Our First Christmas Eve


Our First Christmas Eve

It was snowing when we entered the temple—big, white, fluffy flakes like the silky fluff that falls from cottonwood trees every spring. In the predawn darkness I couldn’t even see Ron’s face as he held the tall gold door for me; but I knew that face so well, and knew that it was smiling on this most special most sacred of days.

A few hours later, when Ron once more opened the temple door, the sky was clear blue, and the brilliant winter sun was reflected in a sparkling overlay of snowflakes on trees, grass, walks, and fences. Delicate snow was piled soft and high on branches; not a footprint had marred the white carpet that lay before us, inviting us to step into a newly transformed world.

“Well, Mrs. Cramer,” Ron began softly, but he didn’t finish. What words couldn’t say, he tried with a squeeze of his hand to tell me.

It was such a new experience being Mrs. Cramer. A few minutes before, as he finished the marriage ceremony, President Glenn had held a scroll of paper tied with a ribbon.

“This is for you, Sister Cramer,” he said. I looked instinctively toward my new mother-in-law, but the president smiled and placed our marriage certificate in my hand.

As the people filed out of the sealing room, each stopped to say a few words to us, to give us a handshake or a hug. There was no shouting, no loud laughter, no rice; just joy at being in this place, at this time, with all those most dear to us.

“Good luck!”

“Take care!”

“Congratulations!”

“You’re a lucky man!”

All the words that people love to say and that brides and grooms love to hear surrounded us as we walked to our car. Then my mother was beside me for a moment. She pressed a small blue package into my hand. “For Christmas Eve,” she whispered, giving me a hug.

“Thanks, Mom,” I said, and this time it was I who tried to let a squeeze of the hand express my love.

In the car and on our way, we rode in comfortable silence until Ron said, “Hey, we’re beginning to sound married!”

I laughed and put my hand in his.

“Ron?”

“Yes?”

“That was the road we were supposed to take!” I exclaimed. My grandparents had offered us their cabin for our honeymoon, and we had been there a day or two before to take food and make sure we would have everything we needed.

“I’ve changed my mind,” Ron said, grinning. I’m taking you somewhere else.”

“Where?” I asked, trying not to sound alarmed.

“Here,” he answered, and we pulled to a stop in front of a supermarket. “Just this once,” he said, “you push and I’ll fill.” Then he started down the first aisle at a fast pace, considering the pre-Christmas crowd.

“Raisins,” he said in his best doctor-to-nurse tone, taking the package off the shelf and dropping it into the cart. “Nuts. Dates. Cherries.” Up and down the aisles he went, choosing a box here, a jar there, and answering none of my questions about what he was doing.

Finally I said, “It looks like we’ll be making—”

“Cookies!” he exclaimed. “On Christmas Eve we’ll be making cookies!”

“Then you have forgotten one thing,” I said.

He thought for a moment, looked over his intended purchases, and raised an eyebrow questioningly. I stepped around the corner and returned with a cookie sheet. As new as he was at being a husband, Ron recognized this as a cue for him to say something about my being indispensable, which he did. And soon we were on the right road, driving through snow-covered fields, then tall pines, and finally we reached our little cabin.

Christmas Eve morning was as beautiful as the day before. I awoke first and got up to make our first breakfast. In record time Ron had gotten up, dressed, and shaved—and I had burned the bacon. Because I didn’t know what else to do, I put it on a plate and soberly set it before him. Just as soberly, he ate it.

We made a snowman that morning, and as we rolled the huge base, I looked at Ron out of the corner of my eye.

“I burned the bacon this morning,” I said.

“I know.”

“But you didn’t say anything!”

He smiled the warm, kind, big-brother smile that had made me begin to love him all those months ago. “I was afraid you would cry,” he said. Then just when I felt more love for him than I could express, he added seriously, “Actually, I’m just glad to find out that you knew it was burned. After all, fifty years is a lot of black bacon.”

“Only fifty?”

“Fifty million, Jan,” he said, lifting my chin with a mittened finger and kissing the end of my red nose. He held me close for a moment, but then the laughing Ron was back. “But after that, if you still burn the bacon …”

It was while we were decorating the tree that afternoon that the first pangs of homesickness came to me. This was my first Christmas away from home, and while I would rather be with Ron than anyone, still I felt a little empty place somewhere inside. I thought of the package Mom had given me the day before.

Every Christmas each member of my family receives one special gift to be opened on Christmas Eve. It isn’t necessarily an expensive gift, but it is always a very thoughtful one—one that says, like the squeeze of a hand, more than words sometimes can.

The first Christmas that I had been away to attend college and was troubled by the differences between what some of the professors said and what I had been taught at church and home, my present was a triple combination of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, bound in white leather. Inside were several bookmarks with notes from Mom and Dad: “Read here what Alma says about faith. It is beautiful.” “This address by King Benjamin is one of my favorites.” As I read the passages, it was as though I was reading not only Alma’s or King Benjamin’s testimony but that of my parents as well.

Last year when I got engaged, the present was the veil my mother had worn as a bride.

“Having second thoughts?” Ron asked, bringing me back to the present.

“No, just—thoughts,” I answered, and I put the package out of my mind for a while.

I began draping tinsel carefully over the branches of our little tree so that each strand hung long and straight. But Ron began throwing tinsel at the tree, where it landed in clumps and piles and occasionally missed entirely. “It’s much faster this way,” he explained, and I had to agree.

In no time all the tinsel was on the tree. Then Ron backed up and looked appraisingly at his handiwork. “Well, Mrs. Cramer, what do you think?”

“I think,” I said, looking first at the disheveled tree and then into Ron’s expectant eyes, “I think that this is certainly a tree to remember!”

Ron looked at his watch. “Seven o’clock. We’d better get started on those cookies.”

Seven o’clock, I thought, as I beat the eggs one by one into the sugar and butter. Right now Dad would be saying family prayer as he always did on Christmas Eve. Then Mom would serve tacos and enchiladas and hot peppers. It had always been the same meal ever since I could remember.

After dinner the year’s most important family home evening would begin. First Dad would read the Christmas story that would make the girls cry and the boys clear their throats a lot, and finally each person would take his turn opening his special present.

I told Ron that I would be back in a minute and went into the bedroom. I took the blue package from the suitcase and sat on the edge of the bed to unwrap it. Since I unwrap presents in somewhat the same spirit Ron drapes tinsel, in only a matter of seconds I held the gift in my hand.

The tiny manger scene was hand carved and painted. Mary held the baby Jesus tenderly, while Joseph stood above them. In a circle around the manger stood three tiny, smiling angels. As I turned the key on the bottom of the scene, the angels began twirling, the whole scene slowly revolved, and delicate music box notes rang out with “Joy to the World.”

For a moment it seemed as though I was at the piano as I had been every Christmas Eve since I was ten, playing this Christmas carol that was the family favorite, hearing behind me my mother’s clear alto, the sweet soprano voices of the children, and Dad’s strong tenor. I fought back tears and walked into the kitchen, where Ron was trying to roll out dough that was still too sticky. He looked like a bridegroom who had been left all alone on Christmas Eve.

I blurted out all the things I had been thinking—all the things that made Christmas at our home so special, so loving. I finished my description, and when Ron didn’t respond I said, “I know this is hard, Ron, but what do you suppose your family is doing tonight?”

Ron looked at me, and for the first time I saw a hurt in his eyes. “My family?” he said, trying to smile. “My family is making cookies.”

Now it is Christmas Eve again. Our little girl is two and old enough to sense the excitement and spirit of the season yet not too young to enjoy a family tradition. So tonight there is going to be one very special present for each of us to open. After all, what could make nicer memories than love, the excitement of opening presents, and the smell of tacos and of fresh-baked cookies?

Sister French, homemaker and mother of two, recently moved with her family from Alberta, Canada, to Portland, Oregon. They are members of the Forest Grove Ward, Portland West Stake.