The $12 Christmas to Remember

This is another Christmas Memory, inspired by The Artistic Christian’s Christmas Memory Giveaway. It’s a completely true story of what happened to my family just two Christmases ago in 2012. 

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The chiming of the doorbell broke the silence of the night.

Jon and I looked at each other in surprised alarm, and then our eyes instantly went toward the clock on the wall. It was nearly 10 pm.

“Who could that be at this time of night?” Jon mused . “And on Christmas Eve.”

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Until the doorbell interrupted us, Jon and I had been talking as we in the soft glowing light of the decorated Christmas tree. The kids already been in bed for more than an hour, but preparing for Christmas morning hadn’t taken us any time at all. There were no toys to put together. No mountains of presents to bring out of hiding and place beneath the tree. No items to be sorted and carefully stuffed into stockings.

It had been a hard year for us financially. As always, God had provided for every need, but now at the end of the year there was very little left in our savings.  Jon and I were determined not to use credit as we were working diligently to become debt-free, but that meant a lean Christmas budget. In fact, all total, we had just $60 to spend on our kids. Divided equally among the five kids, it meant I had just $12 per child with which to buy gifts and fill stockings. 

At first, such a tight budget had left me feeling discouraged.  How I could begin to make Christmas seem bright for our children?  It definitely felt like a monumental task. But then the words of a familiar Christmas tale echoed in my head:  

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

 

As a Christian, I already knew this truth, and yet how easy it was to get caught up in all the hoopla of  wanting to give my children the typical materialistic American Christmas. To add more fuel to the fire of my worried state, I knew that our five children would receive several gifts from their other parents that were bigger and better than anything I could have afforded if I had spent $60 per child instead of just the $12 I had in my extra-small budget. So I asked the Lord to help me use that $60 to give my family a real Christmas to remember and not to feel jealous when faced with the financial bounty I would see all around me during the season.

Almost immediately, an amazing plan began to fall into place, creative and simple and focused completely on Christ instead of presents. Instead of dreading Christmas morning and fearing looks of disappointment on my children’s faces, now I was excited and eager to watch them experience the Christmas that God was planning for us.

One idea came from my good friend Christie, who makes Sonshine Boxes to cheer up friends. She wraps small trinkets and labels them with Bible verse clues. So I did the same thing. I found some fun treats at the dollar store, and spent hours looking for the perfect verse to be the clue for each item. On Christmas morning, the kids would play a guessing game, reading aloud the verses and and trying to guess what was inside each gift before opening it. The gifts might be small, but I knew my children would have such fun trying to figure out the prizes.

Another idea that came to me had to do with Christmas picture books, in particular a book called Oranges for Frankie (by Patricia Polacco) and The Candymaker’s Gift (by Helen and David Haidle). In the first book, a boy name Frankie loses his Christmas orange and what his siblings do next is simply touching. The second book explains how various traits of candy canes can remind us of Jesus and the Christmas story. We already owned copies of both books, but as a special surprise I bought a chocolate orange and seven nice, fat candy canes. On Christmas morning,  I would read the books aloud to the family while we all enjoyed the candy treats.

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Finally, instead of filling our stockings to the brim with chocolate kisses and other small trinkets, a terrific idea came to my mind. The week before Christmas, I gave each person in our family several sheets of paper on which I had written:  “If I could, I would buy you something good!”  I asked each one to think of a special gift they would buy for every other member of the family. On the paper, they could draw a picture, write a note, or paste a magazine clipping there to communicate what they would get for the other person.  

All through December, I prepared for our simple Christmas with an excitement in my heart. I just knew that God was going to bless our hearts in a big way, and I was eager to share it with my family.

Soon it was the night before Christmas. After a simple supper, we read the Christmas story from the Bible and sang a few of our favorite carols. By 8:30, all of the children were tucked into bed. All there was for me to do was fill the stockings with the paper notes, set out the two picture books and the basket of candy canes, and set the small trinket gifts which I had already wrapped and labeled with the Bible verses under the tree. 

Now, all the Christmas morning preparations were complete. Suddenly, the old fears of not providing a typical Christmas for my children began to flood my mind.  As I sat next to my husband in the stillness of the Christmas Eve night, I felt lost in the glow of the lights on the tree and the growing apprehension in my heart about how my children would receive the meager Christmas Jon and I had to offer them.  

And then the doorbell rang … 

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Jon carefully peered out the window, but in the darkness he couldn’t see anyone at all. Cautiously he opened the front door. There was no one there. 

“Perhaps they went to the side door, Jon,” I suggested.

Quickly we walked toward the other door. Again, Jon peered out, but again there appeared to be nothing but darkness. Opening the door wider, he stepped out onto the carport concrete … and that’s when he noticed it.

Several extra large gift bags overflowing with presents. 

Once again, my husband and I looked at each other bug-eyed. What on earth was this?

Jogging to the end of the driveway, Jon looked around the yard, and up and down the street … but after a minute or so, he turned back. Shrugging, he said, “I didn’t see anything … not even so much as the tail lights of a car.”

“Do you think perhaps someone delivered these gifts to the wrong house? I asked.

Jon laughed. “Well, normally I would say Santa doesn’t make mistakes, but I suppose there is always that possibility.”

Together we brought the bags of gifts inside. We began to spread out the loot, noticing that the gifts were all labeled with names of each member of our family. “I think these are definitely for us!” Jon grinned. “I don’t know why, but someone decided to bless us with some gifts.”

Quickly, Jon and I sorted the gifts into piles. There were a couple of gifts labeled as family gifts, along with a present for Jon and another for me. Each child had a stack of five gifts … well, for every child except for Nathan. He didn’t have anything.

“Do you think our secret Santa forgot about Nathan?” I felt panicky. 

“Don’t worry,” Jon said calmly. “There are enough gifts here to spread out the love. Nathan will not be left out. We can unwrap the gifts, reassign them to the kids making sure that Nathan receives an equal amount. Of course, we’ll have to rewrap everything … Do you think we have enough wrapping paper?”

And then the doorbell rang again.

This time, Jon made a mad dash for the door, hoping to catch our family’s secret Santa … but again there was nothing. Nothing, that is, but a large bag filled with exactly five gifts, all labeled for Nathan. 

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It was early the next morning when the kids woke us up, eager to see what Christmas surprises lay in store. As we led them into the living room, a gigantic pile of gifts sat in the middle of the room.

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A collective gasp rose from the kids. 

“But I thought you said we weren’t going to get a lot of gifts this year!” Julia protested.

“I did. And truthfully, I didn’t think you were. But God had other plans.” I smiled. “Sit down and let me tell you about what happened after you went to bed on Christmas Eve.”

Jon and I retold the story. Then before we dove into the unexpected gifts, we went through our Christmas morning plan … playing the guessing game with the small gifts and Bible verses, reading the picture books and enjoying the candy, and oohing over the stockings filled with sweet notes from our family. 

Already our hearts were full, and yet we knew that through a friend God had provided even more for us to enjoy on the blessed Christmas morning. As we opened our unexpected gifts, each one seemed to be perfectly chosen for the recipient. 

To this day, we have no idea of who brought us the Christmas Eve gifts … but we remember how loved we felt by our special friend and by our Heavenly Father, who indeed answered my prayers and gave us a $12 Christmas to remember.

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 Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!  ~2 Corinthians 9:15

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The Great Christmas Card Fiasco of 2008: A Christmas Memory

What you are about to read is my family’s actual Christmas letter from 2008.  I’ve written about it many times before, but never before on this blog.  Many of my readers might well remember “The Great Christmas Card Fiasco of 2008” and perhaps even followed my woeful tale on Facebook. If you have heard or read this story before, then I hope you won’t mind rereading it again. Maybe it will even bring a smile to your face as you relive a Christmas past along with me. However if you’ve never heard this me tell this tale, then may it bless your heart as much as God has used it to bless mine over the past 6 years. And if you laugh, don’t feel bad. It’s one of those memories I love to laugh about now, even though at the time it certainly wasn’t very funny. 

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December 24, 2008

Dear Family and Friends,
Have you ever felt like things were going wrong at every turn, and that no matter how hard you tried things just didn’t go according to your plan? Perhaps you can relate … but if not, please bear with me while I tell my story.

Earlier this month I ordered Christmas photo cards. From the start, it all seemed to go wrong. I placed my order online, and discovered soon afterward that the company I used was brand-new. They were overwhelmed with many more orders than they expected, and so were unable to process my order in a timely manner. Once my order finally got shipped, winter weather kept delaying the cards as they slowly made their way to my doorstep. Originally I was supposed to have received my cards by December 10th, which would have given me plenty of time to address and mail out the cards in a timely manner. However, as my luck would have it,  the cards didn’t show up in my mailbox until the afternoon of December 22nd.

I was already somewhat upset about the lengthy delay, so imagine my shock when I opened my package and saw the the Christmas photo cards I ordered had arrived minus the photo! Who ever heard of a Christmas photo card without the photo?!?  I was livid! In that moment, all of my Christmas joy seemed to have been zapped away.

The more I thought about it, the more the situation seemed dire and bleak. It was too late in the day to call the company; too late in the season to order new Christmas cards.  I felt as if the entire world was working against me mailing out a few Christmas cards. My  heart was filled with a hopeless dismay.

My Photo-less Photo Card from Christmas 2008
My Photo-less Photo Card from Christmas 2008

Well, after the hot angry tears were all wiped away and a good night’s sleep had given me a new perspective, the thought occurred to me that maybe Joseph felt like the world was working against him on that very first Christmas. I wondered what thoughts and emotions went through is head as he tried and tried to find a safe place for Mary. And when he could find no room in the inn and had to take refuge in a barn, did he question himself as to why this was the best he could manage to do for his wife and the newborn Son of God? It seems unlikely that Joseph had first-hand knowledge that it was God’s intention for the King of Kings to be born in a lowly stable. Maybe he did, but I have a feeling that Joseph felt a lot of dismay and frustration with the situation.

Obviously my situation didn’t have nearly the same level of urgency as what Joseph must have experienced. After all, as awful as it seemed in the moment, “The Great Christmas Card Fiasco of 2008” is far from being the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind. In fact, it’s not even close to being the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

Truthfully, I can’t even really say it was bad because in the end the company apologized for their terrible mistake and gave me a full refund on the cards, which is honestly the best thing they could do under the circumstances. And even though this is definitely not the card I had intended to send to all of my loved ones, my sweet children were very eager to help me make lemonade from the lemons thrown our way by drawing pictures of themselves into the blank photo spot so that the cards weren’t a total waste. Free Christmas cards can’t be all that bad!

One of the photo cards ... this one artistically drawn by Julia, who was 5 years old that Christmas
One of the photo cards … this one artistically drawn by Julia, who was 5 years old that Christmas

So maybe this won’t be the best or most beautiful Christmas card you receive this season, but I imagine it will be the most unforgettable card. I’m hoping to send out real photo cards sometime this spring, but until then the kids and I hope you will enjoy this original creation from our house.

May your home be filled with peace and joy … and may your hearts stay merry and bright throughout 2009!

with love,
Paige and the kids

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This post was written as an entry for the Christmas Memory Giveaway

sponsored by The Artistic Christian blog.