Carrie felt the same tingly, happy feeling that came every year at Christmastime, but she also felt a little empty. Grandma and Grandpa were thousands of miles away on a mission in Paraguay. There were presents under the tree from them, but Mom had purchased them and printed “From Grandma and Grandpa” on the tags. It wasn’t the same. Carrie was happy that Grandma and Grandpa were serving Heavenly Father, but that didn’t take away the empty feeling.
Several weeks later, while Carrie was helping Mom pack away the last of the Christmas decorations, the mailman brought a letter. It was addressed to Carrie, and it was from Paraguay! In a second she had it open, and she and Mom snuggled on the sofa to read it:
Dear Little Carrie,
I thought about you a lot on Christmas Day. I imagined you and your mom and dad around the Christmas tree, opening presents and later eating turkey and pumpkin pie. Our Christmas in Paraguay was very different, and I thought you might like to hear about it.
We had decided to visit the Ugarte family for Christmas. They live 80 kilometers (50 miles) through the jungle, in a little village called Itakyry. There is a small chapel there, where we could spend the night. In the Ugarte family are a grandmother, a mother and father, and eleven children. Their house has only two rooms and two beds, so we couldn’t stay with them. We packed some small gifts in the back of the car and left early in the morning of the day before Christmas. Two young elders went with us.
In Itakyry, Sister Ugarte was very sad. It was the day before Christmas, and she had no presents to give her children. It took all their money and time just to provide the essential things that such a large family needed. Nothing was left for gifts or even a special treat for Christmas dinner.
All that morning she worked. She washed clothes in the stream and spread them on the bushes to dry. She tended the garden and cooked black beans and rice for their midday meal. After they ate, she rocked the baby and mended clothes. As she worked, she prayed, “Heavenly Father, please send our good friends, the missionaries, here for Christmas. I know it is a long way for them to come, but it would make this day special. Please, Heavenly Father.”
We didn’t know that she wanted us to come. The Spirit just told us that it would be good if we did. A bridge was washed away, so we had to walk the last few miles through the jungle. My goodness, how happy the Ugarte family was when they saw us coming through the trees!
That night we had a very special family home evening in the little wood chapel. The beautiful story of the birth of Christ was told, and testimonies were shared. Then for a long time we sat, watching the silent tropical stars and singing the sacred hymns of Christmas.
The Ugarte children didn’t understand when Grandpa tried to act like Santa Claus the next morning. They did enjoy the simple gifts we passed out, though. There was a small doll for each little girl, sweet-smelling soap for the older girls, and windup toys for the boys. Grandpa had to show the boys how to wind them up, because they had never seen toys like that before.
We missed our own dear grandchildren, but this Christmas in Paraguay was a very special one for us. The best gifts that we can give or receive at Christmastime are love and service.
I’m looking forward to hearing about your Christmas, Carrie. I hope that it was also filled with that special Christmas feeling and that you didn’t miss us too much.
Carrie felt again the happy, tingly Christmas feeling—and all the emptiness was gone.