84: The Children’s Christmas

84: The Children’s Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

The Children’s Christmas

Christmas, in its final essence, is for grown-ups who have forgotten what children know. Christmas is for whoever is old enough to have denied the unquenchable spirit of man.

~Margaret Cousins

I’d been up since the crack of dawn preparing a Christmas feast that would feed twenty-one friends and family members plus the three of us. It was almost noon, and the delectable aroma of turkey and stuffing permeated the house. I’d already prepared two gigantic pots of peeled potatoes and diced fresh vegetables. The glazed ham, roast beef and meat pies sat waiting to be popped into the oven.

I put the finishing touches on the appetizers, carefully storing them in the fridge beside cranberry sauce, salad, condiments, and other side dishes I planned to serve. As holiday music played softly in the background, I measured spices for my gravies and set the table.

Though the plates and cutlery didn’t all match because I was feeding so many, everything gleamed and looked picture-perfect. Poinsettia centerpieces with matching crimson candles lay nestled among breadbaskets I’d fill at the last minute. I was admiring my work when the call came. It was my younger brother’s girlfriend.

“We can’t come,” she groaned into the phone. “We have the stomach flu.”

“Oh dear,” I gushed soothingly. “Get back into bed and try to rest. If you like, I can send some food over later.” The gagging sound she made before quickly hanging up suggested it was the wrong offer to make.

The phone rang again. This time it was a friend. She’d just had a heated argument with her sister, another of our invited guests, and her husband. “Jake and I refuse to sit at the same table with those two and their annoying brats,” she hollered, hanging up with a loud slam.

A second later a call from her sister came, saying basically the same thing. Before I could tell her it was safe to come, the dial tone hummed in my ear. I was down four adults and three kids.

I was just about to ask my fifteen-year-old son, David, to clear and dismantle one of the folding tables when the phone shrilled a fourth time. I picked it up warily.

“Mary, it’s Janice. I’m so sorry, but we can’t make it today. Glen’s mom had a heart attack. We have to get to the hospital. I’m dropping all three kids off at my cousin’s on the way.”

I clucked sympathetically. As I was telling her I would send good thoughts, my call waiting beeped. With a quick “stay strong” to Janice, I switched over to hear my older brother announcing there was a blizzard in Ontario, and that they had no choice but to stay home. In the span of three minutes, my guest list had dwindled by nine more people. I could feel a headache rapidly approaching.

Seconds later, I heard my husband Don stamping snow off his boots in the foyer.

“Honey, I have bad news,” he hollered.

“Who bailed this time?” I bellowed back, dragging my feet into the living room.

“Ursula called on my cell while I was walking the dog. She, Frank, and the four kids are all down with bad colds. They don’t want to come and make us all sick,” he said. “What’s wrong?” he added when he saw tears starting to slip down my cheeks.

“Everyone cancelled!” I wailed. “It’s only the three of us left! What am I going to do with all this food? I was expecting two dozen people.”

He caught me in his arms right as I started to sag and sob at the same time.

“Shhh,” he soothed. “We can always freeze the leftover food. It’s not the end of the world.”

He was right, of course. Except for two couples, everyone had a perfectly good reason for backing out. I was instantly ashamed of myself for feeling “inconvenienced” when people I loved were so sick. As for my brother in Ontario, if anything had happened to him while traveling through the snow, I’d never have forgiven myself.

My son got up from the couch and handed me a tissue. I smiled at him through watery eyes.

“It’s Christmas,” I hiccupped. “Let’s make the best of it. I’m sorry I reacted like a baby”

“Mom,” David began, “can I invite some of my friends for dinner instead? A lot of them have no plans. Some of them are pretty poor and have nothing special for dinner either — and we have all this food….”

Don and I stared at each other, both nodding at the same time.

“Of course. Go ahead and call them,” I told our son.

“How many can come?” he asked.

“I have food for twenty more people… maybe thirty. Some may have to eat off paper plates,” I warned, “but everyone is welcome.”

The doorbell began buzzing at 2:00 p.m. By three, twenty-one teenagers and two of their little sisters filled my home. The kids proudly handed me a bouquet of flowers they’d all chipped in to buy, thanking me politely for inviting them. I pushed back tears at the sweet gesture, and shooed them all downstairs to wait for dinner.

The volume on David’s stereo went up several decibels as heavy metal music drowned out carols, but Don and I didn’t care. The house was alive with laughter and the spirit of the holiday. Many youngsters dribbled in and out of the kitchen offering to help, and as I delegated small chores, we chatted.

That Christmas dinner was one of the best we ever had. Our table was packed with hungry kids who demolished the twenty-pound turkey and the roasts, digging into the vegetables as if they were eating ambrosia. No one muttered about diets, indigestion or allergies. They simply enjoyed and appreciated every morsel of food that went into their mouths. As I watched them eat, any thoughts of leftovers being transformed into potpies, hot sandwiches or midnight snacks rapidly disappeared, but it didn’t matter.

After dinner, those kids banished our family to the living room while they pitched in and cleaned up my kitchen until it was spotless. Someone had brought a newly released movie and before I knew it, my living room floor was covered with fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, generously allowing the “old people” to sit on the couch and watch the movie. The two little girls curled up on either side of me, cuddling close. After passing out bags of microwave popcorn and canned soft drinks, we turned off the lights to enjoy the film.

By 10:00 p.m., everyone began to leave, but not without warm hugs and sincere thanks that made my eyes well up yet again. That night, I turned to my husband in bed. “Why is it we never thought to invite David’s friends for Christmas dinner before?”

“I don’t know,” he replied sleepily. “You always hear that Christmas is for kids, but we seem to make the meal itself more of an adult occasion, picking and choosing who we want at the table.”

“Not anymore,” I vowed, remembering the grateful young faces that saved our day from being a quiet, lonely disaster.

~Marya Morin

More stories from our partners