Christmas Memory: Remembering the Plan of Happiness
By Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president
Among all my favorite Christmas childhood memories, I would have to include our Christmas Eve celebrations at Grandpa Kjar’s house. Christmas Eve was Grandpa’s favorite day of the year. It was mine too! Oh, how I loved celebrating with our cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents! There was always a meal that smelled delicious but was hardly even picked at by the grandchildren because we were all so excited for Christmas. And who wouldn’t be excited? After all, the sound of jingle bells was always calling to us from just outside the windows of Grandpa’s house, hinting that Santa was surely on his way–and very soon! That made for Christmas Eve magic that sent us screaming in delight from window to window throughout the house with the cousins we adored. And Grandpa seemed to delight in our delightedness!
However, 1966 was not as all my previous 13 Christmases had been. Without a doubt, it was a Christmas Eve to remember. And as in all the Christmases past, Grandpa Kjar was at the center of the memories associated with that year. But this year it was for a different reason. My family and I were thousands of miles from home. Dad had been called to serve as a mission president in the New Zealand South Mission, taking Mom and all six of us children with him—ages 2 to 15. This was our first Christmas Eve we as children had ever spent away from the warmth, wonder, and delight of Grandpa Kjar’s holiday home. So why was he at the center of our Christmas Eve memories? That was the day Grandpa died.
I remember sitting in a large circle of missionaries in the mission home in Tawa, just outside Wellington. We had had a sweet and sacred Christmas Eve fireside with Christmas carols sung around a spindly little Christmas tree and sweet and simple but powerful testimonies shared by the elders and sisters and even our own family members. As I recall, it was in the middle of that sacred gathering that Dad received one of those phone calls that changes lives forever. He came back to the circle with tear-filled eyes to let us know that his brother Joe had called to let us know that Grandpa Kjar was in the hospital, having just suffered a stroke.
All of a sudden, nothing else seemed to matter. Even the thought of spending Christmas Day at the beach since it was summer “down under” held little appeal to our family. All we could think about was our beloved grandpa and sweet Christmases spent with him in the past. For the first time ever, Christmas wasn’t about us and gifts we were hoping to receive. Instead, Christmas was about the real gift of Christmas—the gift of our Savior offering hope through His role in the perfect plan of happiness. It was about being together eternally with those we loved the most and about trying to help our dad get through a difficult time of waiting and wondering what the outcome of Grandpa’s condition would be.
On Christmas Day in New Zealand, but Christmas Eve in Salt Lake City, Grandpa Kjar passed away peacefully encircled by his precious family on his favorite day of the year. Suddenly, the real meaning of Christmas became what it should always have been—about the precious gift given by our loving Father in Heaven, the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It was He who made it possible for us to be reunited with our beloved grandpa someday.
I will forever be grateful for the Christmas of 1966 that changed my life and adjusted the lens through which I view Christmas.