The year Dad taught me the deeper meaning of Christmas

I was nine years old and excited to add another successful Christmas pageant to my resume. I did a spectacular job delivering my single line and was basking in the applause, anxious to sample the hard candy and peanuts doled out as we exited Perham Baptist Church.

We walked to the car listening to the crunch of snow under our boots mesmerized by a brilliant sky. We were going to celebrate Christmas tomorrow! There would be gifts and turkey and pie, and did I mention gifts?

All was right with the world.

Courtesy depositphotos: used with permission

When Dad turned the corner driving us home, we noticed a glow on the horizon. In my childlike faith, I wondered if God was guiding us to our destination like he led the Magi to the Christ child so many years ago.

As Dad continued to negotiate the familiar roadway, it became apparent this was no ordinary light and the contentment I felt turned to terror.

There was a house on fire. And it looked like it was ours.

I broke the tense silence with this question, “Is our house on fire, Daddy?” There was no reassuring reply. Instead, I heard, “I don’t know Molly, but we will soon see.”

The five-mile ride seemed interminable. We held our breath as we crested the hill and saw flames consuming our next door neighbors’ home.

I’m not sure what happened next. I might have started crying, Mum and Dad probably took audible gasps of horrifying relief, and it’s likely my brother Marvin ‘tapped’ me on the head to irritate me, demonstrating that our world was still intact.

When I arose the next day despite my excitement about Santa Claus and the joy of a new doll, I knew things were different. Cinders left black stains on the snow in our backyard. Mum and Dad looked exhausted, and I saw tracks around the house, proof they had spent the night monitoring the shower of sparks that threatened to ignite our roof.

There was palpable grief as we realized our beloved neighbors had lost everything.

But I was a kid and kids live for Christmas. All I wanted to do was play with my toys, enjoy our family time, and forget the trauma of the night before.

I was very young in these photos but I never lost my enthusiasm for a new doll.

My father, however, was restless. He wasn’t a big Christmas guy anyway. He thought there was too much emphasis on presents, outraged that people spent more than they could afford on gifts that were broken by day’s end.

He disappeared, and I didn’t notice since I was busy dressing my new doll in her homemade clothes. When we sat down for Christmas dinner, I saw that his chair was empty.

“Where’s Daddy?” I asked. Mum replied, “He’s out collecting donations for the Ericksons.”

I don’t think I threw a full-blown tantrum because my mother had hurled a glass of ice water on that habit a few years earlier, but I’m sure I whined, “Why can’t he be with us?” I felt sorry for our neighbors, but it was Christmas and couldn’t he wait a few days?

Years later when I was slightly less self-centered, I realized Dad was right about Christmas. Sure it was about presents and mincemeat pie and pageants, but there was so much more to it than those things.

It was about loving your neighbor as yourself even when it was not convenient.

Dad came home beaming after completing his collection. I don’t remember how much he amassed, but his Christmas spirit was contagious as he recounted how people with very little had opened their wallets to give what they could.

I’ll always remember that Christmas mixed with tragedy and hope. And I’m forever thankful for the lesson my father taught me about its deeper meaning.

Can you share a story about your discovery of the deeper meaning of Christmas? How do you show love to your neighbor?

Author’s note: Merry Christmas to all my readers. I am grateful you have stopped by to read my blog this past year so many times, leaving funny and heartwarming comments. You encourage me more than you will ever know.

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33 thoughts on “The year Dad taught me the deeper meaning of Christmas

  1. How lovely! What a great thing for your dad to do. Much as my 3 year old obviously loves christmas and getting her presents, she actually really took to the idea of donating for the homeless this year. Once it was explained to her why we were doing it, she did pick up the idea that it would be very sad not to have a christmas to look forward to and to be cold and hungry, and she was very taken with the idea of helping. She was particularly keen to provide the homeless with lots of cakes. And crackers!

  2. Your Dad sounds like a very special man and taught you the true meaning of Christmas. It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of Christmas but really it is all about giving to those who aren’t as fortunate as us. A very touching story, thank you Molly.

  3. Oh, what a story!. And isn’t it amazing how much we “learn” about our parents as we age. You come from good stock, Molly Stevens, and you do them proud every day! XXOO

  4. Your father was extraordinary. Our home burned to the ground when we were children and quite a few lovely and unexpected blessings came out of that time- many of them because of people like your father.

    • Thanks Linda. The funny thing is he wasn’t a particularly quiet guy. He was involved in town and state politics for years and pretty vocal about community and state related affairs. He had a heart of gold and taught me some of the subtleties of love.

  5. If I can stop crying long enough, I’ll share a story about discovering the deeper meaning of Christmas. It is hard to pick just one! Christmas is probably my least favorite holiday overall, because I believe that it has been so materialized that it lacks a lot of what it really should be. Despite that, tradition says that Christmas is spending time with family, having presents and decorations, eating food, and passing the cookie tray.

    When I was a divorced mom with one young daughter and very little in the way of resources, I expected to be home alone. Traveling to be with extended family was not an option, and my daughter was with her dad and his family. But a Jewish friend invited me for dinner to celebrate one of the nights of Hanukkah with her extended family. Their welcome to this young Christian woman who would otherwise be alone was beyond my understanding. (And the food was delicious, too.)

    • What a fantastic story, Crystal. Christmas is not a happy time for many among us and I’m so glad you found refuge with a family who shared their celebration with you. Beautiful story of the deeper meaning of the holidays. XO

  6. Beautiful Christmas story, Molly – thank you for sharing that. As grateful as I am for the many, many wonderful family Christmases I’ve experienced, there were two years when I was a single mother living in Dallas that stand out for me. With my family in Ohio and those years being my son’s turn to spend Christmas with his father in Pittsburgh, I was invited to spend Christmas day with two of my close work friends (these were alternating years, as child custody stories usually are 🙂 ). I was desperately sad not to have my boy with me and couldn’t afford the time off work or money to fly home myself. I had no expectations, really. Just didn’t want to mope at home alone. Spending those Christmases with my friends and their families, experiencing their traditions and with none of the baggage that accompanies a holiday at home where we always did THIS and THAT, I had the most delightful, carefree Christmas days! Writing this reminds me that I’d like to thank those ladies for their warmth and friendship. I’m so grateful to have reconnected with both of them through Facebook all these years later. So – Merry Christmas, Molly! And thanks again for a wonderful story!

    • Being a single mother at Christmas is the worst, Kate. And even when you are no longer single having to do the every other Christmas exchange was one of the toughest things for me about being divorce. I love your story about how your work friends saved Christmas for you during those bleak two years. This is the inspiration I was looking for from my readers! Merry Christmas.

  7. I remember mother telling a story of how one year uncle Jimmy went out and collected money for a family whose house had just burnt down. Now the story from a child’s point of view. Beautifully told.

  8. I clearly remember that night …. Daddy wasn’t feeling well so he remained home while Mum took us children to our Christmas Pageant at United Baptist Church in Caribou. It was right across from the local fire department. Muma heard the ‘siren alert’ during the program and it was for Perham. (Back then there was a certain Siren for each community/area) She knew it was Perham. As we drove home she told us there was a fire in Perham but then said not a word-she knew Daddy was sleeping at home. As we neared our home we too thought it was our home. Muma never drove so fast before …. Then when we turned the corner … we all gasped and started crying as it was “Uncle Jimmy’s house” – Or so it seemed. Then we too realized it was the Ericson’s house – breathing a huge sigh of relief it wasn’t y’alls yet clearly upset it was the Ericson’s. Jane and I used to go and play in their attic room with dolls, toys and paper dolls. She’d buy new crayons and coloring books for us to color at her dining room table. Sweet Mrs. Ericson would always endulge us with a big bowl of ice cream each time before we left. Daddy was awakened by it all and had gone up to help. They lost everything, including their dog. Wish I could remember his name. I remember crying over his death. It was tragic indeed. The charred remains haunted me and brought me to tears each time we drove by. I was too young to realize Uncle Jimmy had collected funds to help them. That was wonderful!! We missed them terribly as she was like a Grandmother to us …. I can still ‘see’, in my memory’s eye, her sweet face and the dolls and doll furniture etc we freely enjoyed any time we wished …. Thank You for the walk down memory lane … bittersweet as it was. Merry Christmas !!!

    • I did not know the story from your point of view Joan. The fact that Uncle Hampton was home sleeping must have terrified all of you. They were indeed sweet neighbors. Thank you for sharing your story of that night and your memories of the Ericsons. XOXO

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