When I was a child growing up and learning about life, I did not have the security of my father and mother telling me who I was, how I could find lasting happiness, and what would happen to me if I were to die. My parents did not have the gospel of Jesus Christ, so my childhood was very uncertain in many ways and often full of fear.
But in all the memories of my childhood, there is at least one of peace and joy. This is the memory of Christmas.
Christmastime was celebrated in the traditions and customs of my home country of Germany, and it was specifically for the children.
Four Sundays before Christmas Day, preparations for something holy and beautiful could be felt in our home. A little wreath with four candles on it was placed on the family table.
On the first Sunday, the first candle was lit. As a family we sat around the table, singing Christmas songs and preparing little gifts that each of us would give to each member of the family.
On the fourth Sunday, the last candle was lit, and expectations for the coming joyous events were growing extreme.
A Christmas tree did not appear in our home until December 24. On that day, we children had to stay outside, go on errands, and play by ourselves. I still remember how time seemed to not pass at all.
We children were taught that the Christmas tree and all of its glory and beauty, along with presents and food and cookies, came from the little Christ Child.
This lack of logic did not bother us children. We believed that there was a Christ-child person of a supernatural existence who cared for us in such a way that once a year He would come in person to fulfill all of our hopes and dreams.
In preparation, we cleaned the rooms where we slept. We put on our best clothes. We had our gifts ready to give. When the sun started to set on that special day, we were invited to get ready to enter the living room.
As was the custom, the doors to the living room had been locked because we children were not to go into that room. It became a place of great mystery. Once in a while we heard some rustling of papers, and once in a while the more courageous of us tried to peek in the keyhole—only to learn that the key was in it from the inside and the door was locked.
When Mother finally decided that we were clean, orderly, dressed, our hair groomed, and had our rooms in order, we were asked to listen carefully. Suddenly we heard a little bell ringing, and our hearts beat close to explosion. This was it! This was the moment when the doors were unlocked and we were allowed to go into the living room. And there it was—a Christmas tree standing from the floor to the ceiling! We became aware of its beautiful, fresh-cut smell and that it was glowing with candles. Our father, who happened to be already inside the room when we walked in, was watching it carefully so that nothing caught on fire.
The Christmas tree had many decorations that we as children would see only at Christmastime. In the center of the tree was a wax sculpture of a little Christ Child surrounded by glowing angels of gold paper and silk.
Our family gathered around the tree and sang four or five Christmas songs. Then we children were invited to find our own corner of presents, which had been covered by a blanket.
This Christmas Eve tradition developed in us powerful feelings of holiness, joy, love, gratitude, and security. These feelings, radiating from the symbols of the little wax figure of the Christ Child, which we saw only at Christmastime, had a great influence on all of us.
Many years later, when I was grown up and had my own family, we heard the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ when the missionaries knocked on our door. There was something in these missionaries—a glow of trust, a glow of hope, a glow of security, and a glow of love—that looked in the beginning to us like a fairy tale.
Could it be true? Could it really be true that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father, and that through the Spirit of Jesus Christ I could come to an understanding of the feelings I had had at Christmastime in my childhood? Because this door opened, the understanding that led to our conversion and baptism helped us see that we could experience Christmas every day when we focus always on Him, listen to Him, and embrace Him with a loving, grateful heart. What joy came to my family when we opened our souls to the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
As Christmastime is nearing, I know that by always remembering Jesus Christ, always being focused on Him, always being faithful to Him, and always loving Him, we can feel like Christmas every day of our lives just as I felt it in my childhood on December 24. This is my hope for all children—that you may be blessed with these same feelings in your family at this Christmastime.