there seemed to be none from her. She told about going to the department store. She told about the Salvation Army man. She told about the taxi driver. When she was finished, there was a long silence. No one seemed to trust himself to speak.
"So you see," said Ursula, "I try to do kindness in your name. And this is my Christmas present to you."
How do I know all this? I know it because ours was the home where Ursula lived. Ours was the Christmas she shared. We were like many Americans, so richly blessed that to this child there seemed to be nothing she could add to all the material things we already had. And so she offered something of far greater value: a gift from the heart, an act of kindness carried out in our name.
Strange, isn't it? A shy Swiss girl, alone in a great impersonal city. You would think that nothing she could do would affect anyone. And yet, by trying to give away love, she brought the true spirit of Christmas into our lives, the spirit of selfless giving. That was Ursula's secret-and she shared it with us all.
by IRENE B. HARRELL, Wilson, North Carolina
I turned up the fur collar of my coat against a near-freezing wind as I stepped from our warm station wagon into the bare dirt of a front yard on the outskirts of town. Our adult Sunday school class had chosen the address from a Salvation Army list in the evening paper and my husband and I had driven out to meet the family. The idea was to find out their immediate needs so that we could provide a merry Christmas for them, and then, more important, to work with them throughout the year to try to make a real difference, a Christian difference, in their lives.
We had asked God to guide us to the right family, but now it looked as though the house we had chosen was going to be empty. No smoke came from the chimney and in the front door there was only a hole where a knob and a lock might have been, once. But when we knocked, the rag of curtain at the window moved and a small face peered out. A minute passed and then the door was opened by a boy about eight years old.
"Hello," I said. "Is your mother home?"
"Mama not home," he announced gravely. "She workin.' "
"Well, ah--is any grownup here with you?" He shook his head.
"Let's step in for a minute," my husband suggested. "The house'll get cold with the door standing open." The boy moved shyly back and we entered the tiny room.
I'll never forget what we saw. There was a bed, sagging to the floor, the mattress oozing stuffing at every rip and seam. No sheets, no blankets. A small chest of drawers in the corner held a dusty glass punch bowl with cups hanging around the rim. A Bible lay beside it. On the floor a chipped enamel pan held some lumps of corn meal mush the children had been eating by fistfuls. The black wood stove was icy cold.
The boy who had let us in now stood protectively between two smaller children, a boy and a girl. Her oversized slacks were held together by a safety pin. All three youngsters were barefoot.
And there was a baby. He was lying on a pile of straw and rags that had once been an upholstered chair. He was wearing a remnant of an undershirt and a diaper that hadn't been changed for a long time.
I thought of my own warmly dressed children and my baby in her lovely birch crib with its clean white sheets and I started to cry. I'd never really poverty before.
That afternoon we went back with blankets, shoes, diapers, food and clothes. Again, the mother was not there. But apparently she'd been home long enough to build a blazing fire, so hot the children had the front door standing wide open. A coal scuttle held scraps of linoleum from a pile of debris in the yard next door.
The next day we finally found the mother at home. Her name was Virginia and the children, in order of age, were Arthur Lee, Violet, Danny and the baby, David Ray. Virginia was a tiny woman in a yellow bouffant-organdy dress. She answered our questions quietly and was not offended that we had come to help.
What did she need most? A refrigerator so the baby's milk wouldn't sour and something for the stove that wouldn't burn as fast as linoleum. . . .
The class found a refrigerator, a bed, a crib, several chairs, sheets, more blankets. On Christmas, there were toys for the children and clothes and food for everyone. The wood stove was replaced by an oil heater that would not go out while the mother was away. The class pledged the money to pay the oil bills for the coming year.
The family's immediate physical needs had been relatively easy to satisfy.
But what about the Christian difference?
Every week or two my husband and I would go to see Virginia and her family. Sometimes we'd carry hand-me-downs, or groceries, or books, sometimes we'd go empty-handed, just to visit. But she always gave us the same warm greeting. I remember the pride with which she invited me to sit down. She hadn't been able to exercise that kind of courtesy before, when she had no chairs.
Frequently, our four older children went along with us on these visits, and occasionally we took the baby. I had to explain to Virginia about our baby. German measles during my pregnancy had left little Marguerite deaf. When I told Virginia that the doctors said nothing could be done about it, I could see she was deeply affected.
On our next visit she greeted us with shining eyes. "Oh, Mrs. Harrell," she said, "I believe God is going to make your baby hear! Don't you feel it too? Can't she already hear a lot better than she could? I've been praying so hard ever since you told me. I know she's going to hear!"
I just smiled at Virginia. She didn't know as much about science as I did. I couldn't expect her to understand that nerve deafness was not curable. Of course I had prayed for my child; but my prayers had been ones of thankfulness for her, not prayers for healing. I took the doctors' words as final.
Marguerite was almost a year old when we first noticed the change in her. For a while we couldn't believe it ourselves, but at last we became convinced that she really was hearing certain loud sounds. When we took her back to the hearing clinic for testing, there was no doubt about it. Our daughter, whose nerve deafness had been pronounced complete and incurable, had begun to hear! In four short months her diagnosis had changed from "profoundly deaf" to "moderately to severely hard of hearing."
The doctors were amazed, but Virginia wasn't even surprised. "God did it, Mrs. Harrell. Didn't I ask Him for an icebox and a good stove, and didn't He give them to me? There's nothing He can't do, if we just ask Him."
I stared at her, trying to understand faith like this, reaching out my own feeble portion to try to take hold of hers.
"Mrs. Harrell," she said, "I'm going to keep on praying for that baby."
"Yes!" I whispered, "Please keep praying. Don't ever stop."
It worked, you see, our Christmas project; it even accomplished the "Christian difference." Of course, the difference was in our lives, not Virginia's. But then, we'd asked God to guide us to the poor, and He generally knows where they are.
A Boy Learns a Lesson
Thomas S. Monson
In about my tenth year, as Christmas approached, I longed for and electric train. The times were those of the economic depression, yet my mother and dad purchased for me a lovely electric train.
Christmas morning bright and early I thrilled when I noticed my train. The next few hours were devoted to operating the transformer and watching the engine pull its cars forward - then backward around the track.
Mother said that she had purchased a windup train for the widow Hansen's boy, Mark, who lived down the lane at Gale Street. As I looked at his train, I noted a tanker car which I so much admired. I put up such a fuss that my mother succumbed to my pleadings and gave me the tanker car. I put it with the train set and felt pleased.
My mother and I took the remaining cars and the engine down to Mark Hansen. The young boy was a year or two older that I. He had never anticipated such a gift. He was thrilled beyond words. He wound the key in his engine, it not being electric or as expensive as mine, and was overjoyed as the engine and the three cars, plus caboose went around the track.
I felt a horrible sense of guilt as I returned home. The tanker car no longer appealed to me. Suddenly, I took the tanker car in my hand, plus and additional car of my own, and ran all the way down to Gale Street and proudly announced to Mark, "we forgot to bring two cars which belong to your train."
I don't know when a deed has made me feel any better than that experience as a ten-year-old boy.
Pattern of Love
I didn't question Timmy; age nine, or his seven-year-old brother, Billy about the brown wrapping paper they passed back and forth between them as we visited each store.
Every year at Christmas time, our Service Club takes the children from poor families in our town on a personally conducted shopping tour. I was assigned Timmy and Billy, whose father was out of work. After giving them the allotted $4.00 each, we began our trip. At different stores I made suggestions, but always their answer was a solemn shake of the head, no. Finally, I asked, "Where would you suggest we look?"
"Could we go to a shoe store, Sir?" answered Timmy. "We'd like a pair of shoes for our Daddy so he can go to work". "
In the shoe store the clerk asked what the boys wanted. Out came the brown paper. "We want a pair of work shoes to fit this foot," they said. Billy explained that it was a pattern of their Daddy's foot. They had drawn it while he was asleep in a chair.
The clerk held the paper against a measuring stick, then walked away. Soon, he came with an open box, "Will these do? " he asked. Timmy and Billy handled the shoes with great eagerness. "How much do they cost?" asked Billy? Then Timmy saw the price on the box. "They're $16.95, "he said in dismay. "We only have $8.00."
I looked at the clerk and he cleared his throat. "That's the regular price," he said, "but they're on sale; $3.98, today only." Then, with shoes happily in hand the boys bought gifts for their mother and two little sisters. Not once did they think of themselves.
The day after Christmas the boy's father stopped me on the street. The new shoes were on his feet, gratitude was in his eyes. "I just thank Jesus for people who care," he said. "And I thank Jesus for your two sons," I replied. "They really taught me more about Christmas in one evening than I had learned in a lifetime."
The "W" in Christmas
Each December, I vowed to make Christmas a calm and peaceful experience. I had cut back on nonessential obligations - extensive card writing, endless baking, decorating, and even overspending. Yet still, I found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments, and of course, the true meaning of Christmas.
My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six year old. For weeks, he'd been memorizing songs for his school's "Winter Pageant." I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd be working the night of the production. Unwilling to miss his shining moment, I spoke with his teacher. She assured me there'd be a dress rehearsal the morning of the presentation. All parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come then. Fortunately, Nicholas seemed happy with the compromise.
So, the morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in ten minutes early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down. Around the room, I saw several other parents quietly scampering to their seats. As I waited, the students were led into the room. Each class, accompanied by their teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor. Then, each group, one by one, rose to perform their song.
Because the public school system had long stopped referring to the holiday as "Christmas," I didn't expect anything other than fun, commercial entertainment - songs of reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer. So, when my son's class rose to sing, "Christmas Love," I was slightly taken aback by its bold title.
Nicholas was aglow, as were all of his classmates, adorned in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright snowcaps upon their heads. Those in the front row- center stage - held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song.
As the class would sing, "C is for Christmas," a child would hold up the letter C. Then, "H is for Happy," and on and on, until each child holding up his portion had presented the complete message, "Christmas Love."
The performance was going smoothly, until suddenly, we noticed her; a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter "M" upside down - totally unaware her letter "M" appeared as a "W".
The audience of 1st through 6th graders snickered at this little one's mistake. But she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W".
Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and we all saw it together. A hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. In that instant, we understood the reason we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the chaos, there was a purpose for our festivities. For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear:
"C H R I S T W A S L O V E"
And, I believe, He still is.
The Gift of the Magi
by O. Henry
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."
The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."
"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.
"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
Down rippled the brown cascade.
"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand.
"Give it to me quick," said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?"
At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-- what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"
Jim looked about the room curiously.
"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."
The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
A Mother's Prayer of Faith
Many years ago, President Harold B. Lee recounted to me an experience of a President Ballantyne who grew up in Star Valley, Wyoming. This is harsh country. The summers are short and fleeting, while the winters linger and chill. President Ballantyne told of a special Christmas season from his boyhood days. He said:
"Father had a large family; and sometimes after we had our harvest, there was not much left after expenses were paid. So Father would have to go away and hire out to some of the big ranchers for maybe a dollar a day. He earned little more than enough to take care of himself, with very little to send home to Mother and the children. Things began to get pretty skimpy for us.
"We had our family prayers around the table; and it was on one such night when Father was gone that we gathered and Mother poured out of a pitcher, into the glass of each one, milk divided among the childrenbut none for herself. And I, sensing that the milk in the pitcher was all that we had, pushed mine over to Mother and said, 'Here, Mother. You drink mine.'
" 'No, Mother is not hungry tonight.'
"It worried me. We drank our milk and went to bed, but I could not sleep. I got up and tiptoed down the stairs, and there was Mother, in the middle of the floor, kneeling in prayer. She did not hear me as I came down in my bare feet, and I dropped to my knees and heard her say, 'Heavenly Father, there is no food in our house. Please, Father, touch the heart of somebody so that my children will not be hungry in the morning.'
"When she finished her prayer, she looked around and saw that I had heard; and she said to me, somewhat embarrassed, 'Now, you run along, son. Everything will be all right.'
"I went to bed, assured by Mother's faith. The next morning, I was awakened by the sounds of pots and pans in the kitchen and the aroma of cooking food. I went down to the kitchen, and I said, 'Mother, I thought you said there was no food.'
"All she said to me was, 'Well, my boy, didn't you think the Lord would answer my prayer?' I received no further explanation than that.
"Years passed, and I went away to college. I got married, and I returned to see the old folks. Bishop Gardner, now reaching up to a ripe age, said to me, 'My son, let me tell you of a Christmas experience that I had with your family. I had finished my chores, and we had had supper. I was sitting by the fireplace reading the newspaper. Suddenly, I heard a voice that said, "Sister Ballantyne doesn't have any food in her house." I thought it was my wife speaking and said, "What did you say, Mother?" She came in wiping her hands on her apron and said, "Did you call me, Father?"
"'"No, I didn't say anything to you, but I heard a voice which spoke to me."
"' "What did it say?" she asked.
" ' "It said that Sister Ballantyne didn't have any food in her house."
" ' "Well, then," said Mother, "you had better put on your shoes and your coat and take some food to Sister Ballantyne." In the dark of that winter's night, I harnessed the team and placed in the wagon bed a sack of flour, a quarter section of beef, some bottled fruit, and loaves of newly baked bread. The weather was cold, but a warm glow filled my soul as your mother welcomed me and I presented her with the food. God had heard a mother's prayer.' "
Heavenly Father is ever mindful of those who need, who seek, who trust, who pray, and who listen when He speaks. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life". God's gift becomes our blessing. May every heart open wide and welcome HimChristmas day and always.
The c-c-choir Boy
Everyone was surprised--everyone except Mrs. Brown, the choir directorwhen Herbie showed up in November to rehearse for the church's annual Christmas cantata.
Mrs. Brown wasn't surprised because she had persuaded Herbie to "at least try." That was an accomplishment for lately he had quit trying nearly everything-reciting in class, playing ball, or even asking his brothers or sisters to pass the potatoes.
It was easy to understand--he stuttered. Not just a little either, and sometimes when his tongue spun on a word, like a car on ice, the kids laughed. Not a big ha-ha laugh, but you can tell when people are laughing at you, even if you're only nine.
Mrs. Brown had figured Herbie could sing with the-Other tenorsCharley and Billy-and not have any trouble, which is exactly the way it worked. Billy was given the only boy's solo, and the rest of the time the three of them sang in unison, until Charley contracted the measles. Even so, Billy had a strong voice and Herbie knew he could follow him.
At 7:15, the night of the cantata, a scrubbed and combed Herbie arrived at church, wearing a white shin, a new blue and yellow bow tie, and his brown suit. Mrs. Brown was waiting for him at the door.
"Billy is home in bed with the flu," she said. "You'll have to sing the solo." Herbie's face grew pale.
"I c-c-can't," he answered.
"We need you," Mrs. Brown insisted.
It was unfair. He wouldn't do it. She couldn't make him. All these thoughts tumbled through Herbie's mind until Mrs. Brown told him this:
"Herbie, I know you can do this-with God's help. Across from the choir loft is a stained glass window showing the manger scene. When you sing the solo, I want you to sing it only to the Baby Jesus. Forget that there is anyone else present. Don't glance at the audience." She looked at her watch. It was time for the program to begin.
"Will you do it?"
Herbie studied his shoes.
"I'll t-t-try," he finally answered in a whisper.
A long 20 minutes later, it came for Herbie's solo. Intently, he studied the stained-glass window. Mrs. Brown nodded, and he opened his mouth, but at that exact instant someone in the congregation coughed.
"H-H-Hallelujah," he stammered. Mrs. Brown stopped playing and started over. Again Herbie fixed his eyes on the Christ Child. Again he sang.
"Hallelujah, the Lord is born," his voice rang out clear and confident, and the rest of his solo was just as perfect. After the program, Herbie slipped into his coat and darted out the back door-so fast that Mrs. Brown had to run to catch him. From the top of the steps, she called, "Herbie, you were wonderful, Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas to you. Mrs. Brown," he shouted back. Then turning, he raced off into the night through ankle-deep snow-without boots. But then he didn't really need them. His feet weren't touching the ground.
The Christmas We Gave Away
By Marilyn Ellsworth Swinyard
The Christmas I remember best began with tragedy. It happened at 6 a.m. on one of those crisp Idaho Falls mornings the day before Christmas. Our neighbors, the Jesse Smith family, slept peacefully in their two-story home. The baby, barely six months old, was in a crib next to her parents' room, and the three older children were upstairs.
Suddenly something jarred Jesse from his sleep. He thought he smelled smoke. Could a spark from the torch he'd defrosted the frozen water pipes with the day before have started a fire in the basement? Still half asleep, he stumbled to the bedroom door and flung it open. Clouds of black smoke poured into the room. "Lorraine!" he yelled. "Get the baby!" He ran toward the stairs and his sleeping children. The smoke was thicker as he gasped for breath. "Rick! Tom! Wake up!" The boys scrambled out of their beds. "Run, boys!" Tom grabbed his younger brother's hand, and they raced down the smoke-filled stairway to safety. His daughter's room was next. As Jesse groped through the heavy shroud of gray, he called, "Cindy! Cindy! Where are you?"
"Here, Daddy, here!" He followed the frightened cries, scooped up his daughter in his arms, and with his hand over her face, felt his way out the room and down through a narrow path of searing flames. They coughed, choked, gasped for breath, until they at last stumbled out the door where a relieved wife and three children stood shivering in the snow.
Now the family looked to the smoke and flames pouring out the roof of their home, the home that the night before had held all their earthly treasures. It had also held a promise of Christmas, mulled cider, homemade candy, and stockings waiting to be filled. They stood huddled in their nightclothes, barefoot in the biting cold, and watched their Christmas burn up along with their house.
The spell was broken by the sound of sirens piercing the icy air. Firemen leaped from the huge red trucks and turned their powerful hoses on the blaze. Seconds later, the bishop of the Smiths' ward drove up, bundled the family into his car, and took them to a home the ward elders quorum had just completed as a fund-raising project. They were not to witness the firemen's hopeless battle with the flames. For when the trucks finally pulled away, this time in silence, nothing stood of their house but its charred skeleton outlined against the sky.
And tomorrow was Christmas. At our house we were putting the last secret wrappings on the presents, making the last batch of popcorn for popcorn balls to go in our Christmas stockings. We three children were attempting dubious harmony with our favorite carols and breaking into giggles at the results.
Then Dad came in with the news. We sat with serious faces listening to him tell of the fire, the narrow escape, the house where the Smiths were spending Christmas Eve.
Why? Mother said. Why did this happen, just at Christmas? It isn't fair. They had children, just the same ages as ours, she said. Jesse and Dad were the closest friends; they even joked that they were so close they wore the same size shirt. The same size shirt! "Bill," Mother began hesitantly, "would you mind terribly if we gave Jesse one of the shirts I bought you for Christmas? You wear the same size ..." A hush fell on us all. We all seemed to be thinking the exact same thing. "I've got it!" my ten-year-old brother shouted. "We'll give the Smiths a Christmas! A Christmas for Christmas!" "Where could we get one?" my inquisitive little sister asked. "We'll give them ours," the others chorused in.
"Of course! We'll give them ours!" The house rang with excited voices, until Dad's stern command silenced us. "Hold it! Let's make sure we all want to do this. Let's take a vote. All in favor say aye."
"AYE!" chorused back at him. "All opposed?" was met with silence.
The hours that followed are ones we will never forget. First we sat around the tree and handed out presents. Instead of opening them, the giver would divulge their contents so the label could be changed to the appropriate Smith family member. My heart fell when Dad handed Kevin a box wrapped in gold foil and green ribbon. "It's a baseball glove, son," Dad told him, and a flash of disappointment crossed Kevin's face. I knew how he'd longed for that glove, and Dad wanted to say, "You keep it, son," but Kevin smiled as if he'd read our thoughts. "Thanks, Dad. It's just what Stan wanted, too," he re-plied.
"Look, here's the recipe holder I made for you, that is, for Sister Smith." We signed all the tags "From Santa," and the activity that followed would have put his workshop elves to shame.
They had presents, but what about a Christmas dinner? The turkey was cooked, pies baked, the carrots and celery prepared, and then all packed in a box. The Christmas stockings must be stuffed. Dad got a length of clothesline and some clothespins to hang the stockings with, but what about a tree? We looked at ours. Could we really part with it? "I know," Dad volunteered. "Let's decorate it with things they'll need." And so more things were added to the tree: a tube of toothpaste tied with red ribbon, a razor, comb, bars of soap nestled in the branches. Finally it was all ready.
It was a strange procession that silently paraded through the dark streets of Idaho Falls that night. Father led the way carrying a fully deco-rated tree. Mother followed with a complete Christmas dinner, down to the last dish of cranberry sauce. The three of us children pulled wagons and a sled piled with boxes of gifts. We waited until the last light was out in the Smiths' borrowed home, and then Mom and Dad stealthily carried each item in the door. When the last stocking had been hung, we turned again toward home.
All the way home I worried about what waited for my family at our home. What if the others were disappointed? All that was left were a few pine needles and paper scraps. I couldn't have been more wrong. The minute we were back inside we were more excited than ever. Every pine needle and paper scrap was a reminder of the magic of the evening, and we hadn't taken that to the Smiths. It was in our home as real as if you could see it. A happier family never went to bed on a Christmas Eve, and the next morning the magic was still there. For our celebration we wrote a promise to each person on a card and presented it around a spruce branch tied in a red ribbon.
"One shoe shine. To Father. Love Kevin." "This is good for two turns doing the evening dishes. Love, your husband Bill." And so it went.
Our Christmas dinner consisted of scrambled eggs and bacon, toast and sliced oranges. Somehow, I don't remember a better one. And I know we sang our carols that night with the same unconventional harmony, but it sounded sweeter than angels to me.
"Oh, Mommy," said my small sister as she snuggled up for her bedtime Christmas story, "I like to give Christmases away." Tears blurred the book in my mother's hands, because she knew that none of us would ever forget this Christmas, the one when we gave our best gift. And as she read the story of the Baby born in a manger, it seemed our gift was but a small tribute to him who gave his best gift, his Son to us.
A Brother Like That
A friend of mine named Paul received an automobile from his brother as a Christmas present. On Christmas Eve when Paul came out of his office, a street urchin was walking around the shiny new car, admiring it. "Is this your car, Mister?" he asked.
Paul nodded. "My brother gave it to me for Christmas."
The boy was astounded. "You mean your brother gave it to you and it didn't cost you nothing? Boy, I wish" He hesitated.
Of course Paul knew what he was going to wish for. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels.
"I wish," the boy went on, "that I could be a brother like that."
Paul looked at the boy in astonishment, then impulsively he added, "Would you like to take a ride in my automobile?"
"Oh yes, I'd love that!"
After a short ride, the boy turned and with his eyes aglow, said, "Mister, would you mind driving in front of my house?"
Paul smiled a little. He thought he knew what the lad wanted. He wanted to show his neighbors that he could ride home in a big automobile. But Paul was wrong again. "Will you stop where those two steps are?" the boy asked.
He ran up the steps. Then in a little while Paul heard him coming back, but he was not coming fast. He was carrying his crippled younger brother. He sat him down on the bottom step, then sort of squeezed up against him and pointed to the car.
"There she is, Buddy, just like I told you upstairs. His brother gave it to him for Christmas and it didn't cost him a cent. And some day I'm gonna give you one just like it. And then you can ride around and see for yourself all the things that I've been trying to tell you about."
Paul got out and lifted the lad to the front seat of his car. The shining-eyed older brother climbed in beside him and the three of them began a memorable holiday ride. That Christmas Eve, Paul learned what Jesus meant when He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
The Best Christmas
The Christmas party was over. Several of the men were sitting at a table reminiscing about the Christmas days of their childhood. The conversation turned to the best Christmas of their lives. As they went around the table, they noticed one man hadn't said anything. They asked, "Come on.. Frank, What was your best Christmas?" Frank said, "The best Christmas I ever had was when I didn't even get a present." The others were surprised. They had to hear the story. Frank began to talk...
"I grew up in New York. It was the great depression and we were poor. My Mother had died when I was just eight years old. My Dad had a job but he only worked two or three days a week and that was considered good. We lived in a walk up and we just barely had enough food and clothes. I was a kid and didn't really notice."
"My Dad was a proud man. He had one suit. He would wear that suit to work. When he came home, he would take off the jacket and sit in his chair still wearing his shirt, tie and his vest. He had this big old pocket watch that had been given to him by my mother. He would sit in his chair, the chain from watch hanging out, connected to the fob in his vest buttonhole. That watch was his proudest possession. Sometimes, I would see him, just sitting there, looking at his precious watch. I bet he was thinking of my mother."
"One year, I was about twelve, chemistry sets were the big thing. They cost two dollars. That was big money but every kid wanted a chemistry set including me. I began to pester my Dad about it a month or so before Christmas. You know, I made all the same kid promises. I would be good. I would do my chores. I wouldn't ask for anything else again. My dad would just say, 'We'll see.."
"Three days before Christmas he took me to the carts. There was this area where all the small merchants keep their street carts. They would undersell the stores and you could get a good buy. He would take me to a cart and pick out some little toy. "Son, would like something like this?" I, of course, would tell him, 'No, I want a chemistry set.' We tramped to nearly every cart and him showing me some toy car or toy gun, and me refusing it. I never thought that he didn't have the money to buy a chemistry set. Finally, he said, we better go home and come back the next day."
"All the way home, I pouted and whined about the chemistry set. I repeated the promises. I said I didn't care if I never got another present. I had to have that chemistry set. I know now that my Dad felt guilty about being able to give me more. He probably thought he was a failure as a Father and I think he blamed himself for my mother's death. As we were walking up the stairs, he told me, that he would see what he could do about getting me the chemistry set. That night I couldn't even sleep. I could see myself inventing some new material. I could see the New York Times.. 'Boy wins Nobel Prize!"
"The next day after work, my Dad took me back to the carts. On the way, I remember, he bought a loaf of bread, he was carrying it under his arm. We came to first cart and he told me to pick out the set I wanted. They were all alike, but I went through them, like I was choosing a diamond. I found the right one and I almost yelled. 'This one. Dad!'"
"I can still see him, reaching into his pant's pocket, to get the money. As he pulled the two dollars out, one fluttered to the ground, he bent over to pick it up and as he did, the chain fell out of his vest. The chain swung back and forth. 'No watch.' In a flash, I realized that my Dad had sold his watch. He sold his most precious possession to buy me a chemistry set. He sold his watch, the last thing my mother had given him, to buy me a chemistry set."
"I grabbed his arms and I yelled, 'No.' I had never grabbed my Dad before and I certainly had never yelled at him. I can see him, looking at me, a strange look on his face. 'No, Dad, you don't have to buy me anything.' The tears were burning in my eyes. 'Dad, I know you love me.' We walked away from the cart and I remember my Dad holding my hand all the way home."
Frank looked at the men. "You know, there isn't enough money in the world to buy that moment. You see, at that moment, I knew that my Dad loved me more than anything in the world."
A Christmas Miracle in the 51 Chevy
-- Author Unknown
In September 1960, I woke up one morning with six hungry babies and just 75 cents in my pocket. Their father was gone. The boys ranged from three months to seven years; their sister was two. Their Dad had never been much more than a presence they feared. Whenever they heard his tires crunch on the gravel driveway they would scramble to hide under their beds.
He did manage to leave $15 a week to buy groceries. Now that he had decided to leave, there would be no more beatings, but no food either. If there was a welfare system in effect in southern Indiana, at that time, I certainly knew nothing about it.
I scrubbed the kids until they looked brand new and then put on my best homemade dress. I loaded them into the rusty old 51 Chevy and drove off to find a job. The seven of us went to every factory, store and restaurant in our small town. No luck.
The kids stayed, crammed into the car and tried to be quiet while I tried to convince whomever would listen that I was willing to learn or do anything. I had to have a job.
Still no luck.
The last place we went to, just a few miles out of town, was an old Root Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop. It was called the Big Wheel. An old lady named Granny owned the place and she peeked out of the window from time to time at all those kids.
She needed someone on the graveyard shift, 11 at night until seven in the morning. She paid 65 cents an hour and I could start that night. I raced home and called the teenager down the street that baby-sat for people. I bargained with her to come and sleep on my sofa for a dollar a night. She could arrive with her pajamas on and the kids would already be asleep. This seemed like a good arrangement to her, so we made a deal.
That night, when the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers, we all thanked God for finding Mommy a job. And so I started at the Big Wheel.
When I got home in the mornings I woke the baby-sitter up and sent her home with one dollar of my tip money-fully half of what I averaged every night.
As the weeks went by, heating bills added another strain to my meager wage.
The tires on the old Chevy had the consistency of penny balloons and began to leak. I had to fill them with air on the way to work and again every morning before I could go home. One bleak fall morning, I dragged wagged myself to the car to go home and found four tires in the back seat.
There was no note, no nothing, just those beautiful brand new tires. Had angels taken up residence in Indiana? I wondered. I made a deal with the owner of the local service station. In exchange for his mounting the new tires, I would clean up his office. I remember it took me a lot longer to scrub his floor than it did for him to do the tires. I was now working six nights instead of five and it still wasn't enough.
Christmas was coming and I knew there would be no money for toys for the kids. I found a can of red paint and started repairing and painting some old toys. Then I hid them in the basement so there would be something for Santa to deliver on Christmas morning. Clothes were a worry too. I was sewing patches on top of patches on the boys pants and soon they would be too far gone to repair.
On Christmas Eve the usual customers were drinking coffee in the Big Wheel. These were the truckers, Les, Frank, and Jim, and a state trooper named Joe. A few musicians were hanging around after a gig at the Legion and were dropping nickels in the pinball machine. The regulars all just sat around and talked through the wee hours of the morning and then left to get home before the sun came up.
When it was time for me to go home at seven o'clock on Christmas morning I hurried to the car. I was hoping the kids wouldn't wake up before I managed to get home and get the presents from the basement and place them under the tree. (We had cut down a small cedar tree by the side of the road down by the dump.) It was still dark and I couldn't see much, but there appeared to be some dark shadows in the car-or was that just a trick of the night?
Something certainly looked different, but it was hard to tell what. When I reached the car I peered warily into one of the side windows. Then my jaw dropped in amazement. My old battered Chevy was filled full to the top with boxes of all shapes and sizes. I quickly opened the driver's side door, scrambled inside and kneeled in the front facing the back seat.
Reaching back, I pulled off the lid of the top box. Inside was a whole case of little blue jeans, sizes 2-10! I looked inside another box: It was full of shirts to go with the jeans. Then I peeked inside some of the other boxes: There were candy and nuts and bananas and bags of groceries.
There was an enormous ham for baking, and canned vegetables and potatoes. There was pudding and Jell-O and cookies, pie filling and flour. There was a whole bag of laundry supplies and cleaning items. And there were five toy trucks and one beautiful little doll.
As I drove back through empty streets as the sun slowly rose on the most amazing Christmas Day of my life, I was sobbing with gratitude. And I will never forget the joy on the faces of my little ones that precious morning.
Yes, there were angels in Indiana that long-ago December. And they all hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop.
The Christmas Scout
by Sam Bogan
In spite of the fun and laughter, 13 yr. old Frank Wilson was not happy. It was true, he had received all the presents he wanted, and he enjoyed the traditional Christmas Eve reunions with relatives for the purpose of exchanging gifts and good wishes..........but Frank was not happy because this was his first Christmas without his brother, Steve, who during the year, had been killed by a reckless driver. Frank missed his brother and the close companionship they had together.
He said good-bye to his relatives, and explained to his parents that he was leaving a little early to see a friend, and from there he could walk home. Since it was cold outside, Frank put on his new plaid jacket. It was his FAVORITE gift. He placed the other presents on his new sled, then headed out, hoping to find the patrol leader of his Boy Scout troop. Frank always felt understood by him.
Tho' rich in wisdom, his leader lived in the Flats, the section of town where most of the poor lived. His patrol leader did odd jobs to help support his family. To Frank's disappointment, his friend was not home.
As Frank hiked down the street toward home, he caught glimpses of trees and decorations in many of the small houses. Then, thru one front window, he glimpsed a shabby room with limp stockings hanging over an empty fireplace. A woman was seated nearby....weeping.
The stockings reminded him of the way he and his brother had always hung theirs side by side. The next morning, they would be bursting with presents. A sudden tho't struck Frank--he had not done his "good deed" for the day. Before the impulse passed, he knocked on the door. "Yes?" the sad voice of a woman asked. Seeing his sled full of gifts, and assuming he was making a collection, she said, "I have no food or gifts for you. I have nothing for my own children."
"That's not why I am here, " Frank replied. "Please choose whatever presents you would like for your children from the sled."
"Why, God bless you!" the amazed woman answered gratefully. She selected some candies, a game, a toy airplane and a puzzle. When she took the Scout flashlight, Frank almost protested. Finally, the stockings were full.
"Won't you tell me your name?" she asked, as Frank was leaving.
"Just call me the Christmas Scout," he replied.
The visit left Frank touched, and with an unexpected flicker of joy in his heart. He understood that his sorrow wasn't the only sorrow in the world.
Before he left the Flats, he had given away the rest of his gifts. His plaid jacket had gone to a shivering boy. Now, Frank trudged toward home, cold and uneasy. How could he explain to his parents that he had given his presents away?
"Where are your presents, son? asked his father as Frank entered the house. "I gave them away," he answered in a small voice.
"The airplane from Aunt Susan? Your new coat from Grandma? Your flashlight?? We tho't you were happy with your gifts."
"I was......very happy," Frank said quietly.
"But, Frank, how could you be so impulsive?" his mother asked. "How will we explain to the relatives who spent so much time and gave so much love shopping for you?"
His father was firm. "You made your choice, Frank. We cannot afford any more presents."
With his brother gone, and his family disappointed in him, Frank suddenly felt dreadfully alone. He had not expected a reward for his generosity, for he knew that a good deed always should be its own reward. It would be tarnished otherwise. So he did not want his gifts back. However, he wondered if he would ever again recapture joy in his life. He tho't he had this evening....but it had been fleeting. He thought of his brother.....and sobbed himself to sleep.
The next morning, he came downstairs to find his parents listening to Christmas music on the radio. Then the announcer spoke:
"Merry Christmas, everyone! The nicest Christmas story we have this morning comes from the Flats. A crippled boy down there has a new sled this morning left at his house by an anonymous teenage boy. Another youngster has a fine plaid jacket, and several families report that their children were made happy last night by gifts from a teenage lad who simply called himself the 'Christmas Scout'. No one could identify him, but the children of the Flats claim that the Christmas Scout was a personal representative of old Santa Claus himself.
Frank felt his father's arms go around his shoulders, and he saw his mother smiling thru her tears.
"Why didn't you tell us, son? We didn't understand. We are so proud of you."
The carols came over the air again, filling the room with music--"Praises sing to God the King, and peace on Earth goodwill to men."
An Exchange Of Gifts
I grew up believing that Christmas was a time when strange and wonderful things happened; when wise and royal visitors came riding, when at midnight in the barnyard, animals talked to one another, and in the light of a fabulous star, God came down to us as a baby.
Christmas to me has always been a time of enchantment, and never more so than the year when my son Marty was eight. That was the year that my children and I moved into a cozy trailer home in a forested area just outside of Redmond, Washington.
As the holidays approached, our spirits were light, unhampered even by the winter rains that swept down Puget Sound, dousing our home and making our floors muddy. Throughout that December, Marty had been the most spirited, and busiest of us all. He was my youngest; a cheerful boy, blond-haired and playful, with a quaint habit of looking up at you and cocking his head like a puppy when you talked to him.
Actually, the reason for this was that Marty was deaf in his left ear, but it was a condition which he never complained about.
For weeks, I had been watching Marty. I knew that something was going on with him that he was not telling me about. I saw how eagerly he made his bed, took out the trash, carefully set the table and helped Rick and Pam prepare dinner before I got home from work. I saw how he silently collected his tiny allowance and tucked it away, not spending a cent of it. I had no idea what all this quiet activity was about, but I suspected that somehow it something to do with Kenny.
Kenny was Marty's friend, and ever since they found each other in the springtime, they were seldom apart. If you called to one, you got them both. Their world was in a meadow, a pasture broken by a small winding stream, where the boys caught frogs and snakes, where they searched for arrowheads or hidden treasure, or where they would spend an afternoon feeding squirrels peanuts.
Times were hard for our little family, and we had scrimped and saved to get by. With my job as a meat wrapper and with a lot of ingenuity around the house, we were much better off than Kenny's family. They were desperately poor, and his mother struggled to feed and clothe her two children. They were a good, solid family. But Kenny's mom was a proud woman, very proud, and she had strict rules.
How we worked, as we did each year, to make our home festive for the holiday! Ours was a handcrafted Christmas of gifts hidden away and ornaments strung about the place. Marty and Kenny would sometimes sit still at the table long enough to help make cornucopias or weave little baskets for the tree. But then, in a flash, one whispered to the other, and they would be out the door and sliding cautiously under the electric fence into the horse pasture that separated our home from Kenny's.
One night, shortly before Christmas, when my hands were deep in Peppernoder dough, shaping tiny nut-like Danish cookies heavily spiced with cinnamon, Marty came to me and said in a tone mixed with pleasure and pride, "Mom, I've bought Kenny a Christmas present. Want to see it?" So that's what he's been up to, I said to myself. "It's something he's wanted for a long, long time, Mom." After wiping his hands on a dish towel carefully, he pulled from his pocket a small box. Lifting the lid, I gazed at the pocket compass that my son had been saving all those allowances to buy. A little compass to point an eight-year-old adventurer through the woods.
"It's a lovely gift, Martin," I said, but even as I spoke, a disturbing thought came to mind: I knew how Kenny's mother felt about their poverty. They could barely afford to exchange gifts among themselves, and giving presents to others was out of the question. I was sure that Kenny's proud mother would not permit her son to receive something that he could not return in kind. Gently, carefully, I talked over the problem with Marty. He understood what I was saying.
"I know, Mom, I know! But what if it was a secret? What if they never found out who gave it?" I didn't know how to answer him. I just didn't know.
The day before Christmas was rainy and cold and gray. The three kids and I all but fell over one another as we elbowed our way about our little home, putting finishing touches on Christmas secrets and preparing for family and friends who would be dropping by. Night came. The rain continued. I looked out the window over the sink and felt an odd sadness. How mundane the rain seemed for a Christmas Eve!
Would wise and royal men come riding on such a night? I doubted it.
It seemed to me that strange and wonderful things happened only on clear nights, nights when one could at least see a star in the heavens.
I turned from the window, and as I checked on the ham and bread warming in the oven, I saw Marty slip out the door. He wore his coat over his pajamas, and he clutched a tiny, colorfully wrapped box in his hand. Down through the soggy pasture he went, then a quick slide under the electric fence and across the yard to Kenny's house. Up the steps on tiptoe, shoes squishing, he opened the screen door just a crack; placed the gift on the doorstep, took a deep breath, and reached for the doorbell, and pressed on it hard.
Quickly Marty turned, ran down the steps and across the yard in a wild effort to get away unnoticed. Then, suddenly, he banged into the electric fence. The shock sent him reeling. He lay stunned on the wet ground. His body quivered and he gasped for breath. Then slowly, weakly, confused and frightened, he began the grueling trip back home.
"Marty," we cried as he stumbled through the door, "what happened?"
His lower lip quivered, his eyes brimmed. "I forgot about the fence, and it knocked me down!" I hugged his muddy little body to me. He was still dazed and there was a red mark blistering on his face from his mouth to his ear. Quickly I treated the blister and, with a warm cup of cocoa, Marty's bright spirits returned. I tucked him into bed and just before he fell asleep, he looked up at me and said, "Mom, Kenny didn't see me. I'm sure he didn't see me."
That Christmas Eve I went to bed unhappy and puzzled. It seemed such a cruel thing to happen to a little boy on the purest kind of Christmas mission -- doing what the Lord wants us to do -- giving to
others -- and giving in secret at that. I did not sleep well that night. Somewhere deep inside I think I must have been feeling the disappointment that the night of Christmas had come and it had been just an ordinary, problem-filled night, no mysterious enchantment at all. However, I was wrong.
By morning the rain had stopped and the sun shone. The streak on Marty's face was very red, but I could tell that the burn was not serious. We opened our presents, and soon, not unexpectedly, Kenny was knocking on the door, eager to show Marty his new compass and tell about the mystery of its arrival. It was plain that Kenny didn't suspect Marty at all, and while the two of them talked, Marty just smiled and smiled. Then I noticed that while the two boys were comparing their Christmases, nodding, gesturing and chattering away, Marty was not cocking his head. While Kenny was talking, Marty seemed to be listening with his deaf ear.
Weeks later, a report came from the school nurse, verifying what Marty and I already knew. "Marty now has complete hearing in both ears."
The mystery of how Marty regained his hearing, and still has it, remains just that -- a mystery. Doctors suspect, of course, that the shock from the electric fence was somehow responsible. Perhaps so. Whatever the reason, I just remained thankful to God for the good exchange of gifts made that night.
So you see, strange and wonderful things still happen on the night of our Lord's birth. And one does not have to have a clear night either, to follow a fabulous star.
The Promise of the Doll
Ruth C. Ikerman
When I met my friend on the crowded street, she held out her hand to me and said, "I hope you can help me. I’m desperate." Wearily she explained, "I’m about to cry and it’s all over a doll. I simply have to find a doll for my granddaughter."
As tears filled her eyes, I remembered the terrible shock we all had felt over the death of her daughter who had been such a vivacious young mother until stricken several months before. The young husband was doing a fine job with the little girl, but it was on the grandmother that much of the burden of planning for good things remained . And this explained her Christmas errand.
"I blame myself entirely," she told me, "for not starting earlier, but I never thought it would be a problem to find one of these special dolls. There is not one of this variety left in town!"
I asked her, "Well, why can’t you settle for another kind of doll?"
She shook her head. "One of the last things my daughter said to me before the pain got so bad was how sorry she was that she had refused to buy this doll for her little girl. She told me that she had thought the child was too young for such a doll, and had refused to buy it for her birthday, supposing there were lots of occasions ahead when she could get it for her."
Then she told the rest of the story. The little girl had come to her mother’s bedside and asked whether the doll might arrive at Christmastime. The young mother grasped the tiny hand in hers and said, "I promise you this for Christmas." Then she had asked her own mother to do this one thing. "Just make sure that my little girl gets that doll this Christmas."
Now my friend was about to fail in her mission. "It’s all my fault," she kept repeating. "I waited until too late. It will take a miracle now."
Secretly, I agreed, but I tried to keep up a polite facade of courage. "Maybe the child has forgotten, and will be happy with something else."
Grimly my friend replied, "She may forget, but I won’t." We parted to go our separate ways.
With my mind only half on my shopping, I found the ribbon a neighbor wanted to finish a baby blanket she was making. A few minutes later I stopped at her door to leave the package and was invited inside.
Her two little girls sat on he floor, playing with their dolls. As I sat down, I noticed that one of the dolls was the same kind my friend was seeking. Hopefully I asked, "Can you remember where you bought that doll?"
My neighbor gave me her warmhearted smile. "That’s not a doll," she said, "She’s a member of the family. As near as I can see she probably was born and not made. She came to us by plane from a favorite aunt in the East."
So I told her that I had a friend who was searching frantically for such a doll for the little girl whose mother had passed away during the year. Apparently unaware of us, the two children played happily. The mother and I spoke in adult words about facing a loss at the holiday time, and how much we wished we could help my friend.
Later, when I got up to leave, the two little girls followed me to the door.
"Dolly is ready to leave, too," They told me. Sure enough, she was dressed in a red velveteen coat and hat with a white fur muff.
"Where is Dolly going?" I asked.
They laughed happily. "With you, of course! You know where the lady lives, don’t you—the one who needs the doll so badly?"
I started to tell them that of course I couldn’t take this doll. Then I looked at their faces, happy in the moment of giving. Something in my heart warned me that if I said the wrong thing, I could ruin their joy of giving for the rest of their lives. Silently I took the doll, fumbling with my car keys so that they could not see the mist over my eyes.
The Anonymous Benefactorby Susan Easton Black
With a Cadillac, a maid, and a gardener, my family always had a Christmas with the best gifts from Santa’s sleigh.
My anticipation of opening gifts on Christmas Day was boundless, for I knew my mother was an uncontrolled shopper when it came to my whims. After opening one gift after another, I toted my new acquisitions up and down the street so all the neighbors would know that Santa loved me best and that my parents were spoiling me to my complete satisfaction.
From such a worldly background of material prosperity, it seemed only natural for me to fantasize that when I had children of my own the established tradition of wealth and abundant giving at Christmas would continue. If that had been the case, I would not have had one memorable Christmas—just more of the same.
It was in 1977, almost twenty years ago, that my Christmas took a strange twist. Circumstances had changed. I was no longer the little girl awaiting the parental handout, but was an adult attempting to make my own way in life. I was a graduate student in 1977, completing a doctoral degree and raising three small sons alone. Like several other graduate students, I had obtained university employment as a research writer for a professor; and like most of the students, I was struggling to meet my financial obligations.
Five days before Christmas, I realized that my mismanagement of funds would prevent much gift buying of any kind. It seemed unbearable to me.
Cuddling my sons, I reluctantly explained my abhorrence of debt and the specter of our economic plight. My emotions surfaced as the children attempted to comfort me by nodding assuredly, “Don’t worry! Santa Claus will give us gifts.”
Cautiously, I explained, “I think Santa Claus is also having a bad year.”
With certainty my first born son, Brian, announced, “But on television his sleigh is still filled with toys. With five days left till Christmas, he’ll have plenty for us.” His younger brother Todd interjected, “Besides, Santa won’t forget us. We’ve been good this year.”
As all three nodded in agreement, I did too. My sons had been good. They had found happiness and friendship in our family; we all were unusually close. Perhaps it was our circumstance. Yet, despite their goodness, they would soon be disappointed because neither Santa nor mother would bring the desired presents on Christmas Day.
That night I cried and pled with the Lord for relief, for a glimmer of hope that Christmas in our home would be better than I anticipated. My verbal prayers awakened the children. They seemed to intuitively know what was causing my unhappiness. “Don’t worry about presents. It doesn’t matter,” said Brian. I knew it didn’t matter on December 20th, but I knew it would be all-important on December 25th.
The next morning I could not hide the despair and self-pity that had marred my face through the night. “What is wrong?” I was asked again and again at the university. My trite reply was “Nothing.”
Arriving home, I methodically pulled the mail from the mailbox as I entered the house. A curious, unstamped envelope caught my attention. “To a very, very, very, very, very special lady” was typewritten on the envelope. I gazed at the envelope and wondered if it were meant for me. Hoping it was, I tore it open. To my surprise I found several dollars inside, but not a note of explanation.
“Come quickly,” I beckoned the children. Together we counted the money, examined the envelope, and expressed wonder at the anonymous gift. This was a direct answer to my prayer. There was enough money in the envelope to buy an extra gift for each child. I was stunned and amazed, and my joy and excitement of Christmas had returned. It was going to be a great Christmas Day after all. It wouldn’t be as lavish as those of my childhood, but it would be good enough.
I was curious. Where had the money come from? Could it be from a neighbor, a friend, a classmate, or the bishop? Logical deduction led me first to near neighbors. As I attempted to thank them, each stammered and then confessed, “It wasn’t me.” Asking friends and classmates rendered similar comments.
It must be the bishop, I decided. He denied being our benefactor, however, and assured us that he did not know who had been so kind.
Curiosity mounted as nightfall approached. I read the envelope again: “To a very, very, very, very, very special lady.” This time I noticed that the “e” and “L” were misshapen letters produced by an old typewriter ribbon. I also observed that each dollar bill had been folded and unfolded many times, as if each one had been of infinite worth. My desire to uncover the identity of the anonymous donor grew. Soon that desire was coupled with the gnawing resolve to return the money. The misshapen letters and folded bills evidenced that the generous donor also had financial difficulties.
I couldn’t sleep that night. Again and again I asked myself, “Who was it?” I had the clues of the old typewriter ribbon and the folded money, but not the answer. I can’t really describe how I finally knew who the benefactor was, but about two o’clock in the morning, I knew. I knew who had a broken typewriter, and who needed to replace their ribbon, and who carefully folded and unfolded money, checking each dollar bill. It was my three sons.
With tears of love, I awoke the donors. Blurry-eyed they asked, “What’s wrong?” I replied, “Nothing’s wrong; everything is right! You gave me the money. You gave me all the money you posses!” Opening the bedroom closet door, I pulled out three empty jars that once had contained their treasured fortune. They sat silent for several moments until my nine-year-old Brian turned to his younger brother Todd and punched him. “You told!” he exclaimed. Attempting to fend off further blows, Todd yelled, “It wasn’t me, it must have been John.” Their five-year-old brother immediately said, “It wasn’t me,” as both boys landed on him. In unison they asked, “How did you know?”
I had searched outside my home for the answer—but the answer was within. I had seen generosity in all those around me, but had failed to recognize the generous hearts of my children. And now I more clearly knew why the Savior had said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” My house, with all of its material flaws, was my heaven on earth, and my sons were my greatest treasure. Christmas 1977 was indeed a merry Christmas worth remembering.
Santa Claus and Grandma
I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid.
I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"
My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her "world-famous" cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.
Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus?" she snorted...."Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!! Now, put on your coat, and let's go."
"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun. "Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days. "Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.
I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.
For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for.
I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.
I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class. Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough; he didn't have a good coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!
I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that.
"Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. "Yes, ma'am," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby."
The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.
That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, "To Bobby, >From Santa Claus" on it.
Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially, one of Santa's helpers.
Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going."
I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma.
Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.
Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were -- ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.
I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.