Monday morning is usually taken up with washday chores. But on the Monday before Christmas my thoughts were on the lovely Christmas centerpiece display I wanted to make for the table. I felt compelled to drop everything and make the journey to purchase the materials.
Preparing to cross the road to the bus stop, I suddenly changed my mind and decided to walk. I had gone two-thirds of the way when I saw a woman in a self-propelled wheelchair. She was not a member of the Church, but I recognized her as the spokesman for the elderly citizens of the borough in thanking our ward for the yearly concert we presented for them.
I greeted her, and as we chatted I learned that she would be alone at Christmas. So that was why I had felt prompted to go out that morning! I invited her to join with our family. The decorations were unimportant now, though I did continue on and purchase them.
Then, having committed myself to an extra guest, I panicked. What would my nonmember husband say? We had already invited six relatives to come (two were elderly and two were children), in addition to our household of four. How would they all respond?
At first my husband was not comfortable with the idea at all. Christmas is a time for family, he reminded me, and this lady was a complete stranger. Yet I felt she had been sent to us by inspiration, so I fasted and prayed about it and asked my Relief Society visiting teachers to do the same. By the next day there was a sunny atmosphere in our home again, and the coming of our special guest was accepted by all.
We enjoyed sharing our Christmas with her. She brought a sweet spirit into the house with her testimony of the Savior. As she testified to our nonmember relatives of her belief in the second coming of Christ, I was able to concur with her faith and to explain much more of the gospel than had ever been possible before. Our new friend had paved the way.
I was a little annoyed with daddy’s suggestion. For years it had been family tradition to go caroling on Christmas Eve. We had done that ever since there had been enough people in the family for at least two to sing one part, and it was our way of extending greetings to our neighbors. But this Christmas Eve, daddy didn’t really feel like caroling. Instead he suggested a visit to the cemetery.
That year we were living in beautiful Bavaria, a southern state of Germany tucked away in the Alps. Our family had tried to learn the language and enjoy the area’s culture and traditions. We often visited little villages, Bavarian families, and places of interest away from traditional tourist routes. So a suggestion to visit the cemetery was unusual only because it came on Christmas Eve.
Bundled in our heavy coats and warm scarves, we walked up the narrow, winding road to the village churchyard. Although we had often passed chalets connected to living quarters for animals, tonight these homes seemed very much in keeping with the tradition of the season—reminiscent of that first Christmas when travelers shared quarters with the cattle.
When we reached the top of the hill, we could hear soft music coming from the steepled church. We passed the church and went on to the little cemetery tucked behind it. Although there were other families there, all was reverent and quiet. We gazed wonderingly at the scene around us.
On every grave was some Christmas remembrance: beautiful wreaths, burning candles, fresh flowers, miniature evergreens with lighted ornaments, even carvings of the nativity. We learned that these villagers wanted to celebrate Christmas with those of their loved ones who had preceded them in death. Their hearts ached for these family members, and so they had brought Christmas to the cemetery.
With only the noise of crunching snow, we silently left, almost feeling like intruders on a sacred family occasion.
The events of that Christmas Eve took on added meaning for me the next year in the winter beauty of Utah Valley. Daddy had died during the preceding year, and no one really felt like holding to the family caroling tradition; emotions were still too close to the surface. So mother gathered us children together, and again we made a trip to the cemetery. We took with us a German wreath. Our family was alone this time; no one was there to hear our songs of Christ’s birth as we placed the wreath on daddy’s grave. Around us was a thick blanket of fog, shrouding us in its quiet mystery, and we could not see much beyond the edges of the cemetery—as if the world ended there.
But oh, what joy filled our hearts as we remembered we were celebrating Christmas, that because of the Savior the world is more than it was, that life does not end with the burial of the body, and that our loved one is not alone! There, in the cemetery, remembering daddy, we celebrated the birth of our Savior, our Hope, our Redeemer; and the peace of his message was a great salve for our loneliness.
How grateful I am for those Christmas Eve experiences, for the memories they evoke, and for the increased appreciation for our Savior that they gave me.