Christmas Eve Breakfast

About 18 years ago on Christmas Eve, I was a young mother very painfully aware of the wide gap between my household reality and what I thought the ideal Christmas looked like—the ideal Christmas as portrayed on television and in magazines, the Christmas of beautiful decor, exquisite meals, and happy, smiling children. I had tried hard to finish wrapping and cleaning, all the while attempting to achieve some order and peace in my home as I cared for my three little sons, one of whom was a very cranky baby. There was a heavy feeling weighing me down that night—I was overwhelmed.

It was starting to get dark. I had the baby in the highchair, trying to feed him and get him settled. Dinnertime was fast approaching, and there was no candlelit table, no warm feast, nothing ready on the stove. Just then my husband, who had been out doing some last-minute shopping, walked into the kitchen and placed on the counter a bag of pancake mix, some frozen orange juice, and a package of sausage. In his own way, he was telling me that he knew I was at the end of my rope and, if worse came to worst, he was prepared to make our Christmas Eve dinner.

And so that Christmas Eve, our family shared breakfast. I don’t remember how it tasted, but I remember how it felt to be loved and understood. From then on, breakfast has always been our Christmas Eve fare. Our children probably don’t understand its significance; nevertheless, breakfast is our tradition and it stands fast.

The small act of service my husband performed for me that Christmas Eve so long ago may seem insignificant, but it taught me that through small and thoughtful acts in the midst of the mundane, our lives can be changed. Through our own and others’ selfless service, the Spirit can work in our hearts and Christ can enter our lives, which is what this season is all about. Perhaps decor sets the stage, but love and service are at the very heart of Christmas.

Toni Hakes is a member of the Willow Canyon Eighth Ward, Sandy Utah East Stake.

The Appalachian Christmas Tree

Christmas of 1977 was not a happy one for me. No family members were close enough to visit, we had almost no money, and we had no pretty decorations to boost my spirits—only a scraggly little Christmas tree strung with colored paper and popcorn chains. If not for the wide-eyed hope of our small children, I probably wouldn’t even have bothered with the tree.

My husband had to drive our car about 45 minutes to get to work, taking with him our only means of transportation. I was stuck at home all day, every day, miles away from anything and everything. The nearest town was a 20-minute drive over insanely twisting mountain roads. The chapel and most of the members of our tiny branch were nearly an hour away.

We had moved to this isolated Appalachian valley in a spasm of youthful idealism and adventurousness. My husband heard of cheap land in Virginia, and before I could say, “Middle of nowhere,” we had moved there. He built us a little house on the side of a mountain, with water piped in from a nearby spring.

We did have neighbors, though they were few and far between. The closest house was an 1801 log cabin, rented for a short while by a young family from our branch, the Andersons (names have been changed). They were poor like we were. Donald, the dad, was working six and sometimes seven days a week. Donald and Ruth had three small children, as we did, and Ruth was in a constant state of exhaustion.

It was a fairly precarious hike from my house to Ruth’s, over a deeply rutted, muddy road. For either of us—with a baby in our arms and two small children in tow—visits were a bit tricky. On one of our rare visits, however, Ruth mentioned to me that they hadn’t been able to get a Christmas tree. Donald left home before dawn and didn’t get back until late evening. Ruth just wasn’t up to traipsing about the countryside in search of a tree.

One evening just before Christmas I was struck with a sudden, passionate urge to find a Christmas tree for the Andersons. Out of nowhere the idea hit me—I just had to get them a tree. As pathetic as my own tree might be, it brought at least a portion of the Christmas spirit into our home.

I spent the rest of the evening making paper chains, popcorn strings, and, of course, a yellow star with glitter for the treetop. In the morning I hiked out onto the mountainside and searched until I found a small tree. I hacked it down and found an old can to decorate and fill with dirt for a base. The end product was more laughable than beautiful, but it looked cheery enough—if you sort of squinted your eyes.

I called to ask Ruth if I could come down, then bundled up my kids and made the hike down the mountain. I somehow managed to balance the tree and the children without major mishap and arrived safely at the cabin door. When Ruth answered my knock, she took one look at my comical little tree and burst into tears. I entered the house very much afraid that my idea had not been such a good one after all.

When Ruth regained her composure, she explained her tears. It was late the evening before when Donald finally arrived home from work. With nearly empty cupboards, the family had piled into the car for the long ride to the store. After a while three-year-old Michael said, “Daddy, can we say a prayer?”

Donald asked Michael if he would like to say it. Then with the simple faith of a child, Michael asked Heavenly Father to help them get a Christmas tree. After saying, “Amen,” Donald and Ruth looked at each other, knowing they would have to try harder to satisfy the longing of their little boy’s heart. They were not able to come up with a plan that night and went to bed more than a little perplexed.

So it was that when we appeared with the little tree, we were an answer to more than one prayer. As soon as the Anderson children caught a glimpse of us, they squealed with joy and made a place of honor for the funny looking tree. There could never have been a Christmas tree more loved.

The miracle of that Christmas, however, was not just the prayer that bounced from a little boy’s heart to heaven and back again to the heart of someone who could help. It was also the healing power I found in the act of giving.

From the moment the thought of finding a tree for the Andersons struck me, the spirit of Christmas began to fill my own heart. I was grateful that the Lord loved me enough to try to get through to me and teach me. And I was reminded anew that it is in losing ourselves that we find ourselves. As we serve, we find that “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).

Laurie Hopkins is a member of the Big Thompson Ward, Loveland Colorado Stake.

Open the Card First

When we’re young, sometimes all we think about at Christmastime is what we are going to receive. In 1991 I received the best gift of all.

The previous year I had decided to serve a mission, because my mother and several other relatives had set an example for me. So I left the university after my 18th birthday and worked at a fire station for a year to save money and help relieve my family of the financial burden of supporting me on my mission.

I finally sent my papers in, certain that by 1 December I would be leaving to serve the Lord. When the first two weeks of December passed, I became more anxious to receive a reply than to get any Christmas gift. But no letter came. I thought perhaps the Lord didn’t love me or maybe my worthiness was in question; I had all kind of discouraging thoughts.

On Christmas Eve I left early in the morning to play handball with my brother at a club near our house. When I got home, I noticed several Christmas cards hanging on the tree, including a very large card wrapped in gift paper. It had my name on it. I wanted to open it, but my mother said it would be better to wait until evening when our family had gathered.

After dinner we decided to open our gifts. I headed for the biggest gift I had, but my family told me to open the card first. When I did, I saw that it was a letter and the sender was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was addressed to Elder Samuel Osorio.

By then all I could see were camera flashes, as my father took pictures of my astonished face. I was so happy and grateful to receive my call on Christmas Eve.

That was my best Christmas present ever. My mission was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and my call from the Lord is the best gift I’ve ever received at Christmas.

Samuel Osorio Mendoza is a member of the Palmas Ward, Poza Rica Mexico Palmas Stake.

Missionaries on the Metro

The first Christmas I experienced on my mission in France was very enjoyable. We were invited to celebrate with a wonderful member family, and I felt comfortable and at home. But the second Christmas stands out in my memory and will always be precious to me.

The thrill of the holiday season was in the air in the small French town where I was serving: Christmas music in the stores, advertisements everywhere, and Christmas cards in the mail.

A few days before Christmas the missionaries in our zone went caroling in the buses, metro stations, and shopping malls. We tried to share the joy of Christmas with our French brothers and sisters by singing carols, handing out brochures, and presenting copies of the Book of Mormon wrapped in Christmas paper. We wished the people a very merry Christmas. Just like the previous year, we were planning to spend Christmas Eve at a member family’s home. My companion and I had received an invitation and were looking forward to a wonderful homemade Christmas dinner.

On 24 December we worked hard the entire morning. When we returned home for lunch, we received a call from the family who had invited us for dinner that evening. They had to cancel the appointment because of a death in the family. We couldn’t go to their home because of their family commitments, so we tried to comfort them as best we could over the telephone. After we hung up, I realized this was going to be a very lonely Christmas Eve. The other elders in our apartment had been invited elsewhere. We ate our lunch and left again to work.

The evening fell, and a cold wind blew. As I looked at the Christmas trees lit up in warm homes—homes filled with happy faces—my thoughts wandered home to my own family in the Netherlands. They would be sitting together, singing Christmas carols, and reading the story of the Nativity. Then they would listen to Christmas music while my dad lit the candles on our Christmas tree. All of a sudden I felt very homesick.

We returned to our apartment, and I sat down at my desk, feeling very sorry for myself. I turned on a Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas tape and started to write in my journal.

One of the many things I learned on my mission was that those I served with were always my companion for a reason. Such was the case with Elder Wagner. After a while he got up from his desk and said he had a plan. “Why don’t we take some of our wrapped copies of the Book of Mormon, go down to the metro station, and talk to those who also feel lonely on Christmas Eve?” he suggested. I said I would join him, although I was pretty reluctant about the whole idea. I just wanted to sit in my chair and feel sorry for myself.

We left our apartment and started walking toward the metro. The closer we got to the station, the more I felt this wasn’t such a bad idea and might possibly turn out to be a good experience. When we boarded the metro, it was nearly empty. A few people were scattered about. I approached a man who was sitting alone by a window. Introducing myself, I asked if we could join him. He agreed. We started talking about families—his family, my family—and Christmas. He told me he was a refugee and had had to leave his country and his family. He told me about his wife and child and how much he missed them. Though our situations weren’t the same, I could sympathize because my family was also far away. Then I started talking about Jesus Christ, how much He meant to me, and how much Christmas meant to me. “The Savior came to earth,” I testified.

Instantly there was a fire burning in my soul. I felt the same burning sensation later that evening while I talked and testified of Jesus Christ to other people on the metro. When my companion and I finally left to return to our apartment, I was filled with a wonderful sense of appreciation. As we discussed the events of that evening I learned that my companion was feeling the same thing. We had truly felt the spirit of Christmas, and I felt as if my heart would burst with joy. The Savior was born in Bethlehem for me and for the entire world! How blessed I felt to have the gospel in my life and to have felt His love for me that night.

It was a Christmas I will always cherish, for it was on that Christmas Eve I finally learned what Christmas is all about. It is about Christ and sharing my precious testimony of the living Son of God.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dan Lewis

Rémy van der Put is a member of the Kirkland Second Ward, Kirkland Washington Stake.