Squinting at the bright winter sky, I was sure we were going to have a mild, sunny Christmas. This was somewhat of a disappointment, as I had come to love the snowy Christmases of Colorado. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by an icy snowball splatting against my neck.
“Ha ha! Gotcha!” screamed my little brother as he scurried away from me.
It was the day before Christmas. At 13, I was old enough to be left in charge of the house while our parents went into town 10 miles away to pick up previously purchased Christmas gifts. So that we wouldn’t prematurely discover our presents, Mom and Dad had cleverly arranged to leave them at the stores until Christmas Eve.
Trying to make the time go faster on what always seemed like the longest day of the year, my three younger brothers and I were playing in the three-day-old, crusted snow. We had started out making a snowman, but before long we were in a wild snowball fight.
“Ha ha ha. Gotcha back!” I yelled as I tackled my brother and the two of us fell, laughing, into a snowbank.
Although our family had moved to Denver more than six years before, it was still surprising to me how quickly the Colorado weather could change. Before our snowball fight had ended, the sky became overcast and, minutes after that, snow began to pelt the ground in furious streaks of gray.
Remembering that my parents had left me in charge, I gathered my brothers into the house. We spent the rest of the afternoon peering out at the driving snow, so thick now that the houses across the street were only dim shadows. The blanket of snow reached two feet, but still the heavy flakes continued to fall. I tried to sound confident as I told my brothers that our parents must be on their way home.
As evening drew near, one little brother playfully jumped off the front porch into the new snow. Were we ever surprised when all three feet of him disappeared into the snowy white! He reappeared looking like Frosty the Snowman.
Now it was early evening, and I was beginning to feel as grim as the quickly blackening sky. No parents. No phone call. Four frightened children alone in a storm on Christmas Eve.
Finally the phone rang. My heart beat rapidly as I answered, “Hello?”
It was my mother. My spirits rose but quickly sank again when she told me what had happened. Mom and Dad were completing their errands when the blizzard had struck, coming on so suddenly and with such force that driving became impossible. Drivers left their cars in the roads and walked to whatever shelter they could find.
After trying to get home all afternoon, our parents finally gave up, left the Christmas gifts in the car, and forged through the waist-deep snow toward the house of some friends. Mom was calling from their house.
I could feel her sadness and worry as she told me they wouldn’t be able to make it home for Christmas. “Listen, honey, you’ve got to take care of your brothers and do whatever you can to make it a happy Christmas. We don’t know when we’ll be able to get back home.”
Although I was relieved my parents were safe, my heart was heavy as I hung up the phone. “Some Christmas!” I said to myself. How could I possibly make it happy?
My younger brothers still believed in Santa. What was I supposed to tell them? There would be no Santa, no presents, and worst of all, no parents.
I could hardly look at my brothers’ dismayed faces when I told them we’d be all alone for Christmas. But when my youngest brother started to cry, I made up my mind that somehow Christmas was still going to happen.
“Hey, guys, this’ll be great,” I exclaimed with hope. “We can stay up as late as we want and do something fun and different tonight.” The boys’ moods began to brighten. We decided to gather our sleeping bags together and spend the night underneath the Christmas tree.
Pajama-clad, we gathered in the family room, cozied up in sleeping bags, gulped hot chocolate, and read the entire Christmas story from Luke. “Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10).
There were no presents, no Christmas Eve parties, no Santa, not even parents, but something magical happened that night. We felt the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit, which testified of Jesus Christ, who had come into this world to become our Savior. We felt this joy, this warmth, this feeling of love for our Savior and for each other—and that was all we needed. Looking back, it was one of the happiest Christmas Eves I can remember, that night when four children discovered the true joy of Christmas.
In the morning we awoke to weather that all but betrayed the storm of the previous day. All we could see was the warm light of the sun dancing off a frozen sea of snow. It was the loveliest Christmas morning I had ever seen.
As I sat enjoying the incredible scene, I was surprised to see two large objects racing toward our house. “It’s Santa’s sleigh!” exclaimed my youngest brother, amazed to see anything traversing this kind of snow. But the two snowmobiles which soon pulled up in our front yard brought something far better than Santa and his sleigh could possibly have brought us.
We ran to the door to greet two very relieved and joyous parents. Mom and Dad gathered us in their arms and explained that our neighbors, hearing of our plight, had given up their Christmas morning to make the long trip on their snowmobiles to bring our family together for Christmas. Mom and Dad were teary-eyed as they told us how happy they were to be safely home with us.
Later, as we sat down to Christmas dinner, I marveled at how we could be so joyful when there were no presents to open and no parties to enjoy.
But as I looked around the table at the jubilant faces of my family, I realized that, even as a child, you don’t need presents, parties, or Santa to feel joy at Christmas. The remarkable joy of Christmas comes from gifts money cannot buy—the companionship of loved ones, feelings of the Spirit, and, most importantly, the gift of the Son of God.