Read an Excerpt
The Meaning of Christmas
O-h, Christmas isn't just a day. It's a frame of mind . . . and that's what's been changing. That's why I'm glad I'm here. Maybe I can do something about it.
Kris Kringle, Miracle on 34th Street Christmas of My Dreams The Christmas cookies are all frosted,
the gingerbread men have purple hair,
And 'cause little hands can only reach so high,
the top half of the tree is quite bare!
But the bottom half sparkles with tinsel,
and foil stars and paper chains,
And along with the gifts the Wise Men bring are three nickels and two candy canes.
Although it's true our money's tighter than ever,
our love just keeps on growing, it seems,
And I couldn't ask for anything more,
this is the Christmas of my dreams.
I used to have such great expectations about Christmas and just how it should be,
With the picture-perfect table of goodies and lots of presents under the tree.
Although I still love the tinsel and glitter,
the scent of pine and songs in the air,
When all's said and done, what matters most is the Christmas love that all of us share.
Although our Christmas may not be very fancy,
like the ones you see in magazines,
I wouldn't trade it for anything,
this is the Christmas of my dreams.
So let's each count our blessings,
and thank our God above,
As we celebrate this season of the greatest gift of love.
Our Christmas may not be very fancy,
like the ones you see in magazines,
But I couldn't ask for anything more,
this is the Christmas of my dreams.
The First Christmas
This was my first Christmas alone. I had known it would be difficult, but I had no idea that it was going to be this hard. John had died in September, on the twenty-fifth in fact, so Christmas was three months to the day since his death. I tried hard not to feel sorry for myself but was only successful part of the time.
I learned to play bridge, bought tickets to the symphony, and enrolled in a weekly watercolor class. These things helped pass the time, it was true, but in many ways I felt like I was just going through the motions. I had dreaded the last day of November, knowing that when I tore off the calendar page on the thirtieth it would mean that Christmas was just around the corner, and it would be the first one in forty-six years without my beloved Johnny.
I heaved myself out of the La-Z-Boy with a deep sigh. No sense dwelling on it. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself. Thank the Lord, my daughter Wendy still lived in town, although she had been talking more and more about moving out east since her divorce from Dave. She felt there were more job opportunities in the advertising field out there. Wendy was a go-getter, all right. I could have predicted that she wouldn't stay in Swan River for long, even if her marriage to Dave had worked out. Well, she was here in town for the time being anyway, and at least we'd have each other's company for Christmas dinner.
With that thought in mind, I propelled myself toward the kitchen where the turkey lolled nakedly in the roaster, ready for stuffing. I'd make the stuffing, peel the potatoes, and start on the pie crust. Wendy was making candied yams and some new recipe for blood pudding, of all things! John would have hated it. Truth to tell, so would I. But, sweet man that he was, John would have eaten it anyway, grinning all the while so as not to hurt Wendy's feelings. Such a kind heart. A prince among men. Oh, how I missed him!
A shrill ring startled me from my melancholy reverie. Quickly, I wiped my hands on my apron and reached for the phone. It was Wendy.
'Hi, Mom,' my daughter said breathlessly. 'I'm on the run here, so I won't keep you. I just want to know whether you'd mind it terribly if we had a couple of guests—some friends of mine. I know it's short notice, but you always cook enough for an army anyway, and I know you'll enjoy meeting them. So, how about it? Is it okay?'
I suddenly felt so tired. I really didn't want to entertain strangers. Just getting through the day was a monumental effort by itself. Reluctantly, I agreed, but Wendy, a sensitive girl from the time she was a child, knew that I didn't mean it. Despite that fact, Wendy rolled along enthusiastically.
'Great then, Mom. I'll pick them up on my way over. See you at six o'clock.'
The line went dead before I could ask my daughter exactly who she was bringing, much less say good-bye. Well, it didn't much matter, I supposed. I would put on a brave face and soldier through it.
The rest of the day flew by, it seemed. There was so much for me to do, what with the cooking, the baking, arranging the centerpiece, and getting the table set. Then I still had myself to get ready—no small task these days. Wendy was always telling me that I was still an attractive woman, and that any man would be thrilled to be seen in my company. She was such a flatterer, that one. No wonder she was successful in advertising!
The doorbell chimed at precisely six o'clock. I could always count on Wendy's being on time. She had gotten that from her father. John hated being late for anything. Putting on a wide smile, I bustled to the door and opened it to my company. Wendy appeared to be alone. Puzzled, I peered out into the clear, wintry night but could not see anyone else on the porch. Suddenly, I heard giggling, and then in the next instant, I felt two sets of woolly arms around me, familiar and comforting.
'How are ya' doing, Clairey-Clairey-quite contrary?' one voice trilled. 'Good to see ya, luv.'
'Give us a kiss then, ey? Show us you're glad to see us,' the other one boomed.
My throat tightened; I felt the tears well up, then spill hotly down my cheeks. I was speechless. Joy and disbelief flooded through me simultaneously. Teddy and Mary-Rose were throwing their suitcases into the front hall in a noisy jumble, both speaking to me at the same time and tugging on my sleeve as they vied for my attention, just as they had when they were children. In a boisterous hodgepodge, Wendy squeezed her aunt and uncle through the narrow entryway, picking up the suitcases, and setting them aside out of the way. Her beaming face, flushed from the cold, creased in a radiant smile.
'All the way from England, and not so much as a 'how d'ya do'!' Teddy teased. 'What do you think we should do, Mary-Rose? Maybe we should just turn around and get the next plane for Manchester, ey?'
At last, I found my voice. I had last seen my brother and sister, fraternal twins four years my junior, when I'd gone back home to bury our dear mother. That was thirteen years ago. Of course, they had written, and there was the occasional long-distance phone call, but it was not the same as seeing them. Then, when John had died, they had sent a long, heartfelt telegram and apologized that they could not be with me. Despite my disappointment, I had understood. Manchester was far away; they had their jobs and their families, after all, and it would have cost the Earth to get to Swan River on time for the funeral. And now, incredibly, here they were. Thank the Lord, here they were! With my eyes brimming over, I untangled myself from my siblings' arms and moved over to Wendy, who was standing quietly near the staircase that led upstairs, watching the happy reunion unfolding in front of her.
'Wendy, dear girl of mine, did you orchestrate all of this?' I whispered.
'No big deal, Mom,' Wendy replied.
'Oh, my sweet girl, it's a very, very big deal, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now, did you bring along that delicious blood pudding you said you were going to prepare? I can't wait to try it. I'll bet your dad would have loved it!'
Connecting at Christmas
Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
Hamilton Wright Mabie
In a frosty December morning, I talked with my girls, Lynsey and Laura, about God's gift to us in Jesus. I reminded them how God gave us an undeserved gift, the hope offered to us through the birth of Christ. The pure love of our Heavenly Father who gave, without condition, continued to amaze me.
'Then,' I challenged, 'how could we not respond to him who loves us so?' I suggested doing a special family project to underscore the message of Christmas. Even though they were children, I urged them to think about selfless giving with no expectation to receive. 'God uses servants of all ages,' I said.
Lynsey, then fifteen, popped up with, 'We can make a gift basket for one of the old people at church!' Living with a teen had taught me to seize and rally around any act of outward thoughtfulness, so I encouraged her idea.
Nine-year-old Laura chimed in, 'Yeah, we can put stuff together and give it to 'em for Christmas.' We all agreed that a surprise gift basket would be our family project.
'Now, who'll be our recipient?' I asked. Laura suggested several names of senior citizens at church. After much discussion, we settled on 'Mr. Paul.'
Paul, known in our home as 'Mr. Paul,' was a cheerful, kind, rotund gent. He and his wife had a long, loving marriage, but no children. In fact, except for his wife, Mr. Paul had no living family. Each Sunday, Mr. Paul and his wife faithfully worked in the church's sound booth recording services for the homebound. They felt it was their ministry. They also felt it was their ministry to 'hush' the children chattering in the hall. Often, they were the eyes and ears of absent parents.
But early that year, Mr. Paul's wife had received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Within months, his world changed as he buried his wife and partner of fifty years. We knew it'd be a particularly lonely Christmas for Mr. Paul.
Parties, shopping, rehearsals, baking, and festive dinners filled our weeks following that family project discussion. We were busy, yet through the demanding schedule, we each thought of Mr. Paul.
Lynsey found an attractive basket large enough to hold a multitude of tiny treasures, including lip balm, aftershave, and a package of chocolate truffles. While baking, we set aside homemade cookies and candy for Mr. Paul. On shopping trips, Laura always found an unusual keepsake and, eyes twinkling, would say, 'Mr. Paul will like this!' Then we'd tuck her chosen gift in our shopping cart. Lynsey made a Christmas card, and Dad jumped in with gift suggestions from a man's point of view: a tie, devotional book, and wallet. Together, we came up with a variety of presents to pack in our gift basket. We imagined Mr. Paul's reaction.
Lynsey thought he'd cry.
Laura said he'd laugh.
The time spent focusing on another person gave me multiple opportunities to remind my girls of God's gift to us—how satisfied God was in giving of his treasure. As our basket and anticipation swelled, my girls began arguing over which one would offer it. We hurriedly put in our final treats, and Laura cheerfully decorated the basket. Her homemade bow and carefully placed tissue paper made it a beautiful gift.
The Sunday before Christmas arrived, and our family eagerly but gently carried the bulging basket into church. Lynsey and Laura both held onto the handle, each afraid the other would get all the credit. My husband and I followed close behind.
Mr. Paul sat in his small, glass-enclosed cubicle turning knobs on a complex control panel. The girls stumbled over each other in their eagerness to get up the two steps to his level. Hearing the commotion, he turned toward them. When his eyes fell on the basket, my girls shouted, 'Merry Christmas!' and shoved it in his direction. With a look of genuine surprise, he reached out to accept our gift. His aged arms cradled it as tears welled up in his blue eyes. For a moment, there was silence, but he spoke volumes through his grateful expression.
My girls still muse over that year of our first family proj-ect when the Christmas message lived in their hearts—a gift given, a gift received.
©2007. Cheryl Kirking, Sharon Melnicer, and Brenda Nixon. All rights reserved. Reprinted from A Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street , Deerfield Beach , FL 33442.