James loved everything about Christmas—the songs and stories about baby Jesus, the twinkling lights, the bright packages under the tree, and the smell of yummy treats. He also loved the Christmas traditions with his grandparents, Nana and Papa. Every year Nana made steaming mugs of her special hot chocolate and baked dozens of sugar cookies shaped like stars and trees. All seven grandchildren would gather in Nana and Papa’s kitchen to frost and decorate the cookies. Then James and his cousins would play games with Papa. Last year, Papa taught eight-year-old James, the oldest grandson, how to operate the train that circled the Christmas tree.
Christmas would be different this year. Papa had died at the beginning of December, and Nana felt too sad to plan their special Christmas traditions. James felt very sad, too. He missed Papa.
“Christmastime feels wrong without Papa,” James told his mom one snowy afternoon.
Mom thought for a minute before she hugged James. “James, why do we celebrate Christmas?” she asked softly.
“Because that’s when Jesus was born,” he answered quickly.
“That’s right. We celebrate Christmas to remember Jesus Christ’s birth. And we know that Jesus made it possible for us to see Papa again and be together forever as a family. So don’t you think we can think about Papa and Christmas at the same time?” Mom said.
James hadn’t thought about that before. He still missed Papa, but he felt happier remembering that they could be together forever.
“I’m glad I’ll get to see Papa again,” he said.
“Me too,” Mom said. “And I’m going to go visit Nana in a few minutes. You can come with me.”
At Nana’s house, James looked around in surprise. He didn’t see any Christmas decorations—not even a tree.
“Where is your Christmas tree, Nana?” James asked. “And where is the train?”
“I’m not having a tree this year,” Nana said sadly. “It takes too much work to buy one and put the lights on it. I can’t do that all alone. And I don’t know how to run the train. Papa always did that.”
“Oh,” James said softly.
“We need to help Nana,” he told Mom as she tucked him into bed later that night. “She is so sad.”
James crinkled his forehead in concentration as he and Mom thought about what they could do. Soon they had a plan.
The next evening, the whole family met at James’s house. James and his cousins giggled as they piled into cars and drove to a Christmas tree lot. They looked at many different trees. Some were too tall. Others were too fat or too prickly. Some had drooping branches and bare spots. Finally, Uncle Max found a perfect tree. They paid for it, put it in the back of the truck, and drove to Nana’s house. Then James and his cousins huddled together on Nana’s front porch and began singing Christmas carols as Dad unloaded the tree.
Soon the door cracked open and Nana peeked out. “Surprise!” James called. Nana opened the door wide. “What’s this?”
“We got you a Christmas tree,” James bubbled. “And now we want to help you decorate it!” Dad hefted the tree into the house while Uncle Max rummaged through some bins to find a tangled strand of white lights. Uncle Ben positioned the tree in its metal stand, and Mom placed a red cloth under it. Christmas music streamed from the radio as they hung sparkly star-shaped ornaments from the tree’s branches. Then Uncle Ben carried a big brown box up from the basement. Inside, James saw the shiny red train engine and black train tracks. He carefully helped Uncle Ben connect the tracks in a circle around the tree.
When they finished, Nana looked at the tree and wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. She smiled at James and his cousins.
“Thank you,” she said. “Papa would have loved this.”
“Well, you know, Christmas is the perfect time to think about him,” James said, reaching for Nana’s hand. He nudged her over to the tree, where the little train circled happily. “And one more thing. I need to teach you how to run the train.”
“I wish that each of us will have a fuller and richer appreciation for all that the great gift of the Savior’s birth, life, and death means to us and our eternal happiness. Christmas is a season of hope.”
President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, “Speaking Today: First Presidency Christmas Devotional,” Ensign, Feb. 2001, 73.