I want to tell you a story I'd written about a year ago. It is a story about the best Christmas ever. It didn't start out that way... and it's a long read... but it was a Christmas that I'll never forget and a spirit of Christmas that I have tried to keep going since.
The Best Christmas Ever
October 2008 found me in the hospital fighting for my life with what we would find out to be a chronic illness. A little over a week later I was able to come home to start the up hill road towards building my strength and immune system.
As the weeks went by and Christmas drew nearer I became more and more depressed. Christmas in the past had been such a magical time of year for our family of seven children ages 14 to 3. I would spend the entire month filling it with everything I could think of that would make it exciting for the children. Whispering behind closed doors, children giggling as they tried to keep the gifts they were working on a secret from each other, hours spent in the kitchen with flour dusting all surfaces while plates upon plates of goodies were delivered to friends and neighbors, and a cheery “Merry Christmas” sung out.
I lamented to my husband one evening, “How can I create magic for the children when I am stuck in bed and so weak? I can't decorate our house. I can't make plates of goodies for the neighbors, I can't even shop for presents for the children”! My husband was busy trying to manage the house being both dad and mom, plus work, and his church callings. He was doing everything he could and creating “magic” in my terms just wasn't possible. He assured me that he would do his best to take care of Christmas but me laying in bed fretting over something I had no control over wasn't helping me to get any stronger.
My husband was right. I was spending too much time focusing on everything I could no longer do rather than on what I can do. I decided then and there that it was time to focus on our blessings and that I was going to pull up my boot straps and this was going to be the best Christmas ever. I needed a theme. “A Christ Centered Christmas” came to my mind. Sitting in bed with my laptop, my excitement grew as I poured over ideas on www.lds.com. I prayed asking Heavenly Father for inspiration. I wanted this Christmas to be the best Christmas ever!
Slowly things started to come together. The Saturday after Thanksgiving as was tradition, my husband took all of the kids into the mountains and found the most beautiful evergreen tree in the entire forest and brought it home. He and the kids set the tree up putting on the lights and garland as I had asked, leaving off the ornaments. The only decoration we put up was the nativity. I wasn't able to put up anything more. I also had the kids dig out a wooden box we'd used in the past when the kids would dress up acting out the nativity. A box one of the wise men would bring his gift in.
Sunday evening the family gathered around my bed as I explained what I had been working on. We sang some Christmas hymns and after a word of prayer I told the kids about the ultimate gift the Savior had given to us. For the entire month of December in His honor we would give gifts to the Savior and after each gift was given, we'd place an ornament on the tree. The gifts we would give would be acts of service that we would perform through out the month. Each evening we would gather around the nativity next to the Christmas tree, sing a Christmas hymn, have a word of prayer and with the help of the Gospel Art kit read scriptures about the life of the savior, and then draw a slip of paper out of the wooden box. Our gift of service that we'd give the following day.
Each evening we'd talk about the acts of service we'd given and then draw out a new slip of paper that would have something written on it. Things that the kids could do together that they could do on their own since I was in bed and my husband was busy trying to keep on top of everything. Things like, “Go and read to an elderly couple in the neighborhood the “Christmas Orange” story and give them an orange when you are finished. Or Donate something useful (toys) to those who are in need. Or Surprise someone you know with an act of service (shovel sidewalk, sweep floor, make his or her bed) Or Make a Christmas card for the Bishop Or Write your testimony in a “Book of Mormon” and give it to the missionaries to give away.
Other acts of service were also recognized as the children caught onto the vision and did things for each other on their own.
As each ornament was placed on the tree and the act of service recognized, the spirit grew stronger in our home and our love for each other and the season grew. On Christmas Eve when the “Christmas Story” was read aloud and the children once again acted it out in front of our Christmas Tree, covered in our gifts we'd brought to the Savior over the past month, my heart swelled inside of me and I rejoiced. Our Christ Centered Christmas was the best Christmas we'd ever had. An entire month had been spent in the act of giving and we received so much more because of it. This truly had been, the best Christmas ever.