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.
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.
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.