32. An Unforgettable Christmas Eve

32. An Unforgettable Christmas Eve

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

An Unforgettable Christmas Eve

Gratitude is the music of the heart, when its chords are swept by the breeze of kindness.

~Author Unknown

I stared out the front window of our home. How would I survive Christmas without my family and friends?

My husband had transferred with his Highway Patrol job and we had moved to Eagar, Arizona, a town of only 5,000 people, from bustling Scottsdale. We had left the dry desert for the towering pine trees, meadows, brooks, and lakes that surrounded our new home. And now there was snow in the forecast!

I missed Scottsdale, which glittered with Christmas lights and decorations by November each year. The stores were busy and packed with gifts, bells tinkled on street corners, and churches were putting on special programs. Christmas was in the air. Year after year I expected and looked forward to these things.

This year, however, in my new small town, I quietly decorated a fake tree, shopped in the one store in town, a kind of “five and dime store,” and tried to get used to the bitter cold and the absence of our friends and family.

My daughter, Lindsey, on the other hand was excited. She hounded me. “When is it going to snow?” She wanted to play in the piles of snow that forecasters assured us would arrive in time for Christmas.

We lit the pellet stove and snuggled together on the couch. Christmas carols played on the radio. We resigned ourselves to a quiet Christmas Eve; just the three of us along with the Golden Retriever and Saint Bernard dogs that lay curled at our feet.

When the doorbell rang, I hoped to open the door to the sound of carolers, something I always loved when we lived in Scottsdale. Wendell, the only neighbor we knew so far, stood at the door. His smile reached the corners of his eyes. “Hey, we just wondered if you, your hubby and your little girl would like to join us in our traditional Christmas Eve hayride.

Caught off guard, I stammered. “Uh, uh, well, I guess so. Yes.”

I turned and looked into Ray’s wide-eyed expression. He stood behind me nodding his head up and down. Lindsey jumped around like a kangaroo. “Can we? Can we go, Mom? Please.” We dressed quickly in warm clothing and joined Wendell on the porch. We piled in his car and he took us down a narrow dirt road and stopped in front of a roaring bonfire. Twenty or more neighbors surrounded its blaze. A horse-drawn wagon stood off to the side, already filled with laughing children, teens and adults.

Total strangers hugged us; men slapped Ray heartily on his back and shook his hand. A group of young people handed out cups of hot chocolate and warm donuts. The sky seemed bigger and the stars shone brighter than I’d ever remembered. A group of teens strummed “Silent Night” on their guitars and a flutist trilled alongside them.

My tears of joy fell softly on my cheeks. Children surrounded Lindsey. They grabbed her hands and pulled her into their game to play. Before long she roasted her first marshmallow on a straightened wire clothes hanger and enjoyed her first s’more.

“All aboard,” someone shouted. We squished shoulder-to-shoulder onto the hay wagon. The fresh scent of newly cut hay was in the air. The driver, a burly cowboy type with his giant hat pulled down over his ears, hollered “On Donner!” He snapped a long whip and we lurched ahead.

We arrived to a scene that took my breath away. A lit stable with a live nativity brought my trickle of tears to a flood. Three young ladies played violins with precision. “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” penetrated the still night. Baby Jesus cooed in the arms of a young Mary. A deep voice flowed from behind the enclosure that represented the manger. “And to this night, a babe is born. He will be called Jesus.”

I knew right then that God had placed us right where he wanted us for this season in our lives. Yes, we missed the family and friends that we left behind for this new adventure, but right here, this night, these people were a promise of new friendships, new beginnings and memories that could last a lifetime. I knew that Christmas Eve in Eagar, Arizona presented a new truth to me. Good things can come through change and trial.

I’ve never forgotten that Christmas. Most of our families are close by once again and we make new traditions as the years go on, but that one Christmas Eve instilled forever in me the belief that change is always accompanied by new blessings as long as we are open to them.

~Alice Klies

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