What’s it like to experience Christmas without a tree or presents? I found out a few years ago with my three older sisters when, through unusual circumstances, we had none of the traditional trappings come December 25.
Our family lived in a small Wyoming community, and we decided to spend Christmas at my grandparents’ condominium in Salt Lake City while they were on a mission in New Zealand. They had left us a key and encouraged us to stay there while they were gone.
We intended to arrive in Salt Lake early on the day before Christmas, buy a tree and presents, and decorate and wrap them that night. But snow and ice on the roads made our travel slow and tedious. When we got to Salt Lake, we found ourselves unable to get cash at any of the banks since they had closed early on Christmas Eve, and the stores wouldn’t take an out-of-state check.
We couldn’t even buy a tree, so we went back to the condo, where we decided to write a letter to our grandma and grandpa, thanking them for letting us use their home. We looked at pictures they had sent us and talked about their mission. Then we each wrote them letters asking how they were doing and telling them about our lives at home.
We made fudge and some other concoctions with the nonperishable foods Grandma and Grandpa kept on hand. We played some games, sang songs, and then read and discussed scriptures about the first Christmas. Pretty soon, it was time for bed. For the sake of tradition we each hung up a sock (one we would wear later in the week) and went to sleep.
On Christmas day, we found the treats that we made the night before in the socks, but we had no presents to open. So my sisters found pencils and paper and began writing IOUs. Some were for gifts, but some were just promises for helping do things like washing dishes when it was someone else’s turn. They seemed to have a good time doing it, so I joined in and wrote an IOU to my parents promising I’d try to do a better job of keeping my stuff out of the front room each day. They later said they couldn’t have asked for a better present.
Looking back on it, I would not necessarily plan another Christmas like that one, but it has turned out to be one of my more enjoyable Christmases. My sisters agree. We’ve never had more fun.
That day I learned that Christmas is more than trees and presents. Those are nice, but not essential. Celebrating the birth of Christ with my family is what made it truly special.