This time of year, one of the many great holiday songs we always hear is the late, great Glen Campbell’s “Christmas Is For Children.” That sentiment was also on the minds of many of my radio listeners whose most treasured memories of Christmas were tied to childhood – either their kids’ childhoods or their own
Some were of the “Kids Say The Darnedest Things” variety. For instance, Joe from Georgia recalled when his son was 7, their church had a pancake breakfast with a “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake for the kids, and the Lord’s Supper for adults during the Christmas Eve service. His son tugged his sleeve and asked, “Dad, why am I allowed to eat the Lord’s Breakfast but not His supper?”
An eternal theological question, my son!
There's something about the excitement of Christmas that makes children even more hilariously discombobulated. Cleve from New Mexico wrote, "At our house, we always opened our presents on Christmas morning. I remember the first year my daughters were really, really, really looking forward to Christmas. On Christmas Eve morning, they jumped out of bed, ran into the kitchen, and hollered, 'Today's the night we get up in the morning!!'"
Well, they were right: it was!
Dolores from Texas recalled that during the Depression, her parents gave her and her sister Betsy Wetsy dolls, and made a little suitcase and a whole wardrobe for them. Dolores said it was the “best Christmas ever!” The girls were so excited, they didn’t even realize until years later that those were actually their old dolls, all cleaned up. The moral: To a child, a gift doesn’t have to be new…just new to THEM.
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?’”
When you “give till it hurts,” as some people put it, it can actually feel pretty good. Thank you, Claudine, for reminding us that sometimes, parents can learn from children.
BettyJean from California had a favorite childhood Christmas memory that reminds us not to look a gift horse in the mouth. She wrote:
"I was born in 1928 in a small town in Montana. My mother died in 1929... (and) we were very poor...One Christmas my friend, Rex, whose parents had a restaurant in town, gave me a beautifully wrapped present. I was SOOOO EXCITED! Christmas Eve, my brother and I unwrapped our two presents. My brother watched me unwrap mine: a box of candy. And I can still hear him, 70 years later...yelling out, "DAAAAAD! THERE'S A PIECE GONE!!!!!"
I guess that proves little boys haven't really changed much in all these years!
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 that 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 began calling 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.