The Grinch of Marshall Road
I can’t remember when or why it was that during my childhood I developed a negative, cynical attitude toward Christmas. All I know is that each year it seemed to get worse.
Family and friends referred to me as the “Grinch of Marshall Road.” I complained about singing the same old Christmas carols every year and repeating the same family traditions. I grumbled as we baked and frosted Christmas cookies. I balked when participating in Christmas decorating. It all seemed so pointless to me, and much more work than it was worth.
Then one December day when I was about fourteen years old, all that changed. I had grudgingly agreed to do some shopping for Mother. I trudged along the sidewalk, shivering in the cold and wishing I were somewhere else.
The fancy department store windows only reinforced my negative attitude. Each window was filled with gaudy and glitzy Christmas displays, making it clear that Christmas was a business person’s dream. On every street corner was a Santa, ringing a bell and collecting money for the needy. Christmas music blared endlessly over loudspeakers.
Then a different window display caught my eye. Instead of displaying the usual Santa, elves, reindeer, and gifts, this window had a simple manger scene. I drew closer and realized that the figures were not mannequins but live people.
Mary was a young girl, maybe twelve or thirteen years old. Joseph was a bit older, perhaps fifteen. Children dressed as shepherds and Wise Men completed the scene.
I stood there for a long time, heedless of the cold and snow, drinking in the story of Jesus’ birth in a Bethlehem stable. I watched the girl cradle a doll tenderly in her arms, then carefully lay her precious child in a manger filled with hay. The boy Joseph looked on. Humble shepherds knelt in worship.
Suddenly I was filled with a feeling I had never known before. A warm glow went from the top of my head down to the tip of my toes. Tears ran down my cheeks, and I was infused with a peace and joy so gentle and yet so deep that I no longer felt a part of this world. For the first time in my life, I felt the power of what Christmas and the birth of Jesus were really all about.
They Couldn’t Steal the Yuletide Spirit
It was four days before Christmas, and the excitement in our family was almost tangible. Heidi was busy wrapping her gifts for Mom, while Erin was fascinated by the brightly colored lights twinkling in the window. I was excited because tonight the company John worked for was treating the employees and their wives to dinner and a show.
After dropping the girls off at the baby-sitter, John and I were on our way. We used the time as we drove to the company party to reflect on our many blessings.
The party was a huge success. It was well after midnight when we pulled into the driveway. John went ahead to open the door and turn the lights on, while I wrapped our two sleeping girls in blankets to protect them against the wintry night air.
Suddenly, John came running back to me, shouting, “We’ve been robbed!” With Erin in my arms, I felt a chill run through me. After checking the house, we discovered that all our Christmas presents were gone. The thieves had taken everything—even our tithing receipts and patriarchal blessings. We were devastated! What could we do? We felt so helpless.
The policeman recorded his report and reassured us that the police department would make every effort to apprehend the thieves, but he offered little hope of ever finding the thieves or our belongings.
Instead of festive and customary family events connected with the celebration of the birth of our Savior, we were faced with a cold and empty feeling. The gifts could surely be replaced, but the love and care that went into each gift and its wrapping could not.
We held a family council and decided to stay indoors and celebrate Christmas quietly, keeping our focus on a celebration of the Savior’s birth.
I did call one member of our ward to ask how copies of our tithing receipts could be obtained. We discussed what had happened. I told him there was really nothing that could be done at this point and left it at that.
That Sunday, news of the robbery spread. Sunday evening, as John and I sat in the living room with the lights out, we heard the sound of car doors slamming. We both jumped, thinking the burglars had come back. Quickly we dashed to the front door. We couldn’t believe what we saw.
Tiny reflections of lighted candles flickered in the frosty air as twenty-five ward members sang carols to brighten our spirits. It was hard for us to hold back our tears.
As they drove off, we felt joy replace the bitterness in our hearts. We walked back into the house to find the phone ringing—the first of many phone calls that night from neighbors wondering how they could help us. We turned on Erin’s favorite twinkling lights and decided to have a Christmas celebration, no matter how small.
The following day was Christmas Eve. About 11:00 A.M. it began—the never-ending visits of Church members coming with armloads of presents and food. One dear sister was prompted to give us money, and it turned out to be the same amount that had been stolen. Boy Scouts came and made their contribution. Members from a neighboring stake heard of the robbery and sent Santa himself. Heidi could not believe her eyes. This parade of love and aid continued until about midnight.
By the time we went to bed that Christmas Eve, our hearts were filled with gratitude to others. Exemplifying the spirit of Christmas, those who responded to our need had turned a nightmare into a truly memorable holiday.
The Secret Dolls
I had been a single mother for years, raising five sons. Now I was remarried to David, a widower, and I was feeling a little awkward in David’s family home. Making the adjustment was a challenge for both me and my new family, which included David’s six grown-up children, three of them daughters.
As December approached, I felt apprehensive when I thought of the holidays. None of my own children would make it home for Christmas, and I wanted David’s children to know that I loved them and was happy to be a part of their family. What could I give them?
When we had first gotten married in September, I had begun investigating and reorganizing the house so I would know where things were and so I would feel more at home.
One day, I found an old shoe box covered with dust. Inside, packed in shredded newspapers, were parts for three porcelain dolls. I was startled and pleased.
I knew that David’s first wife, Lois, had loved working with ceramics. Her daughter-in-law once mentioned that Lois had even begun some ceramic dolls for her three daughters, but the figures had never been finished. Were these the dolls Lois had begun?
I thought of David’s daughters and my longing to be their friend. Could I somehow finish the dolls and present them as a Christmas gift not only from me but from their own loving mother?
Ecstatic, I told David of my discovery, and he shared my excitement.
First, I took the dolls to Linda, a doll expert a friend had recommended. She was astonished at the delicate pieces and agreed to finish them by painting and firing the ceramic parts, assembling the dolls, and making dresses. I chose dress colors I thought matched each daughter’s personality. Each doll would have a slightly different shade of auburn hair.
As Linda began working on the dolls, she made a discovery.
Upon my return home, the phone was ringing. It was Linda, her voice filled with emotion. “Do you know these dolls have been dedicated?” she asked me.
“What’s a dedicated doll?”
“On each doll’s ceramic body appears an inscription: ‘To my dear Kathy,’ ‘To my dear Heidi,’ ‘To my dear Lorelee.’ Each is signed ‘Love, Mom 1970.’”
Like Lois’s hand from the past, I thought.
The dedications made the dolls even more precious, and I looked forward with anticipation to giving them to David’s daughters. I now realized Lois had poured the ceramic parts for those dolls fourteen long years before, when the youngest girl, Lorelee, had been only five.
As Christmas neared, our feelings about our secret in progress—and our eagerness to present the dolls—could scarcely be restrained.
Finally the dolls were ready. I had written a note to each girl, telling them about my feelings for them and explaining why the dolls were so important. I emphasized that each doll came from two mothers who loved them a great deal—their own mom and me. I bought gift boxes, nestled the dolls in tissue paper inside the boxes, added the notes, and wrapped everything carefully. I was more excited about those dolls than about any other gifts I was giving. So was David.
Next day, we assembled the children, their spouses, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, and cousins for the presentation. Wordlessly, David and I gave each daughter her package. They began unwrapping them. Silence, then gasps, sobs, and floods of tears. Even Lois seemed to be there.
Lorelee threw her arms around me. Later, Heidi confided that the doll confirmed to her that I was supposed to be part of their family circle. Kathy wrote a note expressing how touched she was and how meaningful the doll would always be to her. And I felt a great joy in finishing a gift of love from Lois and myself.
It is not uncommon for the family of a medical student to be penniless, particularly if the medical student is also the father of ten children. Such was the case in 1976, when my father was completing his one-year residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.
It had been a meager year. Because our stay in Cleveland was to be short, none of us was allowed to pack more than that which our family van could carry. Everything else had been left behind.
As the weather cooled and Christmas approached, the younger children began to wonder what gifts Santa Claus would bring them. The older children wondered what gifts we could possibly afford to give each other. It was a sobering thought.
But Mother called us together. “Be creative with your gift giving,” she said. “The only true gift is the one you give of yourself.”
Her suggestion inspired us, and during the next week we worked hard, creating thoughtful presents from the heart.
And then Christmas morning came.
As expected, the floor beneath the Christmas tree was almost bare. But the stockings tied to the banister were filled with fruit, nuts, candy, and curiously colored pieces of paper.
After we had eaten our traditional Christmas breakfast of rice pudding and raspberry cream, we gathered our stockings and hurried into the living room. Because we had no chairs, we sat cross-legged on the floor, our faces illuminated by the brightly lit Christmas tree.
Taking turns, we each emptied our stockings onto the floor and read aloud the scribbled handwritten notes: “Merry Christmas. For Christmas this year I will wash your hair five times. Love, Cynthia.”
“Merry Christmas. For Christmas this year, I sewed the hole in your navy blue sweater. Love, David.”
“Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad. For Christmas this year we will play a duet for you on the piano. Thank you for the piano lessons. Love, Stephanie and Lona.”
The list of gifts went on and on, each as touching as the last. Our eyes and our hearts were filled with joy as we understood the meaning of giving and receiving of self.
And every year we are reminded of that lesson when, inevitably, someone asks, “Do you remember our Christmas in Cleveland?”