For our family, Christmas begins in October. Each year my mother puts up our artificial tree and strings the lights around it the weekend before Halloween. This is her way of reminding herself the holiday season is near and she needs to prepare for it.
My family is rather small, consisting of my mother, my younger brother, and myself. Being divorced, my mother has had to work very hard for the little we have. Christmas had never been a festive occasion in our home. We never had very much. Sometimes my brother and I would feel embarrassed as we compared our few presents to the many our friends received. Everyone else always seemed to have so much more than we did.
A few years ago, after my mother put up the Christmas tree, she turned to where my brother and I were silently watching and delivered her annual speech, which always contained the same ideas.
“Well, kids,” she would say, “this year is going to be a really hard Christmas. I’m sorry I can’t give you very much.” Once again we accepted the fact that Christmas that year would be another poor one.
Within a week of her talk with us, there was a knock at our door. It was two missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They taught our family, we were eventually converted, and in early December we were baptized.
Christmas that year could have been the worst. My mother was working 16 hours a day, and I was baby-sitting whenever I could to try to help. Even so, we just barely had enough money for our family to survive. We were really feeling down, and our mood affected everything we did. My brother and my mother started to argue more than they usually did. I was ill, so I was not in a good mood either. I didn’t want Christmas to come that year. There seemed to be no Christmas cheer in our house.
This soon changed. On the night of December 23, someone knocked on our door. When my mother answered it, nobody was there, but on our doorstep were two large boxes. They were filled with food, treats, and even presents! Who did this? Our home was filled with excitement as we wondered who our mystery friends were.
The next morning Howard, an elderly man who lived across the street from us, came to our door. We were surprised to see him because the only time he had ever come over before was to complain about our barking dog. He asked my mother if he could come inside. When my mother let him into the house, he started crying. When we tried to find what was wrong, he shouted through his tears, “It’s Christmas and people are dying!” After he calmed down we learned of his wife’s death several years before at Christmastime. Then he told us his grandson had been killed in a recent plane crash. We invited him to spend Christmas Eve with us. He came back later with a cake to share.
I will always remember that Christmas Eve. Howard came over and some of the ward members also came to visit, bringing their Christmas cheer. Our last visitors of the evening were the missionaries who had baptized our family two weeks before. They gave me a gift. It was a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. I read, amazed by some of the revelations Joseph Smith had received. As I read, I knew immediately it was true. It was that Christmas Eve that I gained my testimony of the truthfulness of these volumes of scripture. I felt the Spirit very strongly that night. I went to bed feeling I was the happiest person on earth.
I awoke the next morning, knowing there would be no presents from Santa. I wondered why this was my favorite Christmas. Why had it been so good when our family had almost nothing?
Tears filled my eyes as I realized how foolish I had been. I didn’t have less than my friends; I had more. I had a knowledge of the meaning of Christmas. I knew I had a Heavenly Father and Savior who loved me.
That Christmas, at age 15, I realized what Christmas was really about. It is not how many presents you receive or how much you have that makes a good Christmas. It is loving others, having the knowledge that you are loved, and having a testimony of Jesus Christ. It is a holiday to celebrate His birth and life.
Our family tree still goes up in October. It is a reminder that the holiday season is near. However, instead of reminding me of all the money we have to save or the presents we need to buy, it reminds me of that special Christmas, the Christmas I received the greatest gift of all.