The Christmas that almost wasn't

... and how my view changed forever

by Carol Priestley

There is magic to Christmas that I think no one has ever quite explained. Is it found in the twinkling lights in the shop windows or in your home baked cookies? Can it be packaged up with ribbons or sent off in a card to a loved one? Maybe it's found in a church Christmas pageant or in the smile of a thankful Salvation Army volunteer? Does the magic happen when you give the perfect gift or when you receive it?

If you were to ask me these questions when I was eight years old, the week before the Christmas of 1959, I would've shrugged and said, "I dunno." What else could I have said? All children know Christmas is magical.

The day that forever changed how I viewed Christmas started off just like any other school vacation day. After breakfast, I wiggled into my leggings, zipped up my winter jacket and went to call on my friend, Carol Jean. She was ready when I got there and asked if we could play at my house because it was cold outside. I said sure, but as we headed back up the street I had no idea what we could do in our huge, old house under the all-seeing eyes of my big sister, Jeannie. The minute we got in the back door Carol Jean ran down the hallway, yelling, "Hide and seek. Come find me!"

This was Carol Jean's favorite game to play in my house. She loved to find the best hiding places in the all the nooks and crannies this four-floored Victorian home had to offer. I quickly counted to one hundred and took off after her. I headed to the fourth floor first in order to tell Jeannie I had a friend over to play. She glanced at me, turned her attention back to her movie magazine and muttered, "Just keep it down."

I finally found Carol Jean in my mother's immense bedroom closet and then we decided to go upstairs to spy on Jeannie. We made to the top of the stairs when I noticed my two older brothers had left their bedroom door ajar. Now here was an adventure worth pursuing, even my older brother Wayne, never left his door open. I did not know that upon entering this space, it would forever change my perception of Christmas.

This was a huge room with a window that overlooked our side yard. Carol Jean wasn't interested in checking out all the stuff Dukie and Bobby had left lying around. She headed straight across the room and opened the small door to the turret room. It was a small, attic space in which my parents stored things that were too precious to be stored in the basement. Carol Jean and I loved to rummage through the boxes whenever we got a chance. This day paid off big when Carol Jean yelled out, "Wow, I think Santa is using your house to store some of his presents in. Come and look at all of this stuff!"

She was right. The place was filled with games, toys, clothes, books and the Shirley Temple doll I had put on my Christmas list. I tilted the plastic wrapped box and her eyes blinked back at me. It never occurred to me that Shirley might have been trying to tell me something. I grabbed the box and rushed to the closed door of my sister's room and entered. Jeannie took one look at the box in my hand and said, "You're dead. I'm telling."

True to her word, Jeannie told my mom and dad later that day. They just looked at me and shook their heads. I wasn't spanked. I wasn't even told to stay in the yard. The only words mom said were, "Well, you just ruined Christmas for all of us so I guess there won't be one this year."

That night I cried myself to sleep. I knew I had managed to do the one thing that would make my parents stop loving me forever; I ruined Christmas. I spent the rest of the week in my room. This was my self-inflicted penance for the horrible wrong I had committed. I didn't even bother to hang up my stocking on Christmas Eve. I went to bed early and prayed to God that He would put Christmas back together again.

On Christmas morning, I woke up to find a huge, stocking filled with nuts, tangerines, candies and little toys, laid across the foot of my bed. I grabbed for it and held onto it as I cried tears of thanksgiving to God. He did hear my prayers to make Christmas whole again. While I ran down the stairs, I could hear the sound of laughter, the crinkle of wrapping paper and smelt the cinnamon fragrance of my mom's freshly, baked rolls.

When I entered the living room, everyone looked up as my mom handed me the box containing the Shirley Temple doll. I didn't think I'd ever see her again, but there she was in her blue dress, black shoes and blonde ringlets. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was a miracle.

If you could've asked me at that precise moment in time, what I thought was the true magic of Christmas, I would have whispered, "God."

December 5, 2008

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