Santa missed my house last year. Not because the chimney was too small, or because we didn’t set out cookies and milk, or because we had been naughty. He just skipped over us. But Christmas without Santa wasn’t terrible.
I had known from the outset this wasn’t going to be a typical Christmas. One brother, Tim, was halfway around the world on a mission. My only sister was going to take advantage of the long vacation to have an operation and would be recuperating at my aunt’s in Salt Lake City. Medical bills and the expense of a missionary would not allow us to have a “normal” Christmas. Also, we had already celebrated our traditional family Christmas with my cousins, aunts, and uncles at Thanksgiving time because Grandma would be leaving to serve a mission in the middle of December.
With these factors, we looked forward to Christmas and wondered what we could do to make it special. Mom made a startling suggestion, “Why don’t we have Christmas without Santa this year?”
As a family, we talked about how we could have Christmas without Santa. The youngest in my family were ten-year-old twins, so we didn’t have to worry about destroying anyone’s belief in Santa. Mom liked the idea of no Santa because she said we were never sufficiently thrilled and delighted with our Christmas gifts to fulfill her expectations, and she usually felt a letdown on Christmas morning. Instead of gifts on Christmas, we would each get to choose something during the after-Christmas sales. We thought this was appropriate as Christ didn’t receive gifts on the day of his birth, but much later when the Wise Men came. Also, Christmas would be on Sunday this year, and all the excitement (and sometimes greed) that comes with gift opening didn’t seem appropriate for the Sabbath day. We decided it was time to put Christ back in Christmas.
It was “business as usual” with our other family traditions of cutting our own tree, making a gingerbread village, and baking goodies for our friends and neighbors. We also started a new tradition of stuffing each other’s stockings with small gifts. During December the stockings expanded steadily as we found small purchases or made gifts and secretly placed them in each other’s stockings. Through this service, our focus turned from the worldly idea of Christmas to our love for each other, and these small gifts meant more to me because they were carefully created for me personally.
On Christmas Eve, we went to the chapel, and my dad told us stories behind some of the Christmas carols and played them for us. Gathered around the organ with the most important people in my life, I felt an intense feeling of love for my family and for the Savior. The feeling that night was calm and peaceful. There was no wild anticipation about what tomorrow might bring. We were in no hurry to get up in the morning to open gifts. We read the story of Christ’s birth and went to bed.
The next morning, we didn’t dash to retrieve our gifts from under the tree as we usually did each Christmas morning. We had a relaxed breakfast and went to church. Attending my meetings, I felt an even deeper understanding of what Christmas should be. We had had Christmas with Santa before, and we would have it again. But for one day, Christmas wasn’t focused on gifts and commercialism, but on Christ. Celebrating the birth of Christ without the distraction of Santa helped me to realize why Christ came to earth and the sacrifice he made for me.
As we looked back on last year, we decided that it was one of the best Christmases ever. Last Christmas was filled with family, friends, love, and service. By focusing on the birth of the Savior we came to realize we could have Christmas without Santa. Celebrating Christmas this way, I found we had things money could not buy; we had family unity and love for the Savior, gifts that will last forever.