A few years ago, inspired by my book “A Simple Christmas,” I asked listeners of my radio show to share their own favorite Christmas memories. While my staffers and I are enjoying some time off with our families, I’m digging into the archives to share some of those wonderful stories again. I hope they’ll add some extra joy to your holiday season...
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Dorothy from North Carolina wrote:
“It's been a few years ago now, that through an unusual set of circumstances I met a dear Christian lady named Hilda N-----. Hilda had endured many hardships in life…Now, in her later years… she lived in abject poverty with…crippling arthritis. It was Christmas and I had a gift for Hilda. Mark and I were dating at the time and I asked him to go with me to Hilda's humble home… But it wasn't my gift that I've remembered all these years...it was HER gift, given liberally out of her poverty, that I will never forget.
She and I had exchanged gifts, her gift to me a small ceramic bell with a cross at the top from the dollar store. And then came the moment I cherish yet today. She looked at Mark apologetically and reached down into the cushion of the chair…fumbling until she finally retrieved a small, zippered change purse. Her gnarled, misshapen fingers (terribly twisted from the arthritis) moving slowly and with painful effort, she managed to open the purse… Finally, she turned to Mark and, pulling out a folded, crumpled $1.00 bill, she held it out to him.
Her soft, quiet voice and loving manner gave eloquence to the gesture. ‘I didn't know YOU were coming so I didn't have a gift for you. Here’, she handed him the dollar bill, ‘Merry Christmas.’
Tears sprang to my eyes as I knew what a sacrifice was represented in the giving of the dollar bill. Her heart of love and her desire to share the little she had gave her gift more meaning than a purse full of gold.”
Thank you, Dorothy, and Hilda, for reminding us that Christmas isn’t about what we get, it’s about what we give.
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Melvin from Oregon wrote to share a very special Christmas memory about a small gift that made a very big impression on him:
“Christmas 1945. I am five years old, and we are still staying with my grandparents… My father was in Japan in the Second World War, his two brothers were in the European theater. All three came home OK. I thank God for that and for all of the men that have gone before.
We are trimming the Christmas tree. Grandpa comes in, and he has all of these walnuts that he has painted silver and put a yarn loop on to hang them with. Well I think they’re neat, but that’s about it.
Christmas morning, I come down and start opening my presents. Grandpa says, ‘Why don't you open one of those walnuts?’ I say ‘Naw, I got to open my presents’… Well grandpa keeps after me. Finally, I say, ‘Okay!’ So I crack a walnut open, and a penny falls out. Well, NOW, I'm opening walnuts! There's dimes, nickels, and pennies. When I get done, I have about a dollar fifty, and that’s big money in 1945
…My grandfather thought enough of me to take the time to cut the walnuts open and take out the meat for grandma to cook with. Then he put a coin in and glued each one back together, just to make a little five-year-old boy happy on Christmas morning.
Sixty five years later, I don't remember anything else I got that Christmas. But I remember the walnuts and the love that went into making them. That might be something for young parents to think about... It really is the little things that count the most.”
Thanks, Melvin, for giving us all something important to remember before we go frantically hunting for whatever the latest “hot” gift is.
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Nobody is more excited about Christmas Day than children, and sometimes, it inspires them to come out with some real gems. For instance, Mona from Kentucky wrote:
“When I was a child, we had a coal stove. One of those potbellied stoves. Of course with those stoves, there was a small pipe that went out the ceiling so the smoke would not get in the house. I remember wondering how Santa got down that skinny pipe. So one day I asked Mom how he got down that pipe. I guess I really put her on the spot because she replied, “He has a house key!” And that satisfied me.”
Thank you, Mona, and Merry Christmas to your mom, who I bet had to answer a lot of tough questions before you grew up!
Here’s another story of a Christmas miracle that started with the words of a child. Tom from Louisiana wrote that he used to volunteer for the park district in Calumet City, Illinois, in a low income area. One year, the man playing Santa was ill, so Tom filled in. It was a hard job, listening to the Christmas wishes of hundreds of children, knowing most of their parents were too poor to make them come true.
One day, a little 5-year-old girl, as beautiful as a china doll, hopped up in his lap and didn’t say a word. He asked her if she’d been good and obeyed her parents. She said yes. So he asked what she wanted for Christmas. She replied, “Nothing.”
Tom was dumbfounded. He asked if she was sure she didn’t want anything. She said not for herself. But could Santa give her daddy a job? He needed a job. Well, Tom didn’t know how to answer that. So he just said he’d try his best, but that was one wish Santa might not be able to fill.
But, Tom wrote:
“God works in great ways. At the time the young girl was sitting on my lap, (a local reporter) was there taking pictures and…overheard the child’s conversation with Santa. The next day, the paper (ran a photo) of the little girl sitting on Santa’s lap with the caption ‘All she wants for Christmas is a job for her daddy’…The next day, the little girl’s father received a call and was offered a job. A day or so later, the little girl came back to see me with my favorite chocolate chip cookies and a thank you for Santa…
Till this day, and it’s been at least twenty-five years, I still tear up thinking about that little girl and her unselfish wish. Christmas is truly about miracles.”
Thank you, Tom. I bet that little girl was the best gift her daddy ever received.
Claudine from North Dakota shared this:
“When my kids were little, the church was getting together some toys, gifts and food items for a poor family who had just moved to our area at Christmas time. While looking in the pantry to see what we might have extras of, I asked my children what they would like to give. My daughter - then six years old - went to her room and brought down her Barbie doll complete with Barbie outfits, that she loved to play with. It was her only one. When I said, ‘Oh, honey, you don't have to give your favorite doll’, she said to me, ‘Mommy, if you just give what you don't want, it's not really giving, is it?’”
Thank you, Claudine, for reminding us that sometimes, parents can learn from children.
Of course, Christmas is also a time when many of us former children experience the sadness of memories of parents who are no longer with us. I received many stories from people who were rocked by a flood of emotions at something as simple as coming across an old family decoration that their dad made, or the smell of a favorite family dish that mama used to cook. You never know what unlikely things might trigger overwhelming emotions.
For example, Linda from Texas recalled that her grandfather’s last Christmas gift to her dad just before he died was a shirt. He never wore the shirt. But he kept it hanging in his closet for the rest of his life, carefully preserved as a reminder of his dad.
Ellen from Oregon would understand that feeling. Her mother died of a brain tumor that had scrambled her thinking and sometimes made her a little exasperating. Just before Christmas, she made a big production of being driven to the post office to buy Christmas ornament postage stamps. She debated at great length before settling on the design, which she insisted on calling the “Jingle Bell stamps.” The postal clerk put three sheets of stamps in an onionskin envelope for her. Her mom proudly took them home, wrote “Christmas stamps” on the envelope, and displayed them on the windowsill for all to see. It seemed a little silly to Ellen at the time.
One month later, as she and her sisters were cleaning out their late mother’s house, Ellen came across her mom’s beloved Jingle Bells stamps in the onionskin envelope with her handwriting on it. She wrote, “I took them into the bathroom and cried.” She took the envelope with the remaining stamps home with her. Long afterward, when her husband needed a stamp, she opened the stamp drawer, saw them again, and cried again.
She now calls them the “Jingle Bell stamps,” too. There are only three stamps left, and there always will be. Ellen said she could never use them. She wrote:
“It’s almost as if when those stamps are gone, one more thread will be cut…But somehow I know I will never give up that little onion skin envelope. Whenever I buy stamps, it will always be in sheets, and I will always tuck them into that little onion skin envelope.”
Thank you for sharing that, Ellen. And please know that you are not alone. Many of us treasure things that might seem silly to others, but they hold value beyond gold to us. There’s no reason to be embarrassed about having a reminder of your mom in the stamp drawer. But it’s even better to know that we’ll always have memories of our loved ones who’ve left us tucked safely away in our hearts.
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