The best gift can’t be unwrapped


“It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season — like all other seasons — is a good time not only to tell stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them.”

— Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal

I remember so clearly wondering how in the world we ever were going to get a visit from Santa when we didn’t have a fireplace. The stockings could not be hung by the chimney with care in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there. Since we didn’t have a mantle, we didn’t hang stockings at all, anywhere.

Christmas in my childhood home was so much less the major commercial enterprise it has become. My mother had a staunch rule: if you asked for something, you most definitely were not going to get it. We likely would be getting new pajamas and an orange, if past history revealed anything.


Believe me, I tried every sneaky Pete trick in the book to get around that big old maddening rule. I would hint that a friend of mine was sure wanting that Chatty Cathy doll. A brother of my good friend was hoping like crazy for a shiny silver Roy Rogers cap-gun which fit so neatly in a sporty little holster.

A black and silver cowboy hat would sure go great with those toy pistols for that kid who wanted them so bad. Aunt Marilyn, who sure liked to play Parcheesi an awful lot, maybe would like the brand new Milton-Bradley Christmas edition.

It was a rule designed to make us selfless, or at least a little bit less self-centered. There were no wish lists, which if truth be told, have evolved into demand lists by the way some people in today’s world seem to react to them.

Trimming the tree

Our Christmas tree was always a real tree, cut down and brought in just in the nick of time to celebrate the season. The tree decorations, stored in the attic in orange crates, were brought down to the living room with great care, my sisters reminding me that each ornament was fragile glass.

We unwrapped those shiny balls from their newspaper nest, carefully running a sharp little hook through the top before placing them onthe pine-fragrant tree. They remained the same, year after year, and the lights were big bulbs, the size of a child’s hand, multi-colored, and tangled like they’d been through a tornado or two since the year before.

One of us would play Christmas carols on the piano, someone else would pop a big batch of popcorn. I remember, with needle and thread, stringing popcorn and cranberries to create a long garland for the Christmas tree. It was a humble thing, but it was beautiful to me, the colorful glow a thing of wonder.

I was assured that Santa was so magical that anything was possible, whether we had a fireplace or not. The excitement of the season made it difficult to sleep, but everyone knows that Santa won’t come if anyone in the house is awake. And everyone knows that even Santa can’t grant every wish to every child.


It has taken me to this stage of my life to completely understand what my father meant when he said those were the happiest times of his life, his family all under one roof — happy, healthy and complete. He may not have been able to provide everything we dreamed of, but he provided everything we needed and then some.

This quote by Burton Hillis says it well: “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.



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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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