A Christmas to Remember, an essay by Jamie N at Spillwords.com

A Christmas to Remember

A Christmas to Remember

written by: Jamie N


A Christmas to Remember, essay by Jamie N at Spillwords.comMany years ago, I experienced a Christmas that changed forever how I view the holidays. It humbled me and taught me a most valuable lesson that has stayed with me to this day. Some of your greatest blessings come from the hardest of times.

That Christmas found me as a single mother of a beautiful 3-year-old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter. My husband of seven years left to pursue a more provocative life. Family, work, and responsibilities were not befitting his life goals. I was left to juggle all the expenses of life — rent, utilities, groceries, etc — and doing my best to spend quality time with my daughter. Add to it, I was working multiple jobs, shoeing horses, and working at a single-attendant gas station to earn the money needed to pay bills. Still, it was not quite adequate to cover all our needs. Add together the abandonment of my ex, working, and trying to provide, my mental health was understandably strained. Money never went as far as I had hoped even while being as frugal as possible.

Bills always came first as I couldn’t see the wisdom in becoming homeless or having the power or heating disconnected. Any of those added possibilities would have made life even harder for us. We spent all of our spare time in the summer cutting firewood to burn in the fireplace to lower the cost of heating our house with propane in the winter. Old downed trees were abundant around us and free to cut for firewood. We tended a garden in our backyard so we could have vegetables and berries to eat. Many times I would skip meals so my daughter would have a full belly. And yes, at three years old, my daughter would be working at my side. I had no money for babysitters or daycare. She was there every day while I was shoeing horses, working at the gas station, and helping me with every chore. While cutting wood, she would use a hand saw to cut kindling while I used a chainsaw to cut logs. She sat on the floor of the gas station coloring, learning to count change, or handing out Tootsie Rolls to customers while I worked the payment window.

It was these very circumstances that led me to a difficult and heartbreaking decision. On that day, I felt I had no choice but to do what I did. Every parent wishes to give their child the best that they can. So it was no wonder that my heart shattered when I had to pull her into my lap and tell my little girl that there was no Santa.

I tried to explain in gentle terms while holding back my tears that I was the one who bought the presents for under the tree. I revealed I could not afford to put any presents under the tree for her or feed her a traditional Christmas dinner. I waited terrified for her reaction. I didn’t want her to suffer anymore hardships in life or do without because of our circumstances. I felt so inadequate as a parent and it was soul-crushing.

The reaction that I feared might come, didn’t. God truly blessed me with a daughter who is my earthbound angel. In the beautiful innocence of a child, she told me, “It’s okay Mommy. You can just wrap up some of my stuffed animals from my room and put them under the tree. I’ll forget what’s there by Christmas.” I was amazed and humbled by her response to our situation. That evening after she went to sleep, I sobbed. The grace I was shown by my child dragged me to my knees.

Although still heartsick about having to do so, I did exactly as my daughter said. I wrapped up some of her stuffed animals and toys and placed them under the tree. She, as any child does, wanted to put presents under the tree for me. So, I had her go through my jewelry box and knick-knacks to choose items to wrap as presents for me, which she happily did. When Christmas day came she was smiling and staring at the tree with excited eyes, anticipating the moment we could open presents.

Our tradition was to eat the Christmas meal before opening presents. I managed to purchase a box of Jiffy cornbread and a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese for our Christmas dinner. In 2000, you could purchase both of these items, for four boxes for a dollar.

After we ate our untraditional dinner, we sang “Happy Birthday Jesus” and several other Christmas carols. Knowing she was eager to open presents, I handed her the first one. As she ripped the wrapping paper off the present, she squealed with delight and exclaimed, “It’s what I always wanted,” then giggled.

Her infectious spirit and joy could not be denied. We spent the evening trying to outdo each other’s enthusiasm with every present. By the last present, our sides were hurting and our eyes were watering from our uncontrollable laughter.

Later that night, after she went to bed, I reflected on the Christmas we shared. I again cried for not being able to give her the Christmas experience I thought she deserved and having spoiled the childhood fairytale of Santa and his sleigh.

It was in those tearful moments that it was revealed to me what a great gift God had given me. No commercialism, no platitudes, just the joy of being together in that moment, immersed in our love for one another.

The following year was little improved financially. Although prepared for another barren Christmas, I managed to set aside $5 for each of us to buy presents. We went to the dollar store and picked out 4 items each to put under the tree.

My daughter and I went to the Christmas service at church before heading home to celebrate. When we arrived home from church and walked to the front door of our mobile home, I noticed a black garbage bag was left on our front doorstep. Irritated that someone could be so cruel on the holidays to leave trash on someone’s porch, I went to throw the bag away. But as I reached for the bag, a label attached to the top caught my eye. The label had my daughter’s name written on it.

We looked at each other curiously and confused. We carried the bag inside and opened it. To our surprise and her great joy, inside was a new dress, an easy bake oven, several coloring books, and games. She jumped and squealed with delight to have such treasures. Between the gifts we purchased for each other and the added anonymous gifts received, my daughter was given the Christmas experience I dreamt about giving her but could not provide on my own.

I have no idea who may have put forth our names for us to receive such an amazing gift. If you have ever wondered if the donations you make to toy drives make a difference, let me assure you it does. Although I know Jesus is the reason for the season, those toys and clothes relieved the stress of a mother that could not provide that Christmas wonder to her child. Especially since my daughter had come to expect little to nothing in life.

In essence, someone was Jesus to me. They were that cup of cold water to a thirsty person. As Jesus stated in the Bible, you gave to the least of these, the poor. Having to shatter the childhood fairy tale of Santa and his sleigh no longer mattered. It was all about being grateful in times of trouble and accepting a gift from God.

Twenty-plus years have passed. Since then, we have both been blessed greatly and have much more than we could ever have expected. Every Christmas, my daughter and I think back to that time in our lives and remember that first Christmas we spent with just the two of us. It is still one of our favorite memories. Anytime we have Kraft Mac and Cheese or Jiffy Cornbread it reminds us of that time and we giggle. We did not have much money or niceties in life; rather we had love and laughter. Love and laughter are all that really matters in this world.

I pray you have a Christmas to remember.

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This publication is part 93 of 93 in the series 12 Days of Christmas