From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Stolen Christmas

When I was a child, our Christmas Eve rituals never varied. First, we sat down to an all-fish dinner—which I absolutely dreaded—followed by a talent show run by my bossy older cousin. At midnight, we attended Mass and then, in the wee hours of Christmas morning, we opened some of our presents at Grandma’s house.

The year I was seven, my mother, three brothers and I made the long drive home from Grandma’s house. Finally, Mom eased the car slowly into our driveway. As she got out of the car, she told us later, she had a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Leaving us safely sleeping in the car, my mother entered the house. But as soon as she opened the door, she realized we had been robbed. She immediately took a short inventory of the house, to make sure that the robbers were gone and to see exactly what had been stolen.

As she surveyed our small home she discovered that food from our freezer—mostly chopped meats and frozen vegetables—and her meager life savings, the nickels, dimes and pennies that she saved in a container hidden in her underwear drawer, were missing. It wasn’t much, but to a single mother living on a limited income, the loss was devastating.

Then to her horror, she saw that the robbers had also taken our Christmas tree, the presents, even the stockings— leaving only a few name tags and a roll of wrapping paper. While other parents were putting the finishing touches on bicycles and dollhouses, she stood gazing at the spot where the Christmas tree had been, too heartsick to cry. It was two in the morning. How was she going to fix this? But fix it she would. Her children were still going to have a Christmas. She would see to that.

Carrying us in one by one, my mother put us to bed. Then she stayed up for what was left of the night and, using buttons, cloth, ribbon and yarn, made handmade gifts of finger puppets and shoelaces.

As she sat and stitched, she remembered the Christmas tree lot around the corner, certainly abandoned for the season by then. Just before dawn, she slipped out and came back with a small broken tree, the best one she could find.

My brothers and I woke up early that morning excited to see what Santa had brought us for Christmas. Our house was filled with the wonderful smell of blueberry muffins and hot chocolate. We hurried to the living room and stopped in the doorway, confused by the strange magic that had turned our beautiful Christmas spruce, glittering with decorations, into a small, bare, pear-shaped tree leaning against the wall.

When my little brother asked my mother what had happened to our tree and stockings, she hugged him tight and told us that someone really poor had needed them. She told us not to worry because we were very lucky, we had the most important gift of all—God’s love and one another.

As she filled our cups with the steaming hot chocolate, we opened our gifts. After breakfast we made Christmas ornaments out of old egg cartons and cereal boxes. Together we laughed, sang carols and decorated our new tree.

It is an odd thing: Although I do not remember now what I got for Christmas when I was five, ten or even thirteen years old, I have never forgotten anything about that strange and wonderful Christmas the year I was seven. The year someone stole our Christmas and gave us the unexpected gift of joyous togetherness and love.

Christina Chanes Nystrom

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