A Christmas Promise

Just thinking about Christmas was difficult in 1972, not to mention shopping, decorating, baking and pretending to enjoy the holiday.  Our three-months-old son, Travis, had died earlier that year and I felt like a part of me had died with him.  What kept me going that Christmas was our four-year-old son, Aaron, who had been through his own stages of grief, but was now looking forward to Santa's visit.

I wanted to make life as normal as possible for Aaron and part of that involved following our usual holiday tradition of spending Christmas Eve at my parents' home along with my siblings and their families.  Aaron was accustomed to waking at his grandparents' house on Christmas morning to see his Santa gifts under the Christmas tree.  This year we planned to do the same.

But in spite of my good intentions, things weren't the same.  There was no joy in my heart.  Each time I wrapped a child's gift, I remembered the toys I had bought for Travis that would never find their way under the tree.  When I looked at Christmas stockings hanging and waiting to be filled, I noticed only the one that was missing.  And since family members had no idea how to comfort me, they usually said nothing, which left me feeling lonely and sad.  

On top of that, other relatives and friends dropped by for a visit, making my parents' small, frame house bulge at the seams.  Unable to handle the crowd, I motioned for my husband to join me outside.  

“I can’t do this,” I told him, almost in tears. He led me to our car—the only quiet spot we could find.  Neither of us wanted to make the out of town trip back to our home, but we needed a quiet place to relax.

Suddenly, Carl came up with an idea.  His dad had been a widower for several years, but had recently remarried and was spending the holidays with his new family.  His house was in the same town as my parents—just fifteen minutes away.  We talked with Dad by phone and he encouraged us to make use of his home.  

It sounded good to us, but four-year-old Aaron wasn't convinced.  "How will Santa find me?" he asked.  We assured him that Santa would know where he was.  

"But there's no Christmas tree at Pa-Pa's house," Aaron said sadly.  

"Santa will bring one," I said.  That was something he had never seen happen so he was skeptical but also very tired.  Finally, he agreed and we assured my family that we would return on Christmas morning.

Aaron dropped off to sleep as soon as he crawled into bed at Pa-pa’s house then Carl and I went to work. We had anticipated the lack of a Christmas tree and thought we had solved the problem.  My father always cut his own tree and this year it was way too large to get into the house so he had cut four feet off the top, which we now had in the trunk of our car.  One problem.  We had no decorations!

"What are we going to do?"  I asked.  Immediately, we got innovative.  We popped popcorn and strung it on the tree.  I made colorful chains from Christmas ribbon to drape the branches.  A drawer was filled with small medicine cups so we covered them with foil, taped curly ribbon on the tops and tied them to the tree.  They looked like shiny little bells.  We tied bows on the tree and added other festive touches. Finally, we spread a white sheet under the tree and added some wrapped packages, along with Aaron's Santa present–a complete set of dinosaurs that he had been wanting for months. Carl and I stood back and looked at the results.  It looked like an honest-to-goodness Christmas tree.  It was pretty!  

Christmas morning has never been so special as that year.  Aaron was more than surprised.  He was shocked!  He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw the Christmas tree.  Santa really did know where he was!  And the dinosaurs were exactly what he wanted.  I hadn't seen my son that happy in weeks.  In fact, I hadn't felt that kind of joy since Travis' death.  I curled up on the sofa with a cup of coffee and watched Aaron and his daddy play with the toys, savoring the love and solitude of the moment.

The memory is still a bittersweet one.  Death of a loved one, especially a child, is always hard, and I cried my share of tears that holiday season.  But that Christmas was a turning point in our lives.  I believe God provided a sweet respite for us then presented us with a challenge.  Not just the task of decorating a tree, but the challenge to live again.  To laugh, love, cry and go on in spite of our pain.

It was the beginning of a healing time for my husband and me as we worked and laughed together for the first time in months, trying to turn a scraggly old treetop into a delightful Christmas tree to surprise a little boy who was afraid he was going to miss Santa.  

Reprinted by permission of Louise Tucker Jones and Guideposts Publication, © 2002

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