“Dr. Cooper, I still don’t understand the purpose or rather the spirit of Christmas?”
“How so, Henri?” the scientist asked.
“I understand what is written, how it is celebrated and when it began. How it became alternately the celebration of the birth of Christ and Santa Claus. But I don’t understand why this event is important to humans?”
The scientist, having talked for hours, put down his detailed notes with a heavy sigh.
He adjusted his glasses and said, “Okay, maybe I need to change my tactic. I’ll tell you a few stories that explain the spirit of Christmas.”
Christie’s heart sank as she watched her daughter, Lydia, and two sons quietly eating their breakfast at the kitchen table. Nearly Christmas, she hadn’t bought any presents yet. Money was tight, illness and other unexpected expenses ate away most of the reserves they had set aside. Her husband took on as many extra shifts as he could, on the assembly line at the Nimrod camper factory, to make ends meet.
“Is daddy working again?” her son asked sadly.
“Yes,” she answered simply.
“But, it’s Saturday and …” he whined but stopped at the look she sent his way.
The neighbor’s teenage daughter arrived to babysit, and Christie left the house to shop. She would need to be creative. Arriving at the mall, she joined other last-minute shoppers who were out in force. Bumping through the mall, she left without buying anything … again. It was all too expensive. Driving across town, she wandered through the second-hand shop where she picked out articles of clothing, an old board game, and other used toys. Selecting clothes for the Christmas Eve service, she paid and left the shop, trying to convince herself that at least the children had something. But, she felt depressed.
On the day of Christmas Eve, little Lydia squeezed the cookie dough between her fingers. She and her mother rolled out the dough and cut the cookies. After baking and letting them cool, Lydia and her brothers alternately smeared icing on them and licked frosting from the plastic knives. They covered the cookies with piles of colorful sprinkles. Lydia’s father arrived home looking worn, but she watched his smile return as she ran from the kitchen door and into his arms.
“Merry Christmas Eve, daddy!”
After dinner of soup and grilled cheese, her father pulled the tree from the garage where it had laid on its side since the day before. Cardboard boxes brought down from the attic sat around the living room floor. Lydia and her mother stringed popcorn and cranberries. Her brothers helped her father cut colorful construction paper into strips and staple them together, creating a long paper chain. They pulled out lights and ornaments from the boxes. While munching cookies, they decorated the tree.
Later, Lydia ran her fingers over the soft green material of the dress her mother bought for her earlier. She twirled her way to the car. The rest of the family piled in, and they rode to the live nativity on the courthouse lawn. She waved at Joseph and Mary and giggled at the donkey and the sheep. The family sang Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls on the way to the church. At the end of the service, Lydia’s mother let her hold her own candle for the singing of “Silent Night.”
Waking before the sun came up on Christmas morning, little Lydia snuck from her bed and crept down the hall. Her slippers askew, she unsuccessfully sidestepped the squeaky floorboards as she made her way to the living room and gazed at the colorful packages under the tree. Inhaling deeply, the smell of pine filled her nose. The tinsel on the tree shimmered in the early light of dawn. Contented, she leaned her head against the doorframe and imagined fairies floating among the tree.
The squeak of the floorboards woke Christie. Smiling to herself, she knew it was little Lydia sneaking down the hall. She never could wait long on Christmas morning. The happy feeling faded as she remembered what the presents would be like that year. She tiptoed down the hall, watching her daughter gaze in wonder at the tree.
Looking toward her mother, Lydia asked, “Mommy, isn’t it wonderful? Your eyes are shiny like the tinsel too!”
Wiping the moisture from the corners of her eyes, Christie crossed the living room and turned on the Christmas lights. She heard Lydia gasp from behind her and turned to see her daughter’s cherub smile. Her heart fluttered as she scooped her into her arms. They snuggled together on the couch until the others woke.
The happy chaos began as Lydia’s grandmother and grandfather arrived with her grandmother’s special treats. Her mother sat on the floor and passed out the gifts. She didn’t look very happy. Opening her present, Lydia loved the new dishes for her baby dolls. The neighbors came over for breakfast and brought hot chocolate. Her mother’s cinnamon rolls were heavenly. As they did in all the years past, the family watched A Christmas Carol. She snuggled between her grandparents. Christmas feast was different, but Lydia didn’t mind, it was delicious. The family laughed together as they played the board game from under the tree. Later, Lydia joined her mother on the couch in the living room and climbed into her lap.
Little Lydia asked, “Are you okay, mommy?”
Her mother shook her head, “I’m sorry this Christmas was … well … smaller than normal.”
Lydia spoke quickly, nearly without taking a breath. She said, “No, mommy! It was big and wonderful. I liked my present and everything else. Daddy was home, and granny and grandad were here. That was the best! We laughed so much and played games, decorated cookies, went to the manger, and sang Christmas songs in the car.” She sighed and leaned back in her mother’s arms.
Christie hugged her daughter tight as tears trailed over her cheeks. This time they were tears of joy.
Dr. Cooper sat back in his chair. “As you said, Henri, there are many ways Christmas is celebrated all over the world, with a variety of traditions and customs. No matter how it’s celebrated, a common element of Christmas festivities is the importance of family and friends gathering together to enjoy one another’s company. For the little girl, she didn’t need the perfect or the most expensive gift. She was happy the family spent time together.”
“I see,” is all Henri said.
The scientist took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I’ll tell you another story tomorrow.”