The holiday season is a time of reflecting gratefully on those experiences that have drawn us closer to our family and the Savior. These touching, true Christmas stories will warm your heart and help you remember the blessings in your own life.
The Invisible Christmas Tree by Carla Kelly
[When] my husband lost his job at a Southern university because of religious discrimination in 1992, [we tried] to hold things together during the ensuing legal battle. Martin did some substitute teaching and worked as a van driver for a local ophthalmologist and ward member. I was in graduate school and had a part-time job at the same university that had fired Martin illegally. And to say that money was tight and hope was slim was no exaggeration. With two daughters still living at home, we were doing the best we could through the struggle.
I was especially concerned about Christmastime. As the season drew near, I asked our daughters if they wanted one more present or a Christmas tree. Naturally, they wanted both. I stared at a lightcolored wall in our family room and came up with a bold plan. I would create a Christmas tree out of no tree. (This from the woman who has never met a Relief Society craft project she couldn’t turn into a disaster. My strengths lie elsewhere.)
I bought a roll of fishing line for three dollars and a box of clear push pins for one dollar, then borrowed a neighbor’s ladder and tacked the fishing line for each ornament to the ceiling at varying lengths so they came out in an approximate tree shape. Underneath the amazing display, I put the usual tree stand and filled it with water, which meant my sense of humor had resurfaced. Everything was there except the tree. And who needed an old tree, anyway?
The effect was nothing short of breathtaking. The fishing line blended into the beige background of the wall, and the ornaments appeared to be hanging in the air. I had never seen anything like it.
On the top of the tree (i.e., the ceiling), I tacked the cornhusk angel given to me by Miss Jean Dugat, my high school journalism teacher, whose skill and love of words still keep me employed.
Our next-door neighbors were properly impressed with my efforts. Chuck Pryor said he’d figure out a way next year to use fiber optics to add Christmas lights. (He didn’t, but our oldest daughter constructed her own air tree later and had lights on it.)
From improvised Christmas trees to doing temple work, there are many touching stories of members taking less-than-desirable situations and turning them into opportunities to remember the true meaning of Christmas and the love of the Lord. Here are just a few. Denise Grayson, our neighbor down the street, brought over a box of two-inch wooden toy soldiers for the tree; they were perfect because they were light—the push pins couldn’t hold too much weight. Denise also named the tree the Famous Air Tree, and to this day, that’s how we remember that little bit of defiance from the Kellys. We were not about to be defeated by religious bigotry and tough times.
The greatest gift I received from the Famous Air Tree was the return of my optimism, larded with humor. Just think of it: there weren’t any pine needles to vacuum, and no one was allergic to fishing line and push pins. The cats were happy to bat around the ornaments without a real tree in their way. Total win.
The Famous Air Tree became a family tradition. When times improved, I asked the girls about buying a real tree again since we could afford one now. No dice. They wanted the Famous Air Tree. The tradition continued for nearly 10 years, until Ma (moi) got tired of climbing up and down the ladder to stick push pins in the ceiling.
The legacy of the Famous Air Tree continues though. I always hang a few of Denise’s little wooden soldiers on the current artificial tree because I never want to forget the hard times and the love and concern of our neighbors, including another ward family friend who brought a turkey dinner to us on Christmas Day. That season of the first Famous Air Tree became a bad time made better by friends and faith.
Finding Baby Jesus by Margot Hovley
Marcia and Rodney are my parents. This story has been beloved in our family for years. I retell it with their permission.
Marcia sat in the passenger seat of the car, back pressed into the cushion, anything but relaxed. In the driver’s seat, her husband, Rodney, drove white-knuckled toward their home.
Moments ago they’d been in the sealing room of the temple. A worker had brought them an urgent message that she’d hardly dared open. After all, workers at the temple didn’t usually interrupt a sealing session with good news.
Their home was on fire.
Why? Her mind surged with the relentless question. Had they not been at the temple? Why would this happen when they were trying to serve the Lord? Where was the protection she’d prayed for? And why now? It was December 15, only 10 days before Christmas. Just that morning, she’d been checking off items on a packed Christmas to-do list. She’d asked herself: Where’s Christmas in all this? Where’s that feeling of joy and peace? And so she’d gone to the temple in search of that peace. She’d felt it there in abundance—until the worker had come in with the urgent news.
Their teenage children, Michael and Janis, burst from the neighbor’s house where they’d sheltered. Three more—Brian, Carol, and Katie—would soon arrive home from school. She gathered the two who were there into her arms and hung on tight. Yes, there had been protection.
It seemed like forever until they were allowed to go inside.
Marcia turned from the new hole in the wall to find family photos, books, and records, which amazingly weren’t damaged at all. The Christmas tree looked sad, but she could hardly believe it when she discovered the precious Nativity set was safe. She’d displayed it on the bookcase that had stood against the wall that had been chopped out.
There was no way they could live in the house while repairs were made. For one thing, the smell of smoke was nearly unbearable. They learned their homeowners insurance would put them up at a nearby hotel while things were made livable again. But what would Christmas be like without a home?
After they got settled at the hotel, Marcia plugged in a hotplate and made a quick dinner for the seven of them. If there was ever an excuse to go out to eat, it was now, but she wanted to bring a tiny bit of normalcy to their upside-down lives. Trips through the drive-through would come soon enough. As she spooned the pasta onto paper plates, she thought about the beautiful Christmas decorations they’d set up only a couple of weeks ago. What could she do to bring a little bit of Christmas to the utilitarian sparseness of a hotel room? Her mind immediately seized on the white porcelain Nativity set she’d been so relieved to see was safe. Perfect.
The next day, armed with a list of things to bring back to the hotel—the Nativity set at the top of the list—she drove to the house.
She hurried to grab laundry soap, homework, and a favorite doll. Then she stepped up to the box where the items from the bookshelf had been placed, including the Nativity set.
She picked up Mary and Joseph and found assorted angels and shepherds. She tucked them all into a soft blanket for safe transport. Then she saw sheep and cattle, the smooth porcelain gleaming in the dim light of the room. And though she looked carefully again and again, one piece was missing. Just one piece—but the most important piece. The figurine of the baby Jesus was gone.
She searched the room without hope. Scraps of wood, wallboard, piping, and wires covered the room in a huge mess. Finally, coughing from the bitter air, she left. The Nativity set remained behind. What was the point of a set with no Christ child?
We lost Him, she thought as she drove back to the hotel. Yet we still have to keep the spirit of Christmas this year. Somehow.
And so they did. On Christmas Eve, they braved the smell that still lingered to go home for the evening, to gather around the once-glorious Christmas tree and share what gifts they could manage, their testimonies of the Savior, and their many blessings. They were safe, and they had each other.
A Christmas like no other, Marcia thought. We’ll never forget this year. Despite the craziness of seven people living in a hotel room, despite being separated from most of their comforts and belongings, they felt a deeper closeness as a family. She knew more clearly than ever that because of the Savior’s birth, His life, and His Atonement, her family could be together forever.
At last, the workers finished the repairs to the point that the family could return to the house while the finishing touches were completed. Marcia happily said good-bye to endless skillet dinners and long daily trips to the school and back. As spring approached, the snowy covering over the debris-piled backyard began to melt.
“We could save money by doing the cleanup ourselves,” Rodney said. The family agreed, and each week they filled the trash cans as full as they could before the trucks came around to empty them. Little by little, the yard began to clear and the residual slime and soot and dirt from the fire began to diminish.
One day, after working in the debris, 13-year-old Brian came running toward Marcia. Cradled in his gritty hands was the missing figurine from the Nativity set. “Look what I found, Mom. Baby Jesus!” Brian found the lost baby Jesus nestled amidst the mess, a tender reminder of the Savior’s inconspicuous and humble birth nearly 2,000 years ago.
It was true. Marcia couldn’t believe that in all the garbage and after all that time the figurine had been preserved. She put her arm around Brian’s shoulders. “This is to remind us that the Savior remains with us and for us,” she said. Inside, she felt a measure of peace and meaning, though not just for Christmastime. This was a precious reminder that His was a gift for all seasons.
There may be those who cast Him aside, but those who seek will truly find Him.
A Christmas Almost Lost By Gregg Luke
A true story of my wife, Juliana Perkins Luke.
When I was about 6 years old, my family moved to the small town of Panaca, Nevada. It was dry and desolate, but it had a kind of rugged beauty that I loved. My dad got a job teaching at the local grammar school, and though the community was small and close-knit, everyone welcomed us, and we soon made many friends. It was an exciting and adventurous time, particularly because we were about to have another sister, giving us five girls in all.
One family we grew to admire was the Wadsworths, who had 11 children. Mom and Dad loved them so much that they named our new baby sister Sylvia, after Sister Wadsworth.
The first two years were filled with friendship and joy. But then disaster struck: Sylvia Wadsworth died, leaving her husband with eight children still at home. Seventeen months after that, Don Wadsworth also passed away.
The entire town was heartbroken. Preparations were made to send the kids to various relatives, but the Wadsworth children had different plans. Taking charge, the oldest son, Brent, held a family council. The children unanimously agreed that their deceased parents would not want them to be separated and unable to see each other frequently during their formative years. Their parents had taught them to be responsible for one another and to serve those around them. They declined any outside help, expressing a desire to make it on their own. The members of the extended family agreed to step back and let them give it a try. Because of their parents’ solid nurturing, they knew the value of and the true joy that came from serving others and placing others’ needs before their own. I saw examples of this many times in my youth. One such time was the Christmas of 1972.
One of our favorite seasonal activities was the ward Christmas party. The highlight of the party was a visit from Santa Claus himself. Our bishop heightened the experience by periodically leaving the cultural hall to check on the progress of Old St. Nick. Our bishop was so convincing that all of us kids were close to exploding with excitement. A few moments later, Santa would burst into the hall with a boisterous, “Ho, ho, ho!” He’d sit in front of the stage and would take each child on his lap to listen to their Christmas wish, then give each a paper bag filled with peanuts, an orange, and a large candy cane. It was an event we eagerly looked forward to all year long.
But this Christmas was different. There was a lot of sickness because a debilitating respiratory virus ran rampant through the town and neighboring communities. Try as we might to stay healthy, all five of us girls came down with the virus at the same time. No one likes being sick during the holidays, but it’s especially depressing around Christmastime. We tried to be brave and deal with the illness as best we could—it was Christmas, after all, a time when good cheer should have been ever-present—but our stoic resolve lasted only until Dad delivered the telling blow.
“I’m afraid we won’t be able to attend the ward Christmas party this year,” he announced with regret. “You’re simply too sick, and we can’t risk spreading the flu to everyone else.”
To say we were disappointed was an understatement. Santa expected all the kids in our town to be in the cultural hall of the church building. If he didn’t see us there, Christmas would be lost!
[Christmas Eve], just before we headed off to bed, a knock came at the front door.
“I’ll get it,” my sister said, trudging off.
She opened the door, and there, big as life, stood Santa Claus!
“Ho, ho, ho!” he roared with a twinkle in his eye. “I heard there were some sick kids in this house. We can’t have them missing Christmas Eve just because they’re feeling down.”
He marched in, chuckling merrily, and sat in Dad’s recliner. We stood with mouths gaping in shock. Santa had made a special stop at our house! There were plenty of other kids to keep him busy at the community party, but he’d heard we were sick and couldn’t attend the gathering. We’d thought surely he wouldn’t miss five scrawny girls. But he had!
Years later we found out that our personal Santa was Scott Wadsworth. He was especially grateful for the love and encouragement his family had received from the community during their hardships, and he made sure to return the favor every chance he got. When he found out the Perkins girls were about to miss out on Christmas, he made a special effort to show his love by stopping by.
Christmas was almost lost that year, but thanks to the love and concern from one individual in our small town, we had one of the most memorable Christmases ever.
The above story was originally shared in the 2015 November/December issue of LDS Living. Lead image via iStock. Illustrations courtesy of Yelena Bryksenkova
For more Christmas stories, check out Remembering the Joy of Christmas here.