When the snowflakes would begin to fall outside the window of our little cottage by the lake, it always seemed to be warm and cozy inside. Little did I know back then, how difficult Christmas was for my mom and dad. I remember Mom would put a string of brightly colored, blinking lights up in our big picture window. Always in the shape of a Christmas tree so that the whole neighborhood would know we were ready for the Big Day.
Christmas was a magical time, even though I now realize that our holiday celebrations were quite modest compared to what most families have now days. In those days, a kid’s Christmas list often included items such as a Chatty Cathy doll, a new sweater, a doll house, or a game of checkers. And when we really became fanciful in our thinking, we might even ask for a new bicycle.
I remember many Christmas mornings in our family, cuddled up with a blanket close to the space heater in the middle of the living room, with the blinking lights merrily winking in the pre-dawn darkness. My memories include crawling underneath the Christmas tree in the corner, shaking and rattling the packages to see if I could figure out what was hidden inside those treasure boxes.
But what I don’t remember very well at all is any of the actual gifts that were under the tree. Of course, as I look back from the vantage point of age, I recall that the gifts weren’t extravagant or expensive. How could they be, when both of my parents held jobs away from home and they struggled to make the $60 a month mortgage payment?
But the memories are of the joy, the mystery, the magic that was Christmas to a little girl.
One Christmas, when I was about 8 or 9 years old, my mom somehow learned of a family not too far from us that was not just struggling, but they were destitute. After we discussed what we could do to help, we decided to take them a few Christmas gifts for the kids, as well as a basket with food for a special dinner and some baked goods.
To this day, I cannot remember where that stuff came from, but I do remember taking one of my favorite dolls to my mom to put into the basket. It was so exciting to put everything together into that basket (I think it was a well-worn laundry basket), loading it into the car, and driving to their home. The memory of driving up that long driveway is still as clear in my heart and mind as if it had happened yesterday!
At the end of the bumpy, rocky, dirt driveway sat a run-down, gray and dingy cottage with a sagging porch with broken railings. We knocked on the door and a shy little girl opened it just a crack. “We are here to bring some Christmas presents!” my mom announced. The little girl’s eyes grew wide in wonder as she turned and called out, “Mama, someone’s here for Christmas!”
And in the midst of the commotion and chaos of people talking, mamas crying, daddies shaking hands, and kids tumbling over each other, the clearest image in my mind is when I held out that dolly to the little girl. I do not remember her name, but I can see her face forever etched in the memory of my little girl heart and mind. She smiled as she took the dolly and held her close. That’s all I remember.
But it is enough. Enough to remind me every year that it is not really about the gifts that we give, as much as it is about sharing our hearts and our love with those around us. Isn’t that what Christmas has always been about? God gave us His very best gift, the Lord Jesus Christ Who came to earth to live and die for us, every one of us. How can we do less than give our best to others, out of our gratitude for His eternal love, grace, peace and salvation? Blessings to you and your family this Christmas season, Nina