Christmas Stories submitted in 2009

The Nativity Set
Heather R. Janis
Christmas 2005

It was Christmas Eve and I was still far from settling down in my cap for a long winter’s nap. I was, however, making myself quite comfortable in my favorite easy chair, remote in one hand, a cup of steaming hot chocolate in the other as I clicked carelessly through the several dozen channels on the television. As usual, there wasn’t much on. I paused for a moment on an advertisement for some children’s toy; apparently it was the big thing for the year. Same old, same old, I muttered to myself: spend all your money, get lots of toys, and overeat.

I could tell by all the bustling that my wife was still busy in the kitchen. She poked her head into the living room. “Honey, Mrs. B wasn’t home earlier today so I didn’t get a chance to take her the goodies I made. Would you mind running them over to her?”

I grimaced. As much as I liked our neighbor, the thought of leaving my warm chair to go play Santa Claus to the old lady wasn’t very appealing. “Right now?” I asked my wife. “I just got comfortable. Anyway, it’s getting late and she’s probably in bed already.”

“It’s only 7:30. Besides, her lights are all on and I just called to tell her you’d be right over.” She smiled and handed me a wrapped plate of cookies. I started to make another feeble attempt at protest, but she planted a quick kiss on my cheek and went back into the kitchen.

Grumbling, I turned the television off, put on my coat, and headed across the street. Like a picture postcard, the snow was falling softly and had already coated the streets with a thick layer of silver snowflakes. The sky was a mass of purple clouds, promising even more snow that night. The Christmas lights we’d hung on our bushes shone brightly, creating a dancing pattern across the white expanse of our lawn.

I frowned at the sky; more snow meant more shoveling and I wasn’t looking forward to it. We had already put up the lights in the first snowstorm and we would probably end up taking them down again in February in another one. Then there had been the frantic Christmas shopping, the tree decorating, the constant baking, and card signing… My stomach tightened in frustration. Why can’t we just make it through the winter without all the extra stuff? I quickly stopped my mental train; I didn’t consider myself a Scrooge by any means, but all the fuss and bustle of the holidays just didn’t seem worth it sometimes. Over the last several years, I’d found myself being caught up so much in the menial tasks that any meaningful ones had been pushed back, lost – and perhaps completely forgotten.

The lights in the little yellow house across the street were all on and I could see shadows darting to and fro behind the shades. There were two mini-vans and an SUV parked in the driveway. She must have a small army there, I thought, wondering if our small offering would be enough to satisfy the large crowd.

I knocked on the door hesitantly. A small, plump woman answered the door; her still-abundant hair was completely white and piled in a tight bun on top of her head. Mrs. B smiled warmly at me. “I’ve been expecting you, dear. Your wife said you would be over with a plate of her scrumptious peanut butter cookies. And look – you made it! I was half afraid you would eat them all up on your way over!” She chuckled.

“Well, Merry Christmas, Mrs. B. I’d better get back home.” I handed her the plate and turned to leave.

“Nonsense. You must come in and I’ll prepare a little something for you to take home. Now stomp the snow off your shoes.” She ordered as she pulled me inside the house and shut the door behind me. I stomped my boots on the rug and before I could protest further, Mrs. B drew my arm through hers and slowly escorted me into her small living room. She pushed me gently towards a coat-strewn couch, which she quickly cleared, and told me to wait. Obediently, I sat down.

Mrs. B’s house was a far cry from the lonely stillness that usually pervaded it. Children now scurried around the house, banging doors and shouting; chatter and the sweet smells of gingerbread and cookies emanated from the kitchen. As if in response to my own thoughts about the delicious scents, two teenage boys swept through the living room, pausing awkwardly to wave hello, then dashed into the kitchen.

My attention was drawn to the Nativity set that was prominently displayed on the coffee table, a little crèche surrounded by numerous figurines, some of which I recognized and others that I didn’t. It stood silently in the middle of a piece of white cloth—snow, I presumed. Some of the pieces seemed very odd, like they didn’t match the rest of the set, so I picked up several of them to scrutinize them further. I thought back to my childhood Sunday School lessons but failed to bring up any details on this mismatched company; had I forgotten so much that I neglected to recognize some pivotal characters of the Christmas story? No matter, I shrugged, carelessly putting the pieces back on the table.

I was brought out of my reverie by a soft touch on my arm. Startled, I looked up into the face of what seemed to be a young angel. A little girl with soft blonde curls and brown eyes stared into mine.

“Are you Grandma’s friend?” she asked softly.

“Yes…” I said, quickly recovering from my startle. “I live just across the street. And you—are you Mrs. B’s granddaughter?”

“Yes, I’m Sara Marie and I’m six. Do you know the story of baby Jesus?” She changed the subject without pausing, as only children are capable of pulling off so easily. She began to rearrange the pieces that I had moved, humming softly to herself.

“I have to admit I’m fuzzy on some of the details,” I said a little embarrassed. “Why are you rearranging the pieces?” I asked, hoping not to be quizzed further on my religious knowledge.

She gave me a patronizing look; obviously she knew that I had moved the pieces and was now trying to cover it up. “These people are looking the wrong way. See, they came to see the baby Jesus, not just look at the stable; they could see a stable at home.”

Oddly enough, our conversation was beginning to make me to feel slightly uncomfortable. I looked around the room and strained my ears for Mrs. B’s footsteps. As I contemplated sneaking out the door, Sara began to sing.

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head. The stars in the heaven looked down where he lay. The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

Her sweet voice was mesmerizing and I listened to the words as though I had never heard them before. I asked her, “So why was Jesus born in the barn, anyway? If he was so important, why didn’t they at least give him a room to sleep in?” I didn’t know why I was asking this of a six-year old, but since she was grilling me, I felt I had every right to quiz her. “Don’t you think that someone should have given up their room to the young couple, especially knowing the poor woman was about to have a baby?”

“There weren’t any rooms left when Joseph and Mary got there. Lots of people believed that Jesus would come, but Daddy says they probably weren’t paying attention when it happened. So they missed it,” she sighed sadly. “I wish I could have been there; I would have given up my room,” she added softly.

“I guess I would have, too,” I told her. “But look, who’s this?” I asked, pointing to a figurine of a man with a beard and wearing an apron. “I don’t remember him being part of the story.”

“Oh,” Sara said bashfully. “I put him there from another set. I pretend he’s the innkeeper. Maybe he felt bad that he didn’t give them a room and came to check on the baby when he was born. Mama told me that wasn’t in the scriptures, but do you think maybe he did?”

I nodded my head, lost in thought. Sara had obviously put a lot of effort into thinking this story through, a whole lot more than most grown ups did. “Well, since you seem to be the expert about this story, tell me about this one.” I pointed to a woman with a jug on her head. I did remember that there wasn’t a woman with a jug in the story.

“Someone had to help take care of Mary!” She looked indignant.

“I guess you’re right. I don’t think Joseph could have done it by himself.” I chuckled quietly.

Sara knelt by the table in order to absorb herself more fully in the peaceful scene. She pointed at the barn animals. “I’ll bet they were so quiet because even they knew how important Jesus was.”

“What about these shepherds? How did they know about Jesus?” I asked.

“The angel choir—see them right there?” she asked pointing to three angels, one of which was a young child angel perched on top of the stable. “They sang to the shepherds in the fields and told them to follow the star to where the stable was. I think the sheep went, too; they didn’t want to be left out of the special night.”

Sara pointed to a group of shepherds: a young shepherd boy stood with a sheep in his arms near two other young boys and an older man with a tall crook in his hands. They all peered at the baby in the manger, seemingly praying and wondering. “I like this shepherd best,” she said, pointing to the first shepherd boy.

“Why do you like that one best?”

“Because this is his first night going with his dad and brothers to watch the sheep. He feels really special because he got to hear the angels sing and see Jesus.” She had an almost wistful look in her eyes.

“Cows, lowly shepherds, wandering neighbors in the streets of Bethlehem, sheep. So why didn’t the angels go announce the birth to more important people, like the governor or the king, even?”

She didn’t answer my question. “There were some rich people who came to visit.”

“Ah, yes.” I gestured to the three figures riding camels set some space apart from the rest of the scene. “There were three wise men from the East who also followed the star. They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, right?”

Sara nodded her head. “They wanted to see Jesus and bring him gifts. Is that why we give presents on Christmas?” she asked.

“I guess. I never thought of it like that.”

“But the best present of all is Jesus!” She looked lovingly at the Holy Family and pulled the baby Jesus from his place between Mary and Joseph. She set him carefully between the last two figurines: a beggar and a little girl hugging a little boy. “The children remind me that Jesus told us to love each other and take care of each other.” She was silent for several moments as she peered at the children’s sweet faces – so like her own innocent face.

“And the beggar?” I prompted, leaning closer towards her.

“The beggar reminds us of all the good things that Jesus did for people. He healed them and talked to them, and helped them to know how to be good. He visited the poor people because they listened to him. They knew who He was.”

Sara suddenly looked up at me. “Do you know who He is?” she asked softly, laying the ceramic figure of baby Jesus in my hand.

I was startled. I didn’t know what to say. I gazed quietly at the little painted face in my hand, imagining for a moment that I was truly there in His presence. Here was Christmas, I thought – giving love and remembering why Jesus lived.

When I looked up again, I saw that Mrs. B had come quietly back into the room. She didn’t say anything but smiled at me and handed me a large plate of warm gingerbread.

“Merry Christmas,” I whispered, with more feeling in the oft-repeated wish than I had ever given. I leaned down and gave Sara the figure of the baby Jesus.

“Merry Christmas,” she said.

I squeezed her little hand, unable to say anything for the lump forming in my throat.

As I walked back to my house, I looked up at the sky. A small patch of clouds had drifted away, showing the deep blue and crystal stars behind it, shining brightly.

“Oh holy night,” I thought, “the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.” The carol played through my mind as if someone had turned the music on inside my head and the words melted deep into my heart.

By the time I reached home, my tears flowed freely; a feeling of warmth and love spreading slowly through my soul. Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love and His gospel is peace.

I looked up at the sky once more; the snow had stopped and the clouds were clearing. The stars sparkled brilliantly above. I bowed my head for a brief moment before stepping inside the house.

Oh night, oh night divine!
A Recycled Christmas
Submitted by:
Growing up, Christmas wasn’t homemade – it was recycled. I’ve never been crafty, but I can always find just what I’m looking for at a thrift store.

Thrift store shopping started for me at a really young age and at Christmas time. Growing up, my family was middle-upper class and my dad made a great living. We took trips to Disneyland , always had nice cars and a big house with a pool. When I was 11 years old, my dad lost everything in a real estate scam, leaving us one step away from poverty.

My dad went years struggling to make ends meet with odd jobs like delivering pizzas, door-to-door sales and network marketing. I remember he cried when we moved out of state and had to leave our Collie dog, Lassie behind. It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. From this point on, everything changed – I changed.

I earned money babysitting, walking people’s dogs, cleaning houses and house-sitting when people were on vacation. Being poor, having a family I loved so dearly and earning my own money was key to learning my shopping skills.

I’m the second oldest of nine children and did most the shopping for my younger siblings. My mom would have a baby and I’d find baby clothes at yard sales. My little sister needed a Halloween costume and I found a Cinderella dress at Child Crisis Thrift store. When I was 16 years old, I was shopping at a thrift store. I found a large box full of containers with protein powder, advertising it would help with weight loss. I paid the $6.00 and my whole junior year of high school drank that nasty protein powder every day for breakfast. It tasted like cement and was most likely out-dated, but I wanted to be thin (I don’t recommend buying protein powder from a thrift store). I never did reach my desired weight loss, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, I’ll tell you that.

For Christmas, my mom and I shopped Salvation Army, bringing home decorations for the Christmas tree. We were just giddy. Every cute little thing we found made us so happy and it made our family happy.
So what am I giving away this year for Christmas? I’ve found 90% of my gifts the same way I always have (and I give great gifts). My brother Matt is getting an Escada tie I found at a Cancer Society thrift store in Sedona. My mom is getting a Coldwater Creek skirt from the same store. Baby Sage is getting a denim Guess dress and Sam will receive a Nike sweatshirt and tennis shirt, both with new tags still attached. My dad loves books on World War II and I’ve got a great little collection set aside just for him. The counselor has moved up to XXL in shirt size, and I have an XXL pile of shirts I need to wrap and put under the Christmas tree.

As an extra bonus, I love giving my money to Goodwill or Valley Big Brothers & Big Sisters. This time of year, I know they really need it.