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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Note: This was originally posted in 2008. It is one of my favorite Christmas stories because it brings back the magic of Christmas that most of us had long, long ago.

I grew up in a large family.  There were seven kids plus my mom and dad.  My dad was the only one who worked, as was the norm in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  My dad drove a fork lift at one of the local canneries.  The only way there would ever be any money for Christmas gifts was for my mother to save money in a Christmas Club account at the local Bank of America where she made a weekly deposit.

One year my brother David, who was about eight years old that year, fell in love with a toy he saw on a TV commercial.  It was a cannon that shot hard plastic balls.  It was called the Mighty Mo.  The commercials showed the Mighty Mo crawling over and through rough terrain all on a miniature scale, of course, but it looked really neat.  The clincher was the footage of the cannon balls launching out of the Mighty Mo!

David had to have one but we were taught to not ask for anything, not even for our birthdays or Christmas so he couldn’t ask for one.  We lived a block away from Safeway and my mom used to send us on daily trips for the odd supply she needed before the next week’s big grocery trip.  Safeway carried a few toys then.  They placed them on the shelves high above the produce department as those shelves were normally empty.  On one of the trips to get something for my mom, David was thrilled to discover that Safeway had about two dozen Mighty Mos on their shelves!  After that day, David volunteered to go to Safeway every single time my mom needed something.

Every day David returned from his Safeway run to report exactly how many Mighty Mos were left on the shelf and every day, as the number dwindled, he gave my mom his report in a sadder and sadder tone.  First there had been two dozen then only eighteen.  Soon there were less than a dozen and when there were only four left, David was really sad. About three days before Christmas, David reported, with tears in his eyes, that there were no Mighty Mos left at Safeway.  When Christmas arrived, David was the only one of us that was not excited about it.  We all wanted him to be happy like we were but nothing got him excited.

On Christmas morning, we got up and my big brothers helped us girls get dressed and ready to go upstairs to open presents.  That’s what we did each year because it gave my parents a little extra time to get up.  When we got upstairs, David was the last one to go into the living room where the tree was with our Santa gifts unwrapped.  When he came in he found us all with huge smiles on our faces and our eyes intent on his face.  He didn’t know what was up until he looked under the tree and found his Mighty Mo with a big red ribbon on it!

We all enjoyed that Mighty Mo for several years.  David especially liked to shoot the cannon balls out of the Mighty Mo from the top of the stairs in the back yard.  It was a fun toy.  I only wish my brother David was still around to tell the story himself.

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When I was growing up, I was the one who helped my mother do the everyday correspondence, even though I was the fifth of seven kids.  I remember being in second grade and being the one that filled out and addressed the Christmas cards for my mom every year.  I had to print because I didn’t know cursive yet.

One year I was filling out the cards and the card my mom had picked out was a really pretty one.  It had a bright red poinsettia on the front of it and on the inside it had the normal holiday greeting but on the backside of the front picture was a paragraph about the poinsettia being introduced to the United States in 1828 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.  It also mentioned a Mexican legend about this flower, which in Mexico is known as la flor de la noche buena, or the Christmas Eve flower.  It didn’t tell the legend, it just mentioned that there was one.

That caught my interest and I started to wonder and ask and read about this beautiful flower.  After several years, I learned the legend.  I’ve shared it with my readers previously but I’d like to share it again.  I’ve put it into my own words.  I’ve changed the name of the little girl to Maria (she is called by different names in different versions of the story).  I just recently learned that December 12 is “the day of the poinsettia” in the United States, which is interesting to me because December 12 is also the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

The Legend of the Poinsettia

[This is a retelling of the traditional legend of the poinsettia.  I have read many versions and have worded this one in my own words, from a number of variations on the traditional legend.]

In a small village in Mexico, many years ago, lived a family with three children.  The daughter was María and the oldest of the three.  Her two younger brothers were Pablo and José.  Her father worked wherever he could find a job, often traveling to villages far away for a few days of work.  María’s mother was a wonderful weaver.  People from villages nearby brought their weaving to her.  María helped to take care of her little brothers while her mother worked on the weaving.

One day, the priest from the village church came to see María’s mother to ask a favor of her.  Each year the villagers participated in a procession to the church where they re-enacted the birth of the Christ child.  The priest brought the blanket to cover baby Jesus to María’s mother to repair as it was frayed and damaged.  Instead, María’s mother said she would make a new one because the old one was too far gone.  She assured the priest it would be ready in time for the Christmas Eve procession.

The next day, María’s father left to a village to do some work.  He would be back in a week.  His children stood at the entry to their small house, smiling and waving at their father as he left then they went to school, María leading the way as she held on to her brothers’ small hands.  When the three children returned home, their mother was very ill.  María left to call the doctor who was in another village.  When the doctor came, he took care of María’s mother but told María that her mother had to remain in bed until she was well.  It would be some time.  María promised to take care of her mother and make sure she took her medicine.

For the next few days, María took care of her mother and her brothers and tried to finish weaving the blanket her mother had begun to make for the baby Jesus.  It was such an honor to be asked to contribute this small gift to the village’s tradition and to the Christ child.  Her mother had begun to teach her to weave but María couldn’t do it.  Instead, the thread became tangled in the loom and it was no use.  There would be no new blanket for the Christ child that year.  María cried in shame.  Her family would be dishonored and shamed.

When Christmas Eve arrived, María did not want to go to the procession because she was so ashamed of not having been able to make the blanket.  Her little brothers were looking forward to the procession and they pleaded with her to take them.  She finally agreed, thinking that she would hide in the bushes near the church, close enough to watch the procession and close enough to watch her little brothers but far enough to not feel her cheeks burn with shame.  So she took them to the procession and sank back into the bushes, out of sight.

From nowhere came an old beggar woman and asked María why she was hiding.  María told her what had happened.  The woman told her she had to join the others in the procession and participate in the tradition of bringing a gift to the Baby Jesus.  The woman told her it did not matter what she took as a gift to the Christ child.  The only thing that mattered was what was in her heart.  María argued that she could not join the procession with no gift but the woman convinced her that the gift would be joining in the procession and being present.

Not wanting to go into the church empty handed, María looked around her but found only some green leaves growing near the bushes.  She grabbed an arm full of them and joined the procession into the church.  As her turn came to proceed up the aisle to the manger, María walked with the bouquet of green leaves in her arms, tears running down her cheeks because she was so ashamed of having no gift.  As she placed the leaves at the manger as her family’s gift, she closed her eyes in shame.  She heard the collective gasp of everyone in the church and feared that they were laughing at her for bringing weeds to the Baby Jesus.  She opened her eyes and instead of the wild green leaves, she saw the most beautiful red flowers.  As her tears dropped onto the green leaves, each leaf turned a deep red.  They were the most beautiful flowers María had ever seen and they were her miracle gift to the Baby Jesus.

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The following story is real.  Not even the names have been changed to protect (or accuse) anyone.  I originally posted it in 2008 on this blog.  I hope you enjoy it.  I know it was a tear filled time as I lived through it all but now, looking back at it, I actually laughed.

Three Strike Christmas

For some reason my ex-husband always chose without fail, the start of the school year when I had school clothes to buy for three kids or Christmas when I had gifts to get for the kids, to file for a Modification of Support.  When he filed such an order, he did not have to pay me any support until the hearing which was usually 4 to 6 weeks after filing for the modification.  He did this Christmas of 1993 and his petition failed.  He did it again Christmas of 1994 and although that petition also failed, it left the kids and I in a bad financial situation because we had no income for a couple of months.

Christmas of 1994 the kids went to their dad’s house on December 23rd.  He was to return them by 10 AM on Christmas morning.  Because of the absence of money, I didn’t have many presents for the kids.  They all wanted a computer and I found a man that would build one for me and not charge an arm and a leg and he would build it to the specifications needed by/for the kids.  He took a payment to get the parts and then the rest when he delivered it on Christmas Eve.  I had checked with him a couple of days before Christmas and everything was on schedule.  I was glad because although this was a gift for all three of them, it was really primarily for Tony, the oldest who needed it for school.  I had managed to get a couple of computer games at discount that I would give him for Christmas.

Tina wanted a bird.  I had found her a beautifully ornate bird cage at a yard sale about a month before Christmas and I had it stashed in the garage.  I just had to get the bird.  I planned on getting it at the local swap meet on Christmas Eve while the kids were at their dad’s.

Everything was on target that Christmas Eve.  I got up early and was at the swap meet when they opened at 7 in the morning. I knew exactly where the pet stand was and I got there in time to get the most beautiful lavender colored parakeet!  It was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen.  I was so happy to have gotten it and it was only $4!  On my way out to the car I stopped and picked up a couple of small things the kids would like and was pleased that I got them at bargain prices as the vendors wanted to unload them quickly so they could go home.  I made my way home and set up the cage and put the parakeet into it.

Just as I finished with the birdie, the phone rang.  It was bad news.  The man that was building the computer for me was calling to say that the fan he had ordered for the computer did not work and he’d have to wait til the 26th to get another.  The kids would not have their computer on Christmas.  I was bummed but I figured I would make the best of it and was glad I had managed to get a deal on the bird and the things I picked up at the swap meet or they really would not have anything.

I went to the grocery store to get what I needed for Christmas dinner and to see if I could pick up some stocking stuffers for the kids.  I was in the store for a long time and when I came out, it was clear that it had been raining for awhile.  I got the groceries near the car and then I slipped and fell.  I fell flat on my back in the middle of the parking lot, in the rain.  I couldn’t get up.  I just lay there as cars went around me.  It took about seven or eight cars going around me before a man came and helped me get up and got me to the car. Then he picked up my groceries and got them in my car.  He actually offered to drive me home but I thanked him and said I could make it home.  I had a previous back and knee injury so this was not good.  It took about a half hour of sitting in the car crying before I felt I could drive home.

Once home I put the perishables away and took a pain pill and went to bed.  I slept for a very short time and wakened when I heard a loud crash!  I ran to see what it was and got to the living room in time to see my daughter’s cat running past me with the bird in his mouth!  He had somehow gotten out of the bedroom where he had been stashed til he could be introduced to the bird.  The loud crash was the cat, Noisemaker, knocking down the cage.  I chased the cat all over the house until he let go of the cat whose neck had been broken.  I threw a shoe at the cat and sat and cried again, holding the dead bird in my hands.

I ended up going to bed and crying myself to sleep after taking care of the bird mess in the living room.  I didn’t even eat lunch or dinner.  I just slept.

When the kids got to the house the next morning, I answered the door with tears in my eyes and the only thing I could say to Tina was “Your stupid animal killed your Christmas present!”

The kids kind of rolled with the punches that day and enjoyed themselves and the gifts they had.  The day was fine and on the 26th, their computer was delivered and we went back to the swap meet and had my daughter pick out another bird.  They also had some Christmas money sent by relatives so they enjoyed the after Christmas bargains at the swap meet.

I guess no matter what happens and no matter how many strikes against us, if we’re together, it’s  a Christmas hit!  It matters not what material things they have or I can give.  We have each other and we are willingly and eagerly together.  That’s what counts.

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(A compilation of Christmas tree stories I’ve posted throughout the years, and then some.)

We had always had real Christmas trees, not an  artificial one.  That’s how it was when I was a child and when I married, we always got real ones too.

In November of 1992, my husband left home, leaving the three kids and me behind.  When it was time to go out to get our tree the following month, the three kids and I went out and bought a real tree.  We always had a big 7 foot tree in that house so that’s what I picked out that year.  The guys at the Christmas tree lot tied it to the top of the car for us and we drove home.  When we got home, it became obvious that we had a problem.  First, in their infinite wisdom, the guys had tied the tree to the open windows of my station wagon.  We couldn’t get the doors open.  My son climbed out the window and went in and got some scissors to let us out of the car. By the time he got out, the girls had also climbed out their windows and I was the only one waiting, patiently, to be let out.  He didn’t cut the whole rope/twine.  He just pulled on it to get the door open enough for me to get out and cut one bit of the twine.  Then we had another problem.  The tree was too big and heavy for the kids and I to take it off the top of the car.  We couldn’t even reach it.  I went inside and called friends and a couple of the neighbors but no one was home or couldn’t help for one reason or another.  I called the kids’ dad but he said he wouldn’t come until the next time it was his turn to get the kids, in a few days.  I couldn’t leave the tree up there and drive all over town with it that way for three days.  Finally one friend called back and said her husband could come but not until the next day so the tree stayed on the car over night and in the morning, I drove the kids to school with the tree on top of the car.  I also picked them up after school with it up there.  Finally, my friend and her husband came and got it in the house for us.  It’s a good thing it was very cold or the poor tree would have died!

That was the last time we had a real Christmas tree for a long time.  The following year I debated about having a real tree or an artificial one and remembered all the hassle it had caused to get a real tree so I went to the local drug store and found a fairly decent one that was on sale and took that home.  The kids helped me set it up and decorate it but it wasn’t the same.  They accepted the artificial tree but missed having a real one.  However, it was nice to have a tree that we could set up year after year without having to cut one down each year.  When the fake tree got old and too tattered, it was replaced with another fake tree and the tattered one was donated to the school to use in the cafeteria.

In December of 2004, it was just my youngest (she was 14 then) and me left to set up the tree because she wanted to set it up before her brother and sister arrived on December 23rd.  We set up the artificial tree and decorated it.  She decided we didn’t have enough ornaments on it so we took a drive to Target to get a few more.  However, we walked out of Target with a new artificial tree!  Susie had fallen in love with a white pre-lit Christmas tree.  She also decided she wanted only blue and green decorations on the tree so we had to get a whole tree worth of green and blue ball ornaments and icicle ornaments.  I laughed because she decided she wanted that one and moved heaven and earth to get it.  She got someone there to agree that the tree should be a markdown item so we got the $150 tree for 60% off!  And it was gorgeous.  She even paid for the new green and blue ornaments with her money so I wouldn’t say it was too expensive.  She didn’t want to use the multicolored decorations we had because they would ruin her new tree.  All this she got away with because she looks at me oh-so-sweetly and smiles at me and hugs me and calls me “Mommy”.  And if that doesn’t work, she reminds me that she’s my “baby”.  Yup.  She knows how to work it!

We got home and had to take the green artificial tree down before we could even bring the white tree inside from the car and set it up.  It was a lot of work and although the white tree was sixty per cent off, it was still expensive but Susie was happy.  I made sure she helped take the green tree down and set up the white tree.  As far as decorating it, she took charge of the whole thing which was good because in previous years she had not shown much interest in helping to set it up!

For Christmas of 2006, my older daughter Tina, had moved to Santa Rosa near her sister and me.   One weekend, her roommate’s boyfriend took the girls up to the nearby mountains to cut a tree.  Tina loved it and insisted that we should go out and cut a tree for my house.  We had never done that, although we had spoken of doing it several times.  However, we didn’t have anyone to go with us to get the tree and actually cut if for us as the friend that had done it for the girls lived an hour away.

The next day, my son came over with his girlfriend. We were making tamales so she could learn to make them.  Tony’s girlfriend drives a small truck and that’s what they had come to visit us on.  Tina and Susie weren’t sure if they liked Sarah.  They hadn’t spent much time with her.  That day they got to know her and liked her.  Tina felt comfortable asking her if she’d take us to go get the Christmas tree.  She agreed.

So off we went in two cars, Sarah’s truck and my car because there were too many of us to go in the truck.  We got to the tree lot up in the mountains just before closing, when it was almost completely dark.  The owner let us on the lot to see if we could find a tree in the dark.  The girls kept running from one tree to the next, finding fault with every one of them until they came upon a very large tree that they agreed on.  Not having done this before, it did not occur to us that the tree would look a lot smaller than it really was when it was out in the open.  We didn’t compensate for that.  Tony cut the tree down and tied it to Sarah’s truck and we all headed home.

When we got home, the tree was too tall for the living room.  Tony ended up having to chop off about eighteen inches.  He stood it up in the living room and then we realized that not only was it very tall, it was also very big around.  It literally took up half the width of the living room with very little room on either side.  By the time the tree was set up and ready to decorate, the girls had lost interest in decorating it and Tony and Sarah had left to her family’s Christmas party.  The poor tree stood undecorated in the living room for several days.  Finally, on December 23, I threatened to not give the girls any of the gifts I had for them if the tree did not get decorated that night.  The tree was as beautiful decorated as it was too big for the room. It was gorgeous and we had learned that next time, if there ever was a next time, we would be sure to measure the tree before cutting it down.

The year Tina and I moved to Oregon, 2008,  Tina wanted to go out and cut down a tree.  I had my doubts that it would actually happen even though we live in the middle of many “cut your own” tree lots.  As luck would have it, the Arctic Blast storm intervened with Tina’s plans and we could not go out and get one.  It began to snow on Dec. 14th that year and didn’t stop until the 26th.  I could not even leave my driveway!  So I pulled out the artificial tree that I had thought to get when Tina and I had gone to Target on Black Friday.  It was the exact same tree kind of tree we had in Santa Rosa, a white pre-lit tree.  And although that Christmas almost didn’t happen for us, because of flights being canceled, when they finally arrived, we had a tree.

One very moving thing that happened when I posted my Christmas tree story in 2009 is that one of my readers contacted me about a tree.  I had posted that we probably would not have a tree that year because we were leaving town on the 20th and would not return home til the 27th.  That year, I knew it was a good chance that it would be our last year together at Christmas (with the family going off in different directions) and after the near debacle of the previous Christmas, I had rented a house in California, which had been home for many years.  My kids all had ties there and one of them lived there so it made sense to go there for Christmas.  However that meant that we would have no tree.  My reader lives in the Portland area and offered a small artificial tree that I could have to take with me to California.  It was great!  We met in the Target parking lot near the airport when she went to pick up her husband.  The tree was not only pre-lit but also had music and rotating base.  It was great!  We enjoyed it and then left it behind for the next family.

Christmas 2013

My grandson, Anderson, was three years old and loved the big Christmas tree they had at home, one we had gone out together to cut down.  I had decided I was not going to put up my tree because it was just too much work and it was only me at home.  No one was coming for Christmas.  Instead, I would go to my daughter’s house (she lives about a block away from me) for Christmas.  So no tree.  However, Anderson kept asking me where my tree was.  I kept telling him “no tree at Nana’s house this year” but he kept asking.  One day, less than a week til Christmas, we were at Big Lots and he saw a white pre-lit tree he liked.  It was only about 3 feet tall and because it was so late in the season, it was on clearance.  I think it was all of $10.  He kept saying “crammus tree for Nana’s house please”.  So we got it and he picked out gold and red ball ornaments.  We took it home and I set it up for him and he got to put the ornaments on the tree.  He even plugged the tree in for me to light it up.  He loved that tree and every time he came over, he would run to the tree and plug it in for me.  I even kept it up for an extra week or two because he loved it so much.

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The other day, I went out to look for Toblerone bars to put in my grown kids’ Christmas stockings.  I didn’t want the huge bars.  I was looking for some smaller ones that are actually hard to find.  I went to three stores and didn’t find them.  Finally, at Fred Meyer I decided to get the bigger ones because I could not find the small ones.  While I was in the candy aisle, there was a older gentleman stocking up on boxes of chocolate assortments.  He was looking for one brand in particular.  I don’t remember the brand but I know it was not a brand I had ever heard of.  He put about 30 boxes into his shopping cart.  An older woman came around the corner into the aisle and made a comment about him not leaving any for anyone else.  He smiled and said there were still two big boxes full in the back and he would pull them to the front of the shelf so they would be easy to find.  He did just that as she examined one of the boxes in his cart and asked what was special about those particular chocolates.  He explained that they are made in the town where he was born and raised and he grew up with them at Christmas time so now, every year, he buys them for everyone in the family and it has become a tradition.  They all look forward to those chocolate boxes.  She put the box back in his cart and maneuvered her cart past saying she was looking for orange sticks.  I had just grabbed a box of orange sticks (a favorite of my mom’s when we were growing up) so I showed her where they were on the shelf.  So what did she do?  She loaded up her cart with about 20 boxes of orange sticks because she can only get them at Christmas time!

I got to thinking about candy and Christmas and my childhood.  I remember looking forward to the bulk hard Christmas candy assortment my mom used to buy.  She would put them in a clear class candy jar with a lid on it (which I later learned was called an apothecary jar) and they were so pretty in there.  Then she would let us have a piece as we got close to Christmas day.  By night time on Christmas they were usually all gone!  My favorites?  I loved the candy ribbon ones but there were also some little round shaped ones that had white in the middle with a picture in it.  I don’t know what those are called but I really enjoyed those.  I can’t seem to stop thinking about those Christmas candies and it has been about three days.  I think I’m going to have to go out and buy some so I can get it out of my system.  Don’t worry, I won’t get more than just one bag.  I’ll leave enough for everyone else!

Christmas candy mix, photo from fijis.com

Christmas candy mix, photo from fijis.com

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For the last 59 years, children all over the world have listened to NORAD’s Santa Tracker on Christmas Eve to make sure he’s on his way to their house.  I know that as a child I listened to it.  We had one of those huge old radios made of wood with gold colored knobs on it and a big half circle dial that lit up when the radio was on.  My dad would listen to the radio until late every night when he came home from work.  On Christmas Eve, as we were bouncing off the walls with excitement, he would call us over and turn the dial and we would hear that eerie crackle-static-hum-buzz as the station tuned to the report of where Santa was at that moment.  We would hush and listen intently and when told we had to go to bed before Santa could come, we knew he was on his way and off to bed we went.

This morning, a friend posted a link on Facebook (thanks, Kris) that lead me to a story of how NORAD’s Santa Tracker got started.  As I read the article, I fought a losing battle with my tears.  This time of year makes me teary anyway but when I read about the man that started it all and how it was actually an accident that it even started, I couldn’t help it.  It seemed like magic to me and, afterall, isn’t that what Christmas is about–magic?!

According to the article, it started with a typo in a Sears store ad in which Santa invited children to call him day or night.  The ad listed the wrong phone number.  The number that was listed rang a special phone which sat on the desk of Col. Harry Shoup, the commander of the Continental Air Defense Command (now known as NORAD).  It was a special hotline phone that only two people knew the number to, Col. Shoup and a 4 star general at the Pentagon.  It was December of 1955–in the middle of the Cold War–and the special phone on Col. Shoup’s desk was a hotline to inform of an air attack on the United States.  Imagine the panic and then the irritation when the hotline rang one day and Col. Shoup answered to hear the voice of a child asking if he was Santa!  Shoup was outraged when he heard the child, thinking it was a joke, then he realized that the little boy was crying and that the call was real so he changed his tone and pretended to be Santa for the little boy then asked to talk to the boy’s mother who told Shoup how they got the number.  Sure enough, as Shoup looked up the Sears ad, the hotline phone kept ringing with tiny voices of children all over the United States, wanting to talk to Santa.  Shoup got two of his men and assigned them to answer the calls and pretend to be Santa.  It became a joke within Shoup’s men and one day, when Shoup walked in to the air command center where there was a huge glass board that tracked every airplane that came into American and Canadian air space, he saw that someone had drawn a sleigh with eight reindeer coming over the North Pole.  The men offered to take the drawing down but the Colonel looked at it for a few minutes then called the radio station and identified himself as the commander at the Air Alert Center and reported that there was an unidentified flying object that looked like a sleigh.  The radio stations ran with it and began to call the command center every hour for a report of where Santa was.  And that’s how it started.

Be sure to go read the article I linked to above.  The story is told by Col. Shoup’s three adult children.  They go on to tell of how Col. Shoup began to get letters from all over the world thanking him for creating the Santa Tracker.  He was so proud of those letters that he carried them around in a locked briefcase.

I once had a little taste of how it feels to be Santa for just a little while so I can imagine how Col. Shoup felt being able to bring the magic of Christmas and Santa to children around the world.  It’s a pretty special feeling…a magical feeling!

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Stille Nacht, or better known to most of us as Silent Night, was first sung on Christmas Eve in a St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria in 1818.  The lyrics were written by John Mohr, a young priest.  He had written the lyrics in 1816 but hand no music to go with the lyrics.  In 1818, he took the lyrics to Franz Xavier Gruber who was a schoolmaster and organist in a nearby village and asked him to compose the music to go with the lyrics.  Both Gruber and Mohr performed the Christmas carol on guitar at the church that December 24th.

Since then, it has been translated into 140 languages and recorded by countless artists.  It is said that it is the one song that American, German, and French troops could sing together during the Christmas truces of World War I in 1914 because it was the one song they all knew the lyrics to in their own language.  I’m thinking that must have been some awfully inspirational sight and sound, out in the middle of battlefields, all those soldiers stopping their fighting, putting their guns away and singing together.

It’s one of my favorite Christmas carols.  To me, the lyrics and the serenity of the music are what the Christmas season should be about.

On another note (no pun intended) I usually post my Christmas stories based on my own Christmas memories during the month of December.  I haven’t done that and I’m running out of time.  So tonight (it’s almost 11 pm as I wite this), along with the words above, I’m also posting links to one of my Christmas stories.  I hope you click on it and read it and enjoy it!

The Night I Saw Santa!

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I am an avid reader.  I also have failing eyesight.  I am legally blind without corrective lenses.  This keeps me from reading.  I would struggle to read (with my contacts on and two pair of reader glasses one over the other) for twenty or so minutes just to have to stop and rest my eyes for another half hour or so before trying to read again.  My son works for amazon.  When the Kindle ereader came out years ago, he suggested that I might want to get one.  They were near $300 at the time and I did not like the fact that I had to pay around $10 for most books I would want to read.  I was used to buying my books at used bookstores for only a dollar or two.  That’s how I could afford to read as much as I did.  The only time I spent full price on print books was when a new Grisham novel was released or the Harry Potter series.  Other books I would wait til I could find at a used bookstore.

For Christmas of 2009, there was nothing on my Christmas list.  The only thing I wanted was to spend one more year with all three of my children before everyone scattered even more.  That year, my older daughter and I were living in Oregon.  My son was in California and my youngest daughter was in Baltimore at college.  My older daughter was also pregnant.  My fear was that we wouldn’t get to be together for that Christmas and then the precedent would be set and we would not ever have a Christmas together again.  So that’s what was important to me…getting us all together.  I posted an ad on craigslist in the California city where I wanted to spend the holidays, asking if anyone had a house or small apartment that we could use for a family Christmas and I explained what our situation was and who would be staying there.  One woman replied almost immediately.  She said she had never done anything like that but that my ad caught  her attention and she and her husband would be out of their townhouse for the holidays.  We settled on a price and they sent a contract for me to sign and my son went to see the place before I signed the contract.  It all worked out and we had a place to spend the holiday together.  My wish had come true and I was happy.

On Christmas morning, I was given my gift.  Christmas is also my birthday so the gift was for both Christmas and birthday and it was from all three of the kids.  I opened it and it was a Kindle (It was actually Kindle 2 for those in the know).  I wasn’t sure I would keep it but I pretended to like it when my son showed me how to set it up and use it.  They had also included a gift card for $20 so I could buy my first couple of books.  He said I had 30  days to try it out and it could be retuned if I didn’t like it.  I went along with it and downloaded my first book (True Compass: A Memoir by Edward M. Kennedy).  When I got a chance to use it that night, I liked it.  I just wasn’t sure about having to spend so much on books.  The next day I got out my laptop and looked online and found many sources for free books for the Kindle.  So I started to download free books.

I fell in love with that Kindle!  Since then I have upgraded to the Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3) and hope to buy myself the new Voyager in the next couple of months.  I read more now than I ever have and spend a lot less.  I have also joined several websites where I earn points that can be cashed in for amazon gift cards.  I use those gift cards exclusively for my Kindle books.  Some months I get only $5 in gift cards but I have also gotten as much as $35 in free amazon gift cards in one month.  That buys me a l ot of Kindle books for, basically “free”.  It just cost me some time and a little bit of effort filling out surveys and writing reviews.

Since then, my vision has worsened so much that I can no longer read print books at all so if it were not for Kindle, I would be a very unhappy and very frustrated reader.

That was probably the most surprising gift I have ever received!

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Yesterday I read a blog post about a woman’s Christmas near miss–the year she almost missed Christmas with her family.  It reminded me of my story of that first Christmas being married and having two families to visit in two different countries.  I’ve copied and pasted it below.  Enjoy!

One of my fondest Christmas memories is also one of the saddest.  It happened in 1978, the year I got married.  No, that’s not what was so sad about it!

My mother lived in Long Beach, California and my husband and I lived in Santa Monica.  His parents lived in Mexicali, Baja California, which is about a four or so hour drive from where my mom lived.  I had never missed a Christmas at home.  It was very important to me that I not miss being home, not just for my sake but for my mother’s.  I knew she wanted me to be home.  So we consulted with everyone and figured out a plan where my husband and I would drive to Mexicali a few days before Christmas.  We would have an early Christmas lunch after opening presents with his family, then we would leave there and come across the border by one in the afternoon or so.  We would then drive to Long Beach and be there for a late Christmas dinner and opening presents with my family.

We were staying on the U.S. side of the border, in Calexico, at my husband’s grandmother’s house while we were down there.  On Christmas Eve when it was time for bed, I couldn’t sleep.  I talked for hours and hours.  My husband heard about every one of my Christmases that night.  I think I was nervous about being with my new family (I had just met them two months previously and had not spent much time with them) and also nervous about the timing of the drive to my mom’s house.  I didn’t want anything to go wrong that would keep us from spending a part of the holiday with my family.  They were all waiting for us, including a number of young nieces and nephews who weren’t going to open presents until we got there. So I went on and on about Christmas and about birthday cakes (my birthday is on Christmas).  I think I recalled every single gift I had gotten in my 22 years!  Finally, I let him fall asleep at what was probably about three in the morning.   I stayed awake after he fell asleep.

The next day, everything on his family’s end of the planning went well.  By nine we were finished opening presents and our lunch was being prepared.  We ate by noon and even though I offered to stay and help with the clean up, we were ushered out the door so we wouldn’t be late getting to my mother’s house.

To get on the road, we had to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.  The road we took to get from my in-law’s to the border, was the fastest route.  It had businesses on one side and a very high fence on the other side, which served as the division between the third world country and the richest country in the world (at least in those days).  As the road approaches the border, the last mile or two, the fence is just a cyclone fence and you can see right through it, (at least in 1978 you could; I’m not sure what it’s like now).  We slowed as the road ahead of us narrowed from four lanes to the two border patrol booths that were open.  It was not a long wait but to me, it was way too long.  Because there was little traffic that day, there were no cars between us and the cyclone fence, giving us full view of the “dividing line.”  As I sat there, I looked over and watched as families congregated at the fence, exchanging gifts through the openings in the cyclone fence.  Once I realized what it was that they were doing, the excitement I felt about being on my way home left me along with my breath.  For what seemed like forever, I couldn’t breathe.  I was riveted to the scene before me.  There were mothers and their children passing crudely wrapped gifts from one side of the fence to the other.  On both sides of the fence, people were smiling and chatting as they exchanged Christmas gifts.  It seemed to be normal to them, and I’m sure it was.

I was struck by the fact that these families could not embrace or pass any gift bigger than three or so inches to the other side.  The families’ economic differences were clear.  The ones on the Mexico side of the fence were very poorly clad, especially for what was a crisp December day with the promise of rain in the sky.  The ones on the U.S. side were better dressed and wore shoes and coats appropriate for the weather.  The families although together, were very far apart in many ways.  Before I knew it, I was crying.  My chattiness was gone and we drove home to my mother’s house in almost complete silence.  I couldn’t tell my husband why I was crying. I couldn’t voice my feelings and if I had tried I know I would have ended up crying uncontrolably.  I let him think that it was because I was afraid we wouldn’t make it to my mom’s in time.

When we arrived in Long Beach, being there with my family, in the same piece of earth, was more special than it had ever been.  I could hug them and kiss them and hold them near to me and not let them go.

That was the Christmas in which I left my childhood innocence behind in many ways.

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An Oldie

This is a story I wrote for this blog a few years back.  I have about 20 Christmas stories that I love to repost.  This is one of them.  It’s true, not made up.  I’m copying the text here because I have neither the energy for a new post tonight nor the mental focus to be able to create a hyperlink to the story.  In any case, I hope you enjoy it.

The Mighty Mo

I grew up in a large family.  There were seven kids plus my mom and dad.  My dad was the only one who worked, as was the norm in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  My dad drove a fork lift at one of the local canneries.  The only way there would ever be any money for Christmas gifts was for my mother to save money in a Christmas Club account at the local Bank of America where she made a weekly deposit.

One year my brother David, who was about eight years old that year, fell in love with a toy he saw on a TV commercial.  It was a cannon that shot hard plastic balls.  It was called the Mighty Mo.  The commercials showed the Mighty Mo crawling over and through rough terrain all on a miniature scale, of course, but it looked really neat.  The clincher was the footage of the cannon balls launching out of the Mighty Mo!

David had to have one but we were taught to not ask for anything, not even for our birthdays or Christmas so he couldn’t ask for one.  We lived a block away from Safeway and my mom used to send us on daily trips for the odd supply she needed before the next week’s big grocery trip.  Safeway carried a few toys then.  They placed them on the shelves high above the produce department as those shelves were normally empty.  On one of the trips to get something for my mom, David was thrilled to discover that Safeway had about two dozen Mighty Mos on their shelves!  After that day, David volunteered to go to Safeway every single time my mom needed something.

Every day David returned from his Safeway run to report exactly how many Mighty Mos were left on the shelf and every day, as the number dwindled, he gave my mom his report in a sadder and sadder tone.  First there had been two dozen then only eighteen.  Soon there were less than a dozen and when there were only four left, David was really sad. About three days before Christmas, David reported, with tears in his eyes, that there were no Mighty Mos left at Safeway.  When Christmas arrived, David was the only one of us that was not excited about it.  We all wanted him to be happy like we were but nothing got him excited.

On Christmas morning, we got up and my big brothers helped us girls get dressed and ready to go upstairs to open presents.  That’s what we did each year because it gave my parents a little extra time to get up.  When we got upstairs, David was the last one to go into the living room where the tree was with our Santa gifts unwrapped.  When he came in he found us all with huge smiles on our faces and our eyes intent on his face.  He didn’t know what was up until he looked under the tree and found his Mighty Mo with a big red ribbon on it!

We all enjoyed that Mighty Mo for several years.  David especially liked to shoot the cannon balls out of the Mighty Mo from the top of the stairs in the back yard.  It was a fun toy.  I only wish my brother David was still around to tell the story himself.

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