You remember that feeling on Christmas morning, right? You know the one: the excitement of opening a present that someone bought and picked out just for you! As a child growing up in a large family, I can tell you we didn’t have a lot of presents. My parents had nine children to be concerned with. I will tell you this; they did try! I remember overhearing the conversation late at night at the kitchen table shortly after Thanksgiving. They would begin the discussion wondering about the dilemma of what to do about the coming of Christmas. My mom would say to my dad, “What are we going to do about Christmas for these kids?”
The answer would often lead to them accumulating additional debt. There was a loan company located in Benson in Omaha. Invariably, they would make the decision to borrow a few hundred dollars so they could afford Christmas gifts for their children. It would take them all year to pay that loan back. Most of the time my parents lived very frugally. They wanted Christmas to be different. My mother couldn’t forget about the many years when they had few options at Christmas. We were all small. She had to keep Christmas simple. It was the only thing she could do. She told the pastor of our parish about it and he would call the St. Vincent de Paul Society to bring us gifts and food. My mother felt so humbled by this. It would make her so sad that this was all they could do for their children. As we started getting older, she was determined to find another way.
Money was always tight, but they really wanted to make Christmas special. My parents would drive to Benson, usually on December 21, and pick up the check for a loan, then purchasing extra groceries and doing Christmas shopping for their many children. We would get things like gloves and scarves and hats, and maybe crayons and games. Often times my sisters and I would get a combination gift like a hair dryer or some hair curlers. The one exception happened when my older sister, Connie, went to work. She made a point of Christmas shopping for each of her siblings a few months early. She would then carefully wrap each gift and tuck it away for Christmas. We all were excited for that special present from Connie on Christmas morning. We would ask, “What did you get from Connie?”
My mother would remind us how the birth of the Christ Child was the most important present we would ever receive. He was born so we could all be together in Heaven someday when we leave this world. In her words: “Be grateful for what you have because presents are not the important thing about Christmas!” So off to Mass we would go as she reminded us what the true meaning of Christmas was really about. Ok, I’ll admit it, we were kids. We wanted that Christmas morning gift-opening experience that so many of our friends had. We wanted that excitement!
I suppose I didn’t realize the struggles my parents experienced during the holidays. When I grew up and began working I learned quickly about what they did for us to create as many memories as possible. Many of my siblings had musical talent, as did Dad. So Christmas was a time when we had music. This was followed by our big meal where we all ate together and talked and laughed.
Today, my adult self would tell my parents that these are the memories which I hold dearest about Christmas growing up in our large family. I would remind them to please not worry about taking out that loan. I would say, “Let’s all just be together, singing, laughing and eating our meal together.” I understand why they didn’t want to disappoint their children, but we would have been ok. My mother was right about so much, though: the most important present we would all have is the birth of the Christ child. Because, that is “the present that will bring joy that will last”!
“Do not be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Savior was born — Christ the Lord! … you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great army of heaven’s angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2: 10-14)
Copyright 2019 Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh