A Christmas Sampler

by Joel R. Bryan

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    Take second helpings from twenty glorious years of New Era Christmases.

    Remember that big box of chocolates your father brought home one holiday season? The kind that had darks and lights and fruits and nuts and mysteries wrapped in pink or green or orange foil? Half the fun was guessing what was inside each chocolate, checking each hand-dipped squiggle against the chart inside the lid to figure out which was black walnut, which lemon creme, which caramel.

    In the end it didn’t matter; they were all good. But if the tradition carried over several years, you did establish favorites. You learned which wriggle meant Bavarian mint. You always looked for it first.

    That’s the way we feel about our Christmas favorites. Every December since 1971, the New Era has published holiday stories and ideas, each one delightful in its own way. But over the years, we’ve found some favorites, and for Christmas 1991, we take great joy in sharing excerpts from them with you.

    The Old Blue Bike

    Amid the bustle of the Christmas Eve excitement, my father was preoccupied. His thoughts kept returning to the used bicycle hidden carefully in the garage rafters. Next to it lay the boxes holding two brand-new shining black, matching three-speed bikes which he had purchased for my two older sisters. The budget strains of Christmas had prevented Dad from buying a third black three-speed for Leanne, my third sister.

    Instead, he set about restoring the old single-speed, fat-tired bike the older two no longer rode. Scouring pads and elbow grease made the rusty spokes shine. The inner tubes were patched, and a new coat of paint erased the battle scars of collisions and neglect. A replacement set of handgrips made the handlebars look almost new.

    This Christmas Eve, when he finished the bicycle assembly projects and rolled out and placed the rejuvenated old bike next to the new ones, the stark contrast of the old half-sized, blue, thick-tubed bike against the sleek, black beauties made the revamped two-wheeler suddenly look small and old-fashioned. Had he made a mistake in trying to redo the old bike for Leanne? Would she feel slighted?

    Early Christmas morning, we were poised in our annual positions in the hall—all in a row, youngest to the oldest. Dad was in the living room making the movie camera and the lights ready to record our grand entrance. My older sisters spotted their black beauties, gave them the once over with due praise and admiration, and moved on. Amid the chaos and clutter, Leanne stood firmly next to the old blue bike. She was touching every part and talking aloud, “Look, it has new grips and new paint! Just look at those pedals, and it’s my very own, my very own bike!”

    She stayed near the bike and repeated the same speech several times, though no one was listening, no one, that is, except my father. He stood silently, the movie camera held low on his side, listening to Leanne. Tears of joy streamed down his face as he witnessed this perfect acceptance of his imperfect gift.

    (December 1984, p. 29.)

    A Joyful Reunion

    Following my release from my first mission in 1923, I returned home to Whitney, Idaho, on Christmas Eve. It was a joyful reunion with my ten brothers and sisters, and especially with my father and mother.

    Father and Mother always made it a practice to hang the stockings, one on each chair, for the children and to place their limited gifts on or under or near each chair. They took me into their confidence that Christmas Eve. We stayed up all during the night. In fact, we didn’t retire at all. We filled the stockings after going to the granary and elsewhere on the farm to get the presents which had been secretly hidden. This took a good part of the night. The rest we spent in visiting together, with Father and Mother telling me of the progress made by each of the children while I was away, and with me reporting to them and responding to their questions regarding my wonderful mission to the British Isles. My love for my parents had never been quite so great before as it was that night.

    It was a happy morning. I could not hold back the tears as I watched with pride the reactions of my six brothers and four sisters and the loving expressions of my noble parents as they watched their posterity partake of the Christmas spirit and as they felt of the unity which prevailed in our family circle.

    (December 1988, p. 21.)

    Starry Nights

    My praises fall on starry nights;
    a phrase of awe and humbled reverence
    melts to silence
    as heaven’s alleluia
    lauds creations King.

    (December 1985, p. 51.)

    Child of the Night

    Of the night and hushed
    Majesties of light.
    Cool evening breeze
    And single cry,
    A mother’s tender arms
    And eyes …
    Unspoken grace adorns
    Crude stable hay and
    Humble cloth.
    A King is born
    In quiet manger
    Without pretense
    Or display …
    No jeweled crown
    Nor fame is found
    In lighted sky
    And whisper
    Of a father’s tender
    Murmur of His name,
    The morning breaks
    In quiet sigh and fame;
    A dark and sleeping
    World awakes
    To never be
    The same.

    (December 1981, p. 51.)

    Super Steps to Celebrating

    Spread joy by having a party that is worthy of the season.

    A Good Deed Night

    Help the helpless (paint a bathroom for a widow), or visit the sick (take along Christmas decorations), or pay a tribute to your bishop or principal (prepare a parchment scroll with elegant printing). And when the church has been cleaned, the walks swept, the program presented, or the painting done—when the good deed is finished—break bread. Fresh bagels with fruit, cheese, Christmas jam, and milk are perfect.

    A Do-It-Yourself New Year’s Eve

    Gather your friends and have all the makings for a large do-it-yourself New Year’s Eve party to send to your ward’s missionaries. Have guests bring a novelty gift, horn, hat, or treat to include in the box. Sugar cookies can be frosted by guests to eat or pack in the package. Give prizes for the funniest, prettiest, or most appropriate cookies. Have 5-by-8-inch cards ready for people to write advice, news, or greetings to the elders. Take photos of the group and send the package away so that it arrives before New Year’s Eve.

    (December 1971, p. 18.)

    Twelve Days of Christmas

    It is a tradition to have some type of advent calendar that marks the approaching holiday. Try these suggestions, and start 12 days before Christmas.

    • Pick a person or family who needs a little cheering up. Secretly leave them a special thought or treat each night for 12 days before Christmas.

    • Offer to baby-sit for your mother so she can go Christmas shopping alone.

    • Send a Christmas card to someone who doesn’t expect one from you.

    • Do something special for someone anonymously.

    • Resolve to write thank-you notes to everyone who needs to receive one from you this year.

    • Try a new Christmas cookie recipe. If they turn out, take some to your neighbors.

    • Learn one new Christmas carol.

    • Help make the yard look more festive and inviting. Shovel the walks, mow the lawn, or trim the bushes.

    • Read a special Christmas story to younger brothers or sisters or children in the neighborhood or ward.

    • Take a long walk and enjoy the beauty of the world.

    • Record in your journal the special traditions that your family has to celebrate the holidays.

    • Bear your testimony of Christ.

    (December 1987, p. 40.)

    Unexpected Star

    In Belfast I had two roommates—Carol and Anne. None of us had any extra money. Our apartment was dismal, but we could find no other place within our means.

    Nevertheless, we decided to give a Christmas party for 12 needy children. I had seen some of the miseries of the slums and wanted to help.

    Our Christmas tree was only two feet high, decorated with nine small glass balls, one package of tinfoil icicles, and a star we had made from the foil inside a cracker box. The food was simple. The gifts were small and inexpensive: a string of plastic beads, a doll’s feeding set, a young child’s picture book, small toys and games, and a package of molding clay.

    The children arrived in their best clothes, which were ragged. They stood in a group at the door, afraid to come in. But we coaxed them inside and we played games, told stories, and sang songs until we were decidedly tired of the children’s favorite, “Jingle Bells.”

    “Last year,” announced the oldest girl, trying hard to be sophisticated in an ill-fitting sheath dress and high heels that were much too large, “I was to a party in the Linen Makers’ Hall. Hundreds of us there was, and a tree 30 feet high.”

    “Was it grand?” asked a slightly envious voice.

    “It wasn’t, for no one had time to talk with us like these good ladies are doing.”

    Then we served the food, which first brought forth cries of delight and then the silence of serious eating. Most had never had that much food on their plate.

    “Tis the best party I was ever at,” someone announced after we had passed out the toys. “I felt right at home.”

    The older girl in the high heels I noticed had traded her beads for the clay, the clay for a toy car, the car for a baby’s picture book. She was trying to rewrap it, but the cellophane tape wouldn’t stick.

    “Would you have a bit of string, Missus? And a pencil, please?” I produced them, wondering. She tied the parcel awkwardly, and in large uneven letters she printed on it “TOMMY.”

    She saw me looking and explained “Tis me wee brother, Missus. Nobody invited him to a party, and we can’t afford him no present.”

    Ragged, messy little girl in your run-over, outsized high heels, I seem to remember that you are beautiful.

    (December 1973, p. 14.)

    Make-It-Yourself Christmas

    A homemade gift at Christmastime says that you care enough to give of your time, not just your money. It sends along a little of your personality, and it includes a lot of your love.

    Good-bye Goodie Roll out 10 to 12 feet of plastic wrap and place cookies, decorated side down, lengthwise down the wrap, about two inches apart. Fold the wrap in from both sides. Using red or green Christmas ribbon, tie a bow between each cookie and at the bottom of the last cookie. Hang the string near the front door. As holiday guests leave your home, invite them to snip off a special treat.

    Christmas Tree Box If a friend or family member will be away from home for Christmas—on a mission or in the military—send gifts in a box that includes its own Christmas tree. If the box you’ve chosen has a separate lid, fasten the lid to the box with masking tape “hinges” so that it opens in only one direction. Cover the box and lid with Christmas wrap. Cut a Christmas tree shape from green paper and paste it on the inside of the lid. Decorate the tree. Arrange small gifts inside the box. When your friend opens the box, he or she will enjoy both the gifts and your special Christmas tree.

    Something for the Birds Decorate trees outside by stringing garlands of nuts, berries, bread cubes, and popcorn on thread or dental floss. Sprinkle birdseed over the entire tree. You’ll enjoy watching the birds feast on this special holiday present.

    (December 1982, pp. 30–33.)