You’re going to think I have my holidays confused, but as you nestle around your fireplace (or swimming pool, depending on what El Nino brings this week), I’d like to share my favorite Christmas story.
Some of you may know this story, but with 50,000 new readers this year, it seems worthy of repetition.
Just before my fifth birthday, my biological father lost a two-decade long battle with cancer – that tended to happen frequently to cancer patients in the 1970s. And if you injected me with truth serum, I still couldn’t tell you one thing about Christmas that year, which fell a few months after his death.
What’s interesting is I don’t remember anything about Christmas the next year, or the next year, either. It’s not that our family spent three years mourning the death of a wonderful man, and it’s certainly not because our fervor for the Reason for Christmas disappeared. It’s just that I have absolutely no recollection of those years.
Maybe it’s because our family just didn’t have a lot. After all, life insurance companies weren’t handing out lucrative policies to people with inoperable cancer. Meanwhile, my Mom worked every job she could find just to provide cheap clothes and healthy food. I’d imagine the Christmas gifts were as sparse as my recollection.
But maybe there’s another reason I don’t remember those three Christmases. Shortly after my eighth birthday, my Mom was engaged to remarry a man named Douglas McElvy and in 1982, he was part of our family Christmas for the first time.
I remember the smell of the room when I awoke Christmas morning and found an electric guitar, an amplifier and a microphone (we were raised in a very musical family). It smelled of fresh plastic, cardboard and Scotch tape.
I remember the beady eyes of my older brother when he walked behind his new drum set. And we weren’t talking about kiddie drums here – these were the real deal with glittery cases, loud cymbals and heavy sticks.
I remember the joy in my younger sister’s open mouth when she stood beside a doll house that was bigger than she was. This thing was hand-crafted and new-Dad painted, and there were enough clothes and fake women to make the Kardashians jealous.
I remember seeing my Mom standing at the side of the room, seeing her children as happy as they had been in years. I don’t know if my Mom shed any tears; I bet she did.
There were other presents. There were full stockings. And for almost 30 minutes after we children came down from our highs, our family sat in a room and read the Christmas Story from the Book of Luke.
My memories of Christmas 1982 have nothing to do with the electric guitar, which long ago was incinerated in some dumpster. My brother traded out those drums for something bigger and better a few years later. And I’m pretty sure a hatchet was taken to the doll house that entertained my sister for the next five years.
What mattered about that Christmas was what my brother, sister and I learned about gratitude. It didn’t matter that Thanksgiving Day was a month earlier. What mattered was that we couldn’t believe what our new Dad had done for us.
And what made the gratitude more poignant were the three years prior, when we didn’t remember a single thing about Christmas.
Most of us don’t think about Christmas that way. We think about the exchange of gifts, the days away from work, the family sitting close by and the nauseating amount of food we’ll ingest.
What I think about are the reasons I have to be grateful. We may not all share the same beliefs, but in our home, I’m grateful for a Savior who came to earth. It doesn’t bother me that the Bible doesn’t mention evergreens or Christmas ornaments. We choose to celebrate the birth of Christ, and I’m unabashedly grateful in that celebration.
I’m also grateful for those three “missing” Christmases when I was a child. They gave me a perspective that only heightens this time of the year.
And last, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share stories like this with you, our readers.
A few weeks ago, our newspaper sent out a letter about a program we do once a year called Voluntary Pay. We received all sorts of notes from readers, thanking us for what we bring each week. We even had one lady who took the time to buy a stamp, just to send us a note that said she couldn’t afford a donation but to thank us anyway. So to all those readers who contributed, please accept my sincere gratitude for the encouragement you have given our staff.
The season of Christmas gets lost in all sorts of meanings these days. Maybe we all find something that lends the opportunity to say “Thank you.”