"Crying at Christmas?" my husband asked as tears welled up in my eyes. "What's wrong?"

"Just a little homesick," I stuttered.

Bill's job had taken us to a new city. It was difficult to be far from home during the holidays. I missed my family. One morning as I struggled with feeling blue, I recalled a childhood incident when my great-grandmother had rescued me from a broken heart.

"The best cure for sadness is doing something for someone else," she said. Then she handed me a "to-do" list for her neighbors. Upon completion of all the chores, my unhappiness was gone; Great-grandma's remedy had worked!

Now, years later on a melancholy day, it was time for a little of "Grandma's magic."

Our family joined an organization whose purpose was to assist the needy. We were assigned a family with young children the same age as ours. Instructions called for "gently used" clothing and toys to be sent to them as soon as possible.

My husband, Bill, carried a large box into the living room. When I explained our plans to our children, they were excited. Each morning after they left for school, I sorted through old clothes and toys to send to the family. On Saturday, I showed the children what I'd collected. Eagerly, all four rummaged through the box. When they finished, they were confused, disappointed and angry.

"What's the matter?" Bill asked.

"I don't want to do this," Katie said.

"This is awful," complained Matthew.

"I hate this," sulked Kip.

"This is dumb," Betsy said in tears.

Soon all four were crying. They ran into Katie's room and slammed the door. Why would sharing upset them? Hoping to salvage this lesson in "good will towards men," I took a deep breath and entered the room. Four tear-stained little faces were buried in the covers of Katie's bed. My "Grandma's magic" plan had backfired.

Matt's husky little voice whispered, "It isn't fair for you to decide what we give away."

"Mom, how could you?" Katie questioned.

"We don't want to give away these things," cried Kip and Betsy.

Stunned, I looked at my crying children: They were too selfish to share.

"If that's how you feel, take your things out of the box and put them back in your rooms. Then YOU decide what goes to the children. But work fast. Tomorrow's Sunday, and we only have two days left to fill the box.

Sunday, all during church, my mind wandered back to Saturday's calamity. I couldn't stop thinking that somewhere along the way, I'd failed to teach my children the principle of charity. As services closed, the children in the congregation sang:

Away in a manger no crib for a bed,

The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.

I couldn't hold back my tears. Silently, I prayed, "Heavenly Father, please help our family find the true meaning of Christmas."

That evening, hoping to rescue the holiday spirit, I involved everyone in a favorite tradition, making Christmas caramels and gingerbread men. But as we worked, our usual Christmas joy was missing. Unable to focus on the project at hand, four disheartened children asked to be excused and went to their rooms. Discouraged, I cleared the table and made mental notes of things I would purchase tomorrow for the gift box.

Monday night, our four smiling children were waiting in the living room for us.

"Mom and Dad, we have something to show you."

There sat the box. It was full. I didn't dare look at the junk my four pack rats had collected.

"Go ahead, Mom and Dad, look at Christmas!"

With hesitation, we opened the box. Silence. Our hearts stopped. The box had been filled to the brim.

Katie had placed her two most precious dolls, Mandy and Jenny, on a soft bed of quilts. Beside them lay the beautiful baby clothes I had painstakingly sewn for each doll. Matthew had carefully loaded his "Star Wars" X-wing fighter and his favorite "Star Wars" action figures in the box. Kip had put his brand new leather baseball glove inside. And Betsy had carefully tucked her favorite stuffed doggy next to the other treasures.

"Look, there's more!" our four elves chimed. Underneath the toys, on the bottom of the box, our children had carefully folded their beautiful Sunday outfits. They had given their best clothes and toys.

"Mom, Dad, we couldn't let you send that old stuff. Christmas is special; it isn't junk."

We were shocked. "You can't give your nicest things away, they're far too expensi ...." I stopped in midsentence as I realized what had happened. Our children hadn't cried because they were selfish. They had cried at the thought of some sweet child getting less than wonderful for Christmas.

The stars in the heavens looked down where He lay.

The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

We had found the true meaning of Christmas with Grandma's magic.

About the author

Candy Lish Fowler of St. George was born in Salt Lake City and raised in Granger. She attended the University of Utah and was a Presidential Scholar in dance. She has been married to Bill Fowler for 36 years. They have four children and 11 grandchildren. She taught dance at CDT at the U. and is the founder and retired artistic director of the Southwest Dance Theater. She is also on the Utah Arts Council dance panel. Fowler enjoys dancing, writing family history and traveling. She is the president of the St. George Poetry Society.