I love Christmas.
I adore cozy nights listening to long Christmas stories. As a child, those stories were the highlight when my family gathered. I can still see myself nestled on green shag carpet, chubby cheek pressed against my dad’s knee, as he sat on our avocado sectional, sharing his favorite Christmas. The whole family chiming in with tales of cutting the perfect tree in the woods, baking fudge for nearby construction workers, and opening that big box to find the envied Barbie’s Dream House.
I cherished each story. I wonder if I’ve passed that love on to the next generation. And would my grandchildren wait with bated breath to hear my Christmas adventures? I wonder if they will find and retell their favorite Christmas.
Heaven only knows I have told my favorite childhood Christmas story over and over. I love telling it, so today I share it here.
It was the Christmas when I was about to turn 12. Mom worked at a local toy store. She couldn’t stand the waste of returned toys and mangled games being tossed out with daily trash. She convinced the manager to allow her to bring all the damaged merchandise home.
“Lucky!”, you might falsely think, “You got all those toys?” No, not those toys, but I was not without an abundance on Christmas morning, some might say even spoiled. Most Christmases our tree was brimming with all the latest gadgets looking like the overstocked shelves of Walmart’s clearance aisle.
My story isn’t the story of piles of carefully wrapped presents or the one with that special princess dress. It was one isolated Christmas. The one where I snuck a quick peeks at my mom’s tender heart.
It was my mom’s idea, I’m not sure if she planned the lesson she was about to teach her children, or if she had realized the impact it would carry.
I will never forget the day it began. It was weeks before Christmas and Mom brought home that first big box of broken toys. Overwhelmed with excitement, she tossed toys to each of us, as she rolled out her plan.
Each night before Christmas, we fixed, patched, and re-wired every toy. In the end, we had a treasure trove full of tempting gifts to give to a family who had nothing, or compared to our home, had nothing. With every toy mom’s countenance glowed contagiously as she blessed the lives of strangers AND the hearts of her children.
Mom knew the perfect family to whom we’d bestow our gifts. It was a family who lived a few blocks from the store. She never met the parents but she was well aware of their circumstances and their children. It was a large family with 6 children, the oldest was 10 and the ringleader. Several days a week, especially in the winter, they would hang out at the store, playing games, exploring brightly colored tents, and tugging at Mom’s heartstrings. No one ever kicked them out of the store. I suppose it was an unspoken consensus, not knowing what sending them home might mean.
Mom often brought them snacks; apples, bananas, and freshly made cookies. On several occasions, she gave them a ride to their lowly brick duplex because she
feared their cold walk home in the dark. With each repaired toy, Mom shared story after story about the toy store family. We thrived on each detail, like field mice discovering a morsel of cheese.
After several nights, our treasure trove was complete. We managed to restore 4 shipping boxes full of toys and games well suited for each age of our adopted family. Simply boxing up the toys seemed
rigid — at least to my mom. “What child wants to open Christmas gifts from dusty old boxes?” She insisted.
With the same conviction that salvaged the toys, she had her weary family wrapping each renewed treasure. With rolls and rolls of shiny Santa Clause paper, ribbon and huge red bows, Mom continued her stories of love and hope as our obedient hands wrapped every rummaged surprise.
Finally, the last ribbon was tied. Piles and piles of gifts majestically filled the room, staked as high as my delighted green eyes.
It was a joy to see our treasures completed and ready to be delivered to our unsuspecting recipients. Excited, we squeezed into the wood-paneled station wagon, leaving plenty of room in the back for our treasure trove.
The little ranch styled duplex was just as Mom described, a sweet brick house. The sidewalk leading to the house was cracked and crumbling. With a poorly kept, there was no lawn, no bushes, flowers or plants, just one lonely tree near the street, with a plastic bag tangled in its branches, like a fly trapped in a delicate web.
Mom had each of us carry a box stuffed with the wrapped treasures. Mom marched before us, carrying one gift and a plate full of Christmas goodies, she made just for this occasion. She thought the parents might be a bit more opened to our intrusion if their bellies were full.
She rang the doorbell as we swiftly gathered behind her on the dusty, dark porch. She rang the bell again – no response. I could hear the TV blasting and children squealing but I didn’t hear the doorbell chime. Disappointed by the lack of response, Mom turned to look at us,…I guess for encouragement or maybe to see if we were frightened by standing on a strange, cold, dark porch.
“Knock”, my oldest brother blurted. Mom snickered. With a shrug of her slender shoulder, she leaned forward and knocked on the half varnished, half painted door. The TV was immediately silenced, followed by a whirlwind of whispers and shushes. Tiny hands pulled back a sheet thrown on a curtain rod to reveal two dark curious eyes.
A father’s voice yelled, “Answer the door!” Obliging, the patter of steps run to the door, asking “Who is it?” My mom answers, “It’s Miss Katharine from the toy store”. The door flung open, revealing a 10-year-old boy with scruffy hair, draped in a man’s oversized t-shirt and long black socks pulled over his knobby knees. Stacked behind him like wobbling bowling pins, stood the other children. “Hi?” The boy offered in confusion.
Mom lifted her goody plate towards him. He took the plate and passed it back to his siblings, just as a teacher passes the days assignment down tidy rows. “This is for you and your family” mom softly uttered, fanning us in with our boxes. With this commotion, the boy’s father and moments later his mother came around the corner. The children broke their bowling pin formation to collapse on the bounty.
Their joy and excitement touched my 12-year-old soul. We didn’t hunker in and watch delighted waifs tear into this tempting pile of packages. In fact, we were quickly escorted out of their home. They were appreciative but private.
We wished we could have seen the moment the seeds we had sown blossom into Christmas love. Nonetheless, the moment our gifts became their blessing was the moment I saw the true treasure trove …. Christmas love.
Christmas love, I now know that it is truly the love our Heavenly Father offers each one of us. He offers the true gift, His son, Jesus Christ.
John 3:16. It’s not just a hand-painted sign behind the goal posts of any given NFL game… it’s fact, John 3:16 … the beginning of the Christmas story.
I cherish Christmas and each story I’m told. I hope I’ve passed that love on to you, the next generation, and my grandchildren. I pray the true Christmas story, John 3:16 lives in the hearts of those that read this simple story, hear another’s favorite Christmas, or find their own treasure trove.
Merry Christmas. Make this Christmas YOUR treasure trove!