For as long as I can remember, Mom has talked about Aunt Vera. Aunt Vera is Mom’s youngest sister, and according to Mom, she loves to sing and dance. “Vera was always happy, and she made everyone around her happy.”
When Mom married Dad and left the Philippines, the hardest part was leaving her family—especially Aunt Vera—behind. But pretty soon my brother, Todd, and I were born, and Mom was really busy. She and Aunt Vera wrote letters back and forth, and two or three times a year they called each other on the telephone, but Mom still missed her.
When Aunt Vera wrote to say that she was coming to spend three weeks at Christmastime with us, Mom was ecstatic. We cleaned the house and put up decorations, and Mom told us about when she and Aunt Vera were little girls and decorated their home. They had always saved the Nativity scene for last. As they put each figure in place, they tried to imagine being there with the shepherds when the angel told them about the Baby Jesus, and with the Wise Men as they followed the star.
Aunt Vera was all smiles and laughter when she arrived, just as Mom said she’d be. She and Mom spent hours looking through picture albums and talking about old friends and family. But by the second week, Aunt Vera started to seem unhappy. A few days before Christmas, I came into the living room and found her staring out the window. She looked like she’d been crying, and I wasn’t sure what to do. “Aunt Vera, what’s wrong?” I asked.
Aunt Vera blew her nose and shook her head. “There’s really nothing wrong,” she said. “It’s just so different here. I’m afraid I’m a little homesick.”
“Oh,” I said. “I guess our weather doesn’t help much, does it?”
“No. It doesn’t get so cold at home, and it never snows. The snow is beautiful, but it’s so cold! I don’t think that I’ll ever be warm again. Mostly I miss Mother and Father … and Christmas.”
“Christmas? We have Christmas here!”
“Yes, but it isn’t the same,” Aunt Vera said with a smile. “You see, where I live in the Philippines, Christmas is a very big celebration. We start on December sixteenth by setting off firecrackers and other fireworks very early in the morning. And we keep celebrating until January sixth. Almost every night there are fireworks and parties. Decorations are everywhere, especially colored lights. And plays that tell Bible stories are performed in one village after another. All the children make beautiful paper lanterns of different shapes and colors, then put candles inside them and have a parade at night. It is beautiful!
“And everywhere are the Christmas stars. They’re lanterns made in the shape of a star. Every house has one hanging over a Nativity scene. On Christmas Eve, we have a “Parade of the Stars,” in which all the villages compete for prizes. Some of the Christmas stars are so big that they ride on the back of decorated pickup trucks or are carried by several people. Our family never misses the parade.”
Aunt Vera paused, a faraway look in her eyes. Then she looked at me. “It isn’t that there is anything wrong with your Christmas,” she said with a sigh. “It’s just that I have never been so far from home, and I didn’t expect things to be quite so different.”
I looked at the star we had hanging over the manger scene. I hadn’t known it was so special. I leaned over and hugged Aunt Vera. “I’m sorry you’re homesick,” I said, “but I’m glad you’re here.”
Aunt Vera laughed and hugged me back.
After that, Aunt Vera seemed to feel better, but I couldn’t help thinking about Christmas in the Philippines. It certainly did seem more festive. I told Todd what Aunt Vera had said and asked if he had any ideas on how to make her feel more at home. He said he’d think about it. Two days later he had a great idea! The very next day, Christmas Eve, we set about making it work.
Right after breakfast, we dressed to go out—boots, snow pants, sweaters, coats, gloves, scarves, and hats. Luckily it had snowed the night before, so there was a lot of snow. Better yet, it was the wet, heavy kind that’s good for building.
We worked by the side of the house where there were no windows. First we each rolled the biggest snowball we could. Todd had to roll his over next to mine because mine got so big that I couldn’t push it. Then we used the plastic buckets from the sandbox to make snow bricks, which we attached to the tops and sides of the snowballs. Then we used our sandbox shovels to smooth the sides and carve details. When we were finished, we had two large snow stars. They looked great, but something still wasn’t right.
“They’re supposed to have lights inside,” I said.
“No problem,” Todd replied. “We’ll just hollow out the center of each one and put in a flashlight.”
And that’s what we did. After lunch we went back out and made three smaller stars. By dinnertime I was drooping, but everything was ready.
After dinner we told Mom, Dad, and Aunt Vera to get their coats and boots on because we had a surprise for them. While they got ready, Todd ran out and turned on the flashlights. We’d borrowed some from the neighbors to have enough. By the time we all went outside, it was snowing again. As we turned the corner of the house, the adults stopped short.
“Oh my!” Mom exclaimed. “It’s gorgeous!”
It was beautiful! With the flashlights reflecting off the insides of the stars, and the snow sparkling from the lights in the houses against the dark night, our sculptures looked better than I had even imagined they would.
“It’s for Aunt Vera,” Todd said.
“For me!” Aunt Vera sounded surprised.
“Yes, you said one of the things you missed about being home was seeing the ‘Parade of Stars,’” I said. “So we made you a little one. Do you like it?”
“All this for me?” she asked again. “Oh, I love it! I’ll never forget it. These are the most beautiful Christmas stars I’ve ever seen!”
Aunt Vera hugged Todd and me for the longest time, and so did Mom and Dad. And for a long time we stood and watched the snow fall on our Christmas stars. Then together we went inside and read in the book of Luke the story of the Savior’s birth—the most beautiful part of Christmas in both our countries.