I don’t think I will ever forget that Christmas. There was little snow that year. It was as if the world couldn’t quite decide whether or not winter had really come. Such were the conditions as I drove home from college to spend the Christmas holidays with my family.
I suspected it would be the last Christmas I would spend at home. We all knew that soon after Christmas I would leave on my mission. Then would come marriage and Christmases from then on would be spent with my own little family. Oh, I knew there would be years when I would spend Christmas Day with my family, but never again would I be there for the “season,” the days of baking, nights spent caroling, the stockings to be hung, and other activities which filled the weeks before Christmas. I was growing up. I was leaving home, and the thought scared me.
I had anticipated that last Christmas at home for months. My family had many holiday traditions which we celebrated together for years, and each held a special meaning for me. I was the second of eleven children, and my nine younger brothers and sisters also added to the excitement.
That week before Christmas was wonderful. I savored every minute of the gingerbread houses, the stockings hanging in the living room, wreaths in our windows, acting out the Nativity, decorating our tree, and all the secrets and surprises which seemed to invade every corner of our warm house. It was everything I could want my last Christmas at home to be like. Yet, despite the happy feelings, I kept being reminded that this would be the last year things would be the same.
One of the Christmas traditions which we children looked forward to the most took place on Christmas Eve. Starting with the youngest, Papa would take each child downstairs to the living room. Then, holding him or her in the old rocking chair, Papa would sing us a special Christmas song. It was the same song every year, and we all knew it by heart. The song talked about angels and dancing toys on Christmas morning. Sitting there in Papa’s arms with the Christmas tree lights shining in the dark room, you couldn’t help but feel secure. Somehow you knew you were still a child, and tomorrow would reveal all the joys that Christmas morning could bring. No matter how old we were or how big we grew, Papa always rocked us on Christmas Eve.
As I lay in my bed that night, I watched each of my sisters and brothers in turn be taken down the stairs. I was the oldest child at home that year since my older sister had left on her mission. Below me in the living room, I heard the song over and over as each child was sung to. Then it was my turn. I followed Papa down the stairs into the living room. He sat in the big chair and opened his arms.
“Do you still want me to sit on your lap?” I asked.
“Of course,” he smiled. Gratefully, I climbed onto his lap and pulled my knees up to my chin, snuggling up next to him.
“This is my last night to be rocked,” I said.
“I know,” came his quiet reply.
As the first few strains of the familiar tune began in the tape recorder next to us, I thought back to all the years I had heard this song on Christmas Eve. Suddenly something in me wanted to stay. I was so warm and comfortable, and I had no idea what the future months and years would hold. I started to cry.
Don’t let this song end, I thought.
Papa began to sing.
Each year before this night, the song had reminded me of Christmas and what the next morning would bring. But on this last time, I knew Papa was singing about life and the years ahead—not toys that would break or wear out, but eternal joys I would find on my journey through life, joys I was not even aware of now. On this night I heard the emotion of his voice as he sang for angels to watch over me, not just for tonight but for tomorrow night and all the nights that would follow when he wouldn’t be there.
I let my tears flow, as the last strains of music faded away. Papa and I watched the lights of the tree in the darkness, and we rocked and rocked, long after the song had ended.
As we rocked, I thought what our last night in heaven must have been like, the night before each of us came to earth to be born. Did Heavenly Father hold us close and tell us of the joys and dancing toys which we would find on the morrow? Did we cry and wish we could stay with him forever, even though we knew earth life would bring us more joys than we could imagine? He must have held us long after his song to us had ended, asking that angels would watch over us in our earthly journey, that our years away from him would be filled with happiness and would eventually lead us back to his presence.
I found comfort as I thought of my Heavenly Father that night, while my earthly father rocked me. Even though Papa couldn’t be there every day in the future to help me with each struggle I would face, my Father in Heaven would be there. No matter what the years ahead would bring, I would not only have the support of an earthly father but of my Heavenly Father. And he would guide my paths and bring me home for good. That night I felt he too was singing, “Loving you the way I do, my little one, sleep well.”