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For more than 100 years, the Deseret News has published original Christmas stories, eventually starting what is known as its annual "Christmas I Remember Best" writing contest.

From Christmas during the Great Depression to a Christmas message from an enemy submarine during World War II, a canceled Christmas in 1977 and a 2004 Christmas in Afghanistan, here's a look at past "Christmas I Remember Best" winners:

'Ugly' Christmas tree becomes a thing of beauty

The Christmas I Remember Best: 'Ugly' Christmas tree becomes a thing of beauty

It was December 1944, just three days before Christmas and we still didn't have a Christmas tree. World War II found many families struggling just to meet their needs, and Christmas trees seemed to be the furthest thing from their minds.

Our family was no different. With six children I knew we would have a meager Christmas, but would it be without our family’s annual Christmas tree?

Early that morning Papa loaded all six of us children in the car and we headed for the closest Christmas tree lot. As we pulled into the lot I could hear myself saying, “We’re going to have a Christmas tree!”

Everyone piled out of the car and started running to a tree hoping it would be the one Papa would pick. He glanced around the lot knowing that this close to Christmas he could probably do some bargaining.

He walked over to the area marked $3. He looked at several of the trees, walked to another area and picked out one that was missing several branches. He approached the salesman and offered him 50 cents. The salesman looked at Papa and then at us six children who were now staring at him. He counter offered a dollar. “Done,” Papa said.

I couldn’t believe what Papa had just done. He had just agreed to buy the ugliest Christmas tree I had ever seen. How could he? What was he thinking? What would Mama say?

Papa reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver dollar. I realized at that moment it was all the money he had. He handed it to the salesman and picked up the tree, ordering all of us children back to the car while he tied it onto the roof.

After he had finished securing it to the car he walked over to where a large stack of branches lay on the ground and asked the salesman if he could take some. The salesman agreed and Papa picked up several and handed them to us to hold on our laps while we returned home.

As we arrived, Mama came to the front door to greet us. Papa quickly unloaded the tree and Mama took one look, never said a word and went back in the house. For the next three hours Papa took the hand drill and started boring holes in the trunk of the tree. When he finished each hole he would meticulously and patiently insert one of the branches until it was firmly in place.

Finally, he set the tree upright and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There stood a beautiful 6-foot tree with no branches missing that could have outclassed any of the trees we left at the lot. I was stunned.

Papa took our old tree stand from the shelf and affixed it to the bottom of the tree. He then carried it into the house and placed in front of the big bay window that faced Yellowstone Highway. Mama smiled and I knew everything was going to be all right.

That evening all of the family gathered for the trimming of the tree. When all the ornaments were placed on the tree, both store-bought and homemade, we applied our favorite bubble lights. Next the tinsel and other items were added until the tree was decorated and the lights were turned on. It now stood majestically in the front window for everyone to see.

I don’t remember what I got for Christmas that year, but I will never forget how proud I was of the beautiful Christmas tree that adorned our neighborhood in December 1944. Papa taught me a lifelong lesson that Christmas: The tree I perceived to be so ugly became a thing of beauty with just a little work, and so it is with life.

— Bill Roskelley

I learned much from Africa

Christmas I Remember Best: I learned much from Africa

One of the absolutely amazing Christmases of mine occurred in the deserts of sub-Saharan Africa in 1998. We wandered through the sands of impoverished African villages, observed men and women dressed in their traditional robes called boubous, along with their sandals and occasional headdresses. In one of the poorest areas of earth, my wife, Kaye, and I, along with a few friends, spent the last 10 days of December that year getting to know and serve the loving people and culture of West Africa.

In November our Provo church group had launched several projects for us to take gifts to the people we were serving. The young men collected dozens of soccer balls, used and new, to distribute so each village would have at least one new and several used balls, along with an air pump for maintenance. It would be a sharp contrast to the rags tied together as soccer balls they had used for most of their lives.

Over the same several weeks, the young women and their mothers set up a “sewing factory” in our LDS ward cultural hall where they made cute dolls out of various fabrics. Each produced a soft, huggable African doll to be given to village girls, along with homemade dresses so as to enjoy several doll outfits. Needless to say, we had a lot of luggage.

When in Africa, darkness came early each evening. We could see tiny fires outside the mud huts where families cooked their meals, ate, played drums and danced. With no electricity in the region, the darkness overhead was a stark contrast, with constellations of the southern skies shining brilliantly above. The stars made us think of that first Christmas 2,000 years ago when a tiny Babe was born in a similar dusty village called Bethlehem.

At times, we would walk through the dirt paths surrounding our simple compound, viewing thatched-roof huts and palm trees swaying in the breeze. We could see the occasional run-down manger with dry hay on the ground, often with Brahma cattle lowing and goats scampering underfoot. It couldn’t have been different at the birth of Baby Jesus.

Stark poverty was everywhere, infant mortality among the highest in the world — 18 times higher than the United States. Families there operated at a subsistence level. Living occurred in simple houses made of mud with wooden frames and hard dirt floors. Water was hauled by the women from thousands of yards away at a communal well.

This was a place where few children had opportunities for a healthy life, let alone an education. Sanitation was provided by pit latrines or the bush. With deforestation occurring over the years to secure cooking fuel, accompanied by an 18-year drought and a lack of wild game, survival was a harsh taskmaster. The region’s GNP per head was approximately $250 U.S. that year.

I recall the experience of giving one of our soft dolls to a 5-year-old girl in a large village. A day later we happened upon the family compound where we saw the child’s mother, Maineh, cradling the new doll in her arms, swinging back and forth while humming a lullaby. When we enquired, she simply told us the doll made her remember her babies that had died at birth, or soon afterward. Tears came to our eyes, as well as hers, as we reflected on the deep pain suffered by so many women in the region. We hadn’t dreamed a single doll would mean so much.

At Christmastime that year, I learned much from Africa — lessons of love and dignity, as well as peace, humility and human betterment. In spite of their abject poverty, villagers taught me to thank God. I gained important lessons from them about how to truly love others, to live life to the fullest, to be grateful for every blessing, great or small.

On that Christmas Eve in 1998, we lit a candle, softly sang some of our favorite Christmas songs, and shared our thoughts about the miraculous birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a sacred experience, a holy time, as we crouched around our little campfire and reflected on our blessings. We could certainly empathize with the plight of Joseph and Mary. We felt a bit of what the shepherds must have felt in the deserts of Judea long ago.

Every year since then, I recall that first experience as a few humble Utahns ventured to Africa to bless the lives of 25,000 native people in 20 villages during a wonderful Christmas season. It wasn’t a massive change project, but it gave comfort to at least one mother who’d lost her little one.

— Warner Woodworth

Mom's sacrifice for Christmas toys

Christmas I Remember Best: Mom's sacrifice for Christmas toys

Seventy-three years ago we were living in a little rented house just south of Logan, Utah. I was 7 years old and I had a brother who was 9. We didn’t have much expectation for the upcoming Christmas because Santa Claus had been unable to find our house the year before. And then the big kids in the neighborhood told us who Santa Claus really was.

The year 1940 had been a disaster in our world. Dad hadn’t been able to make the payment on our small farm, so we lost that and the little house my dad had built on it. We were jobless, car-less, and next to homeless. The chances that Santa Claus might find our house seemed even bleaker than the year before, but as Christmas approached, my Mom decided we would not have another Christmas without toys. She made some good homemade candy — two kinds of fudge, pinoche and divinity — and put it into little cellophane bags. While we were in school, she walked into Logan and went door to door to sell her candy. Cache Valley is cold in the winter, and I can imagine that Mom didn’t have a good coat, or boots or gloves. I remember she would come home about frozen stiff.

After supper was over, Mom would fire up the wood stove and make more candy. The next day she’d walk to another area of Logan and again go door to door. World War II had just begun. People were broke and many were scared. It wasn’t easy to sell candy door-to-door.

That Christmas, I got a wind-up motorcycle cop that would run around and around in circles while the siren wailed. It was a wonderful Christmas.

I will always honor my mother for what she did that Christmas. She was only 28 years old and already she’d had four children born alive, though two had died. She’d also had two miscarriages with heavy hemorrhaging. She had lost all her upper teeth and spent two years in poverty so crushing I can’t even imagine the depth of her despair. Grandma used to send us a 3-cent stamp in her letters so that Mom could send an answer. It would have been easy to give up, but Mom didn’t. She made candy and sold it on the frozen streets of Logan, so her 7-year-old could have a toy for Christmas. I still have that little wind-up motorcycle, and it still works.

— George Hawkins

Riding dreams on a pony

Christmas I Remember Best: Riding dreams on a pony

A pony for Christmas? The year was 1953, and most American children were secretly wishing, praying and writing letters to Santa Claus promising to be nice rather than naughty in return for that ultimate desideratum of gifts: the “real, live pony.”

Subtle hints were everywhere. The Lone Ranger’s face on the back of the Cheerios box revealed a sly, knowing grin if you looked at it just right. Trigger, Silver and Topper were inevitably the focus of comparative analysis when the neighborhood gathered for tag and philosophy. Silver was faster, but Trigger was smarter. Everyone could agree on that. Those secondary characters that tagged along with these great steeds? Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy? They were as fungible as the extras in last year’s western.

The irony of asking Santa for a pony when you lived in a third floor walk-up in Brooklyn totally escaped my generation.

We didn’t live in a third-floor walk-up. We lived in Bothell, Washington, just beyond the suburbs of greater Seattle. We had chickens, rabbits, fruit trees and a kitchen garden sprawling over 5 acres that qualified as the wild frontier in my 4-year-old eyes. Bears had been seen on Pontius Road and salmon swimming upstream had once strayed into the ditch in front of our house. Plenty of room for a pony.

Only there would be no pony.

My 6-year-old sister had recently emerged from months in a cast and slept with braces on her legs every night. Mother was attending the University of Washington to qualify for a teaching certificate so she could help make ends meet. Dad was working extra hours in his grocery store trying to earn enough money to keep up with the hospital bills. Looking back, I know that in the weeks approaching Christmas, while my sisters and I lay sleepless but snug in our beds with visions of sugarplums and that real-live-pony dancing in our heads, in the quiet of the room next to ours, my parents lay sleepless and weeping that they had nothing to give their three children for Christmas.

But Mother had served in the Marine Corps during the recent world war. Once a Marine, always a Marine, they say, and she planned the operation and carried it out with Semper Fi precision. On her way home from the university a few days before Christmas, she stopped by the plywood mill near our home. Enduring the whistles and leers of the mill workers she begged them for a few cores from the turned logs and loaded them into the old Desoto. Dad found discarded lumber and an old tire under the chicken house. There was also a left-over gallon of that hideous swimming-pool-aquamarine paint that people used in kitchens and bathrooms in the '50s. The big splurge was probably 39 cents for a pint of black enamel.

Christmas Eve came and we sat together as a family while Dad read from Luke and Matthew. Decades hence, the images I still see of shepherds, angels, wise men and the babe in the manger surrounded by animals in a rustic stable retain the miraculous clarity and astonishment that were engraved on my 4-year old heart that night.

On Christmas morning — the miracle! Standing patiently side by side in our back yard were three horses of slightly different stature, but custom made (literally) for a 4-year-old boy and his 5- and 6-year-old sisters. I didn’t notice that their glistening coats were of a pale blue-green hue, that their two-by-four legs had knots in them, that their manes and tails were cut from an old tire, or that the saddles and faces were painted on. Those horses carried us across plains, forded streams, traversed mountains and deserts, and penetrated jungles in adventures that would have astounded John Wayne.

There have been many memorable Christmases since 1953. From my youth, I recall the Christmas of the electric train, the Christmas of the BB gun, and the Christmas of the shortwave radio. From my adult life, there was the first “starving student Christmas” with my sweet wife and subsequent Christmases with special gifts for one, two, three and finally four children. And now we watch as our grandchildren discover the magic, peace and holiness of the season.

A pony for Christmas? Yes, indeed. I will never forget “the Christmas that we got horses!” And now the irony that eluded me at age 4 has taken on a meaning worthy of wondering awe. That Christmas of 1953 is the one that I look to as an echo of the magnificent irony of the first Christmas, where sorrow, humble circumstances and perfect love combined to bestow the greatest gift of all.

— Ken Jennings, Jr.

'All this, and the Gospel, too;' Christmas with Ezra Taft and Flora Benson

Christmas I Remember Best: 'All this, and the Gospel, too;' Christmas with Ezra Taft and Flora Benson

I’ve had so many wonderful Christmases, but the one I remember best was when I was 14 years old. We lived up in cold, sunny Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Our home was decorated all in white and cherry red. Mom had ordered a real evergreen tree flocked in white and covered in red balls and lights.

We all went as a family to the Calgary International Airport to pick up our wonderful grandparents, Ezra Taft and Flora Benson. It was always such a special thrill to see them get off of the plane as they walked down the stairs and the cold hit them with a shot of fresh, frosty air.

On the way home my dad took us to the fanciest clothier to pick out a suit or winter coat for Grandpa. Then we stopped by R.H. Williams clothing store to get a beautiful warm coat for Grandma Benson. On the way home, we had wonderful stories from Grandma Benson about her childhood and mission. Then we all sat down to a warm and wonderful Christmas dinner, usually a roast turkey or rib roast. Grandpa Benson would always stop and say, “All this, and the Gospel, too!” He was so gracious and grateful. Grandma would do her famous whistle and call for “T”, short for Taft.

Then we all bundled up in our warmest coats and hats and headed to the Johnson farm for a family sleigh ride. The big horses were harnessed to the sleigh and we were off on the frozen snow. With Mom, Dad, brother, sisters, Grandpa and Grandma all together, we sang Christmas carols. The crisp, cold air seemed to melt away as our warm voices filled the air. There was a feeling of peace and serenity. The snow-capped Rockies glistened in the sun.

Before long we arrived home for more caroling and a reading of the account of our Savior’s birth in the scriptures. We all dressed up as Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men and a doll for baby Jesus. Time seemed to stand still as I looked around our decorated living room. There was a peace and reverence that cannot be described.

Our family was all together and a prophet, seer and revelator was in our midst as a real and genuine grandpa.

— Laurel Udall

Ocean depths fail to dampen spirit of Christmas

Christmas I Remember Best: Ocean depths fail to dampen spirit of Christmas

The Christmas that will remain forever etched in my memory was devoid of snow and sleigh bells. There were no chestnuts roasting on an open fire and no aroma of spicy apple cider. There was no turkey, no mistletoe and no Santa in the department store. There were no Christmas trees. There were no presents to unwrap. I witnessed the powerful impact of the spirit of Christmas many years ago — several hundred feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

Our submarine had just completed a seven-month tour of duty in the Mediterranean at the height of the Cold War. We were scheduled to return to our home port of Charleston, South Carolina, two days before Christmas. The thought of seeing family and friends after such a long absence made our excitement almost impossible to contain, and returning just in time for that wondrous holiday created unbearable feelings of anticipation. Unfortunately, our enthusiasm was short-lived. While passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, we received emergency orders to locate and track a Soviet submarine that had been detected near a strategic port in Spain.

The feeling of discouragement formed a huge black cloud that enveloped each man aboard. We knew full well that our window of opportunity for a return by Christmas was already extremely small and this detour would mean no hugs from loved ones on Christmas morning. Even though we performed our assigned task in a professional manner, it added five days to our schedule and the successful completion of the mission did little to relieve the pain of homesickness that seemed to consume everyone.

Shortly after completing that final mission, at a time when things felt especially gloomy, I picked up a colored grease pencil used for keeping the Maneuvering Room status board current, and in the lower right-hand corner I drew a small red and white candy cane. When I had finished, the twinkle in the rest of the eyes of the men in the room was unmistakable and there was just a hint of a smile in their countenances.

Over the next few days, I began to add bits and pieces of the season to the board. One morning I drew a tiny snowman, the next a Christmas tree with ornaments. The following day found Santa and his sleigh flying above rooftops. During each four-hour shift, I added a little something more until finally a shining star looked down on a small Nativity scene, and the work was complete.

And that’s when it happened. Men who had worked so hard for so long to maintain their rough exterior could be heard singing Christmas carols throughout the submarine. Men who had always taken a special pride in how callous they were began to ask, “Who remembers the second verse to ‘Silent Night’?” Men who had refused to acknowledge their spiritual side assisted one another in recalling the words to "Away in a Manger." The atmosphere aboard the submarine had changed completely. The feeling of depression and sadness had been transformed into one of peace on earth — good will to men.

Then, on Christmas Day, the unthinkable happened. The captain, who always stayed at the forward section of the boat to monitor sonar readings and maintain visual sightings from the periscope, walked aft to the rear of the submarine and entered the Maneuvering Room.

Even though we were surrounded by large pumps, motors, hydraulic systems, turbine generators and the main propulsion shaft, a deafening silence fell over us. I tried to envision life in the brig — the Navy’s term for jail. I thought of how simple grease pencils and a piece of Plexiglas may have just cost me a successful term of naval service because I knew that using the status board as a makeshift Christmas card was clearly a violation of Nuclear Regulatory Commission procedures.

For several more minutes not a word was spoken. Then the captain of the nuclear submarine, the commander of one of the world’s most powerful strategic military weapons, said in a soft and almost reverent voice, “Merry Christmas, men.” He turned and left the room, walked slowly back to the forward part of the boat, and quietly closed the door to his private stateroom.

I learned that day that the Spirit of Christmas could be felt by all men, even the most hardened sailors. I learned that the warm light of the season can be felt anywhere, even onboard a submarine far beneath a cold and dark sea. I learned that there is a sweet spirit that can be awakened within each of us through the simplest of means — even a small red and white candy cane.

— Mark R. Clary

Humble cabbage is a gift of hope

Christmas I remember best: Humble cabbage is a gift of hope

For many years my dad was the bishop of the Spanish Fork 3rd Ward. Every Christmas Eve it was customary for bishops to take a gift to the poor families in their wards. There were a lot of poor people in our ward, so my mother and father would spend most of Christmas Eve delivering gifts to those members.

One year my dad asked me to go with him to deliver the packages. I told him I didn't want to go. There were many other activities I looked forward to on Christmas Eve. Dad persisted and said he needed me to go because this Christmas he was taking cabbages to the families. Then I knew I didn't want to go. I was so embarrassed to think he was giving them something as plain and boring as a dull, green cabbage.

Furthermore, I knew the children in the ward, and I would be humiliated to give them a cabbage. I thought we should take a striped candy or a frosted cake. But a plain, old cabbage?

Mother had packaged some apples and a few sweets in bright red paper to accompany the cabbage. Since Dad insisted I was to go with him, I devised a plan. I'd make him carry the cabbage to the door of each family, and I would hand them the sweets that Mother had packed.

One of our ward members was living in a run-down chicken coop. This family had many children, including a daughter my age, and they were the poorest in the ward. At this house, Father told me I was going to carry the cabbage. I begged him to let me carry the sweets. He insisted; I was to carry the cabbage.

I was so ashamed to give a family who needed so much nothing but an insignificant cabbage. There would be no toys, turkey or candy at this home — only the small cabbage I clutched to my chest while wishing I could disappear just like the forgetful Santa Claus who seems to miss the most needy.

As the door cracked open, my hands trembled as I thrust the cabbage toward a tired woman in a thin, cotton dress who was trying to quiet a crying baby. Then, I closed my eyes because I did not want to see the tears running down her cheeks. She cried and repeatedly thanked us for the Christmas miracle. Now, she said, their family would have something to eat for Christmas dinner.

Only then was I able to open my eyes and realize that as small as that cabbage was, it was a miracle to this poor family.

Often times when we think our efforts are insignificant, they are really a life-sustaining miracle. We delivered more than cabbage that evening. We delivered hope. We gave those families what they needed most: the assurance that someone, somewhere was aware of their struggles and was ready to stretch forth a helping hand — even one holding a small cabbage.

The next morning after that memorable Christmas Eve, there was a beautifully wrapped package under our tree. It was the most spectacular looking gift I had ever seen. My sister and I danced around the box which was wrapped in crimson paper and tied with a golden ribbon. We could hardly wait to see who it was for and what was inside.

The beautiful package had my name on it! While everyone watched, I hurriedly tore off the paper while envisioning a doll or maybe a bicycle. Instead, at the bottom of the box was a cabbage. I was not disappointed. I realized that I, too, had received the miracle of the Christmas cabbage that wonderful Christmas.

For the rest of my life, I have never been ashamed to carry a cabbage to anyone, even when what they seemed to need most was a feast.

Every Christmas after that until my father died, I received a gift of cabbage as a reminder of all the Christmas cabbage miracles I can give on Christmas and every day throughout the year.

— Barbara Bowen

Christmas of rag dolls altered view

Christmas I remember best: Christmas of rag dolls altered view

My cheeks tingled with excitement in the brisk December air, the world was my oyster. Christmas was the pearl nestled deep inside my soaring spirit.

It was 1949, and my first job and regular paycheck meant this was one year I wouldn't have to be satisfied giving homemade gifts. My coat swings rhythmically with my happy steps. I looked at the handsome young man beside me. I was wearing his ring. It encircled my finger just as his love encircled me in a warm, ever-present glow. Bob carried the gifts we had carefully purchased, each one lovingly selected for a special family member. Together we would create a memorable Christmas.

Near the street corner stood a bell-ringing Santa. A donation dropped into his bucket increased my belief that I had the true spirit of this holiday season.

We arrived at my home and carefully placed the beautiful foil-wrapped gifts under the tree. My young sisters and brothers gave appreciative "ooh's" and "aah's." The little ones were bundled off to bed.

After the merriment had settled into a hushed silence, we went into the kitchen. There at the table, with skeins of yarn, scrap materials, scissors and thread, sat Mom and Dad, busily making something. Mom looked up and asked if we would like to help. In her hands she had what looked like a doll, a rag doll. It was. It was a rag doll! A homemade-looking thing, with a face that was too pale. The doll Dad held was no better. A faceless, limp, horrible little thing!

"Come on, pull up a chair," Dad said. "Maybe you can help me get the face right on this one. Which hair looks best? Yellow? Brown? How about some black braids?"

How could they? How could they embarrass me like this in front of my fiance? Homemade rag dolls for Christmas? Surely they could do better than that. Weren't things beginning to look up for us? Dad had returned to work after a six-month illness. There hadn't been even a suggestion of another homemade Christmas.

I wanted to cry as I glanced around the room. There stood the galvanized water bucket with the long-handled dipper beside it. Faded curtains on the cupboard shelves hid the home-canned foods. The old kerosene lamps were in their usual place atop the unpainted orange crates.

I was jolted from my thoughts by a deep voice cheerfully answering.

"I like the yellow hair best." Bob gave my blonde curls a quick tug. Picking up the yam, he clumsily formed it around the pale-faced little rag doll. Pulling a worn wooden chair toward the table, he offered me a seat, then settled himself into an old bentwood chair. It was soon obvious that he had never used an embroidery needle, and the knots and tangles in the yam told me he was unfamiliar with such things. Model airplanes were more his line of handiwork.

Working with hushed voices, we spent hours fashioning bright scraps and tiny stitches into rag dolls. Quietly they were placed under the Christmas tree. Somehow, they didn't seem out of place there; the spiral tin can icicles, the red and green paper chains, the lopsided star that shone with crushed fools gold and yellowed glue all blended to create a Christmas-card effect.

I forgot the embarrassment of shedding ropes that crisscrossed the room, fastened in the corners of calcimined walls. A little wooden spool tank with a rubber band motor sat on the slivered floor, its treads carefully carved as Dad notched the rims of empty threadspools. The gifts Bob and I had purchased faded into nothingness.

It was long past midnight when Bob kissed me goodnight and stepped into the cold wintry darkness. Wearily I climbed into bed beside my sleeping sisters. Marilyn's little button nose peeked out from the heavy homemade quilts. Kathleen's blonde hair made a silken web over her cheeks. In another room, David snuggled into the narrow cot with Wayne. I could picture Harry, in his bed, pretending to be asleep.

In the kitchen, Dad gave another stir to the coal stove. Mom still worked at her sewing basket. It would be several hours before they were through. The sun would rise on still busy hands.

I awakened in the morning to the sound of a wooden spool tank clumping across the barren floor and the happy shrieks of young children. As I came into the room, I saw two little girls, their faces radiant, clutching the rag dolls. The foil-wrapped gifts went unnoticed.

"The Christmas of the Rag Dolls" was penned sometime after my fiance and I married. It actually happened as I have recorded it, taking it from my journal entry of 58 years ago. The gifts, wrapped so exquisitely in foil wrap and gaily colored Christmas ribbon, had been purchased from ZCMI, J.C. Penney Co. and the Sears store in downtown Salt Lake City. My home was then in rural Magna, where my own family of four boys and a girl was raised. Even though things had picked up financially during the years following 1949, and we were able to buy commercial things, we still spent time making gifts.

I learned that handmade and homemade presents became the treasures most valued.

— N. Dee Bosen

Ailing dad's co-workers bring cheer to family

Christmas I remember best: Ailing dad's co-workers bring cheer to family

This Christmas story takes place many years ago. It takes place at a time the world was healing from the Second World War. It was supposed to be "the war to end all wars." The soldiers who had been fortunate enough to return home were finding new sweethearts. Others returned to waiting wives and families. Still more never made it back but were remembered and missed as their loved ones now approached the Christmas season.

Everywhere new neighborhoods were popping up. Little two-bedroom homes of every color were made available to the thousands who only qualified with special loans for returning veterans.

It was in such a little neighborhood that the snow was falling softly on a little yellow shake-shingle home. All the other homes on the street were dark as the long winter night dragged through its last hours. But the little yellow house had one light burning in the bedroom where two parents normally would be fast asleep. Only tonight, the young mother was awake and alone. Alone, awake and very worried.

The war had been long, and those years had brought with them difficult times. Everyone left behind had sacrificed as gas was rationed along with many of the staple foods like sugar and meat. Some of these even disappeared completely as the struggling nation put an enormous effort to the war. These foods and other pleasures would soon be taken for granted again — but now they were still cherished as they became more available.

The few years since the war had offered time for healing as memories faded on the hurt and death the far-away enemy had inflicted on the nation. Christmas this year would be a time of peace. But now another enemy had taken this young mother's returning soldier away from her yet again. An enemy no one could see. One about which little was known but one that could cripple all that it attacked — knocking the biggest off their feet and even taking the lives of the strong, leaving behind only weakness and pain.

This enemy had been around for centuries but was at its height of destruction in the early '50s — later to be almost eliminated by a serum not yet discovered. If one was fortunate enough to survive this enemy, you might find yourself living out your days on crutches or in a wheelchair. The name they gave this enemy was polio, and this foe had put the father of this little family in the hospital. Tonight, he lay inside the metal cocoon of a noisy iron lung while it sucked in and out each life-saving breath.

Yet if you were watching through the window in the early darkness on this winter morning, you would see from the light of the small lamp next to the bed the young mother of two on her knees in the act of prayer. It was a cry to God for help. What was she to do? Would he ever be OK? Would he ever be able to move his arms again? Would he ever be able to walk? Would he even live through the week, and would he ever return to his new job?

It was not a job for one on crutches or a wheelchair. Being a policeman was hard work with many hours spent on your feet. You had to have the strength to wrestle the meanest drunk or pull someone from a car crash. Would he ever have enough strength return so that he could feed himself, walk or be a father to his young children?

The question of how they could exist weighed on her mind. How could they pay for food, the heat, the lights or give the two children asleep in the next room something for Christmas? Being so young, they would believe that Santa had forgotten all about them. It would break their hearts. The new little yellow house had a payment due each month of $110. That seemed like a fortune when her husband made less than $3 an hour at his job — and even if he did recover, the job might not be there.

The house had been decorated for Christmas with hand-me-down tinsel and lights. The young mother had asked for the used paper sacrament cups from the church. She covered them with tin foil and hung them like little silver bells on the scrawny Christmas tree.

Even the tree had been a gift from a neighbor who knew how little they had and what they were going through. This kind neighbor had hoped this holiday symbol would bring to memory some Christmas cheer from better years gone by. He hoped the sweet smell of pine might be a welcome breath in an atmosphere of despair. He, too, had remembered bleak Christmas pasts in his own home. He had recalled the Christmas when he had been out of work during a long strike at the copper mine. He hadn't missed the lunches he had sacrificed to buy this little tree, and he would always cherish the look of joy and relief on that young mother's face when it was delivered.

There were others who had empathy for the mother in the little yellow house. One was the tall, burly owner of the local grocery store with the wavy hair and the deep, booming bass voice. He had known the family for the short time they had lived in the new little yellow house. They were much like his little family, young — excited about life and the community in which they now lived.

The store owner had grown to like the big policeman who often came shopping with his wife. Maybe this was why he had done something he had never done before when the mother had shown up with a child's wagon loaded with empty pop bottles she had collected from neighbors and friends to buy a few groceries. He had suggested to her that the store needed someone to bake fresh cakes that he could sell in his little O.P. Skaggs grocery store to other customers. So several times a week she would appear with more empty bottles, buy flour, sugar, cocoa and other groceries to take home. Then the following day bring in rich chocolate cakes just warm from the oven. It was his little secret that when other customers showed up shopping to redeem their empty glass bottles, he would load them up again for a late night drop on the porch of the little yellow house. And the cycle would continue.

And this night the little yellow house was slowly being covered in the soft, fluffy snow that had fallen through the wee hours. Soon daylight would come up like the curtain of a stage, revealing a winter wonderland scene much like those depicted on the few Christmas cards taped to the refrigerator. Every branch of every tree was covered in white as the dawn revealed the tiny neighborhood in a world of light and shadow.

Which would it be for the mother of the little yellow house? The light of hope that all would be OK or the shadow that nothing would ever be the same again? Today was Christmas Eve, and the little Christmas pine had nothing under it but a few foil covered bells that had fallen from their hooks.

Like every good Christmas story, there should be a happy ending. But why were there two police cruisers pulling up to the driveway of the little yellow house so early this morning?

The neighbor across the street had been up early getting ready for the carpool that would take him to the copper mine. Through the window he had seen the two police cars come with lights flashing but no sirens only to stop across the street. Surely news at this time of the morning could not be good news.

The young mother's heart was racing as she walked to the front door to answer the persistent knock of the four policemen standing outside. They had just come from visiting their co-worker at the hospital and wanted to be the first to bring the news. Things were looking good. The doctors had not been there, but they had observed their partner and friend was now out of the big iron lung machine and breathing on his own. Oh, he still had little use of one arm and leg, but with time they assured her that even that movement might return.

And there was one thing more. A big box in the trunk of one of the cars was removed and carried through the front door finding its final rest under the Christmas tree. "It was just a little something for the children from the other officers," they had explained. Everyone had chipped in a few dollars for a few toys, but now a second box was brought through the door filled and overflowing with cans of food. When asked they had said, "It was no big deal. Just a little gift from the boys." Nothing was mentioned about the real sacrifices that were made those weeks before to be able to fill these two boxes.

This Christmas story was not over. It would still be many months before all was back to normal for the family of the little yellow house. There would be months filled with physical therapy and painful healing. But the thoughtfulness of all that was done for that little family will be remembered a lifetime. I was one of the children in the next room fast asleep as my mother sent up a prayer to God so many years ago. A prayer that the healer of the sick, the one who could make the lame to walk and the blind to see would also look down and remember another father going through some earthly trials. It was even this Only Begotten who had said, "Even if you have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me."

Even though it was so many years ago, it is the Christmas I remember as the best.

— Clark Yospe

'Santa Test' brings joy to sisters

Christmas I remember best: 'Santa Test' brings joy to sisters

At every point in a child's life the question comes to mind of whether or not Santa Claus is real. We hear murmurs and rumors that he is not. Some kids question the flying reindeer, the chubby old man fitting down chimneys and traveling to every child's house in one night, while other children never have a doubt in their mind that he is real. They have their proof when they wake up Christmas morning and Santa Claus has eaten their cookies, filled their stockings and left a note saying thank you.

My baby sister, Lauren, had that question when she was 5 years old. She heard that Santa Claus wasn't real and that it was the mommies and daddies that filled the stockings. She wanted to find out for herself if it was true, so the clever little girl decided she was going to try something I like to call "The Santa Test."

Mom took Lauren to see Santa Claus at the mall every December; but this particular visit was a little different from the rest. Lauren made up her mind that she was going to keep secret what she wanted for Christmas this year. She had everything worked out in her mind. She decided that if she told only Santa and nobody else what she wanted, then if she got what she asked for, she would know that Santa was real.

So this year as Lauren went up to sit on Santa's lap and whisper in his ear, Mom knew exactly what to do. While Lauren was sitting on Santa's lap, Mom quietly asked me to go talk to Santa and see what Lauren had asked for. When Lauren came down from Santa's lap, Mom kept her preoccupied with candy and toys. Of course, she was doing what she could to distract her, while I went and had a chat with Mr. Santa Claus. Oh, how clever parents can be!

I approached Santa and questioned him, "Hey, Santa, can you tell me what my sister asked for so we can make her wish come true?"

Santa so willingly replied, "Oh dear, that's my job! I'll get her what she asked for if she continues to be a good girl! But, I would love to tell you ..."

He went on to tell me that what Little Miss Lauren had asked for was a white stuffed animal bunny rabbit.

I gave Santa a big smile, "Thanks, Santa, you're the best!" He smiled and said, "Thank you, dear! Have a wonderful Christmas!"

Santa Claus and I said our goodbyes, and I continued onward to catch up to my loved ones. Later that evening, I shared my knowledge with my mommy, letting her know that Lauren had asked for the bunny rabbit. Mom then put her knowledge to use.

A couple weeks went by, and Christmas Eve was here. We went about our day with the usual Christmas Eve routine. We cleaned, cooked, visited with family members and friends, laughed and ate. With all of the events filling our day, the hours had passed and evening had come; it was time for our parents to send us to bed. Daddy read us a story and then sent us on our way.

As most children do, we had some trouble falling asleep. Who wouldn't, with all of those sugar plums dancing in their heads? Eventually, we fell asleep and Christmas morning had come. Lauren, being the anxious and excited little girl she was, woke up first and came to wake me up as well. We went upstairs together, filled with eagerness, to see what Santa had left in our stockings.

The stockings were laid out neatly on the couch in the family room, each one stuffed full of goodies, along with one present sitting next to it. Lauren and I scouted out our own stockings and dove in. We found all kinds of exciting treasures, but little Miss Lauren found one thing that made her as happy as I'd ever seen her. Next to her stocking was a treasure: It was fluffy, with black eyes, long white ears and a little white tail. It was a stuffed animal bunny. She grabbed the bunny and held it in her arms tightly; she was overwhelmed with joy.

The little girl looked up at me with excitement in her eyes and exclaimed, "Jenna! Santa is real! He is!"

I giggled at her and said, "Of course he is, I already told you that, silly!" Lauren ran down the hall with the bunny in her arms, eager to show Mom and Dad what Santa had brought her. I went back to my stocking to finish looking at what "Santa" had brought me, when I noticed something that I hadn't seen before. It was a little blue box; I opened it and inside I found the beautiful sparkly bracelet that I had wanted from the mall! I was so happy that I got what I wanted! While I was putting the bracelet on my wrist I realized that I hadn't asked my mom for it. ... I hadn't asked anyone for it.

In a soft whisper the words came from my mouth, "Santa, you are real."

— Jenna Lane Knowles

Deal with mother makes Christmas sparkle

'Christmas I Remember Best': Deal with mother makes Christmas sparkle

"Are you crying?" my mother asked from behind the Christmas tree, where she stood, supporting her frail body on a walker. In the background, the Christmas music was softly playing one of Mom's favorites, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." We were trimming the tree together, as we had done many times over the years.

But this Christmas was different!

Mom had been diagnosed with cancer 10 months earlier and was given a very poor prognosis. Watching her deteriorate so quickly had us all wondering: "Would this be her last Christmas?"

"No, Mom," I said, "I'm not crying, just a runny nose."

"Come," she said, "Let's sit on the sofa and talk."

As we sat together, the Christmas music continued playing, and I already knew what Mom wanted to talk about. It was almost impossible to hold back the tears as she held me in her arms and said, "I know this will be my last Christmas, so I want to assure you that I am not afraid of dying. Just think, next Christmas I will be in heaven with God, looking down at my beautiful family, so let's make a deal," she continued.

My mother was a special woman in so many ways. She came from a large, happy, demonstrative, poor Italian family, but grew up with lots of love. Her parents were kind, warm, generous and funny. They instilled in her a sense of self-worth and a strong love of God. My mother was a woman whom everyone loved and wanted as a best friend. She sprinkled joy, humor and sunshine everywhere!

Mom married her high school sweetheart and watched him leave for Germany during World War II on their wedding day. After my father returned from the war, they settled in Pennsylvania and had three children. Mom was nine months pregnant with number four when Dad was tragically killed in an automobile accident. As incredibly difficult as it had to be for her, she raised four children in a warm, happy, positive and loving environment.

Despite my father's untimely death, Mom did everything humanly possible to make every day feel like Christmas. She began many lovely traditions that remain with us today, and she taught us the true message of Christmas.

Growing up, we eagerly began decorating in early November and especially loved trimming the tree. It was the focal point of our home at Christmas time, and we looked forward to attending church at midnight, then gathering around to sing our favorite carols.

"So what's the deal, Mom?" I asked, trying to hide my tears. "Well, I want you to promise me that next Christmas you will not be sad and I want you to carry on our family traditions for your children and make it special and memorable for them. And don't forget the tree, especially the tree!"

"Sure," I replied, wondering how Christmas could ever be the same without Mom. "But what's in it for me?"

"Well, here's the deal," Mom said. "You provide a happy Christmas and a lovely tree, and I'll send the snow and make sure you have a white Christmas. After all, in heaven I'll have some pull," she smiled. "You've got yourself a deal, Mom," I said, and we shook hands on it.

Sadly, Mom passed away the following July. As the holidays approached, I wondered how I would ever be able to keep my promise, and what about that white Christmas that Mom had promised me? As I decorated the tree, listening to the same Christmas music, the tears freely flowed. I'm keeping my part of the deal; I'll make sure our family has a beautiful, happy Christmas.

But how is Mom going to come through on her end when the weather forecast said absolutely no chance of snow this Christmas?

After returning home from church on Christmas Eve, we sat around the tree singing carols before retiring. At 5 a.m., our granddaughter woke me up, saying, "Nana, Santa was here, and it's snowing outside."

I ran to the window and opened the blinds and there before me was a beautiful white blanket of snow! Hardly believing my eyes, I woke up the entire family to confirm that beautiful vision. The most amazing part of this true story is that it only snowed in part of our town! (Sparta, N.J.)

The following day the newspaper read: "Surprise — higher elevations of Sparta receive unexpected white Christmas." But in my heart I knew this was no surprise. I choose to believe that my dear mother was keeping her end of the deal!

— Melanie Whitesides

Man cherishes first service project as new deacon

Christmas I remember best: Man cherishes first service project as new deacon

One of my most cherished Christmases took place when I was a young boy of 12 years.

I was given the Aaronic Priesthood and ordained a deacon on Dec. 2, 1945.

Bishop Taylor and the Aaronic Priesthood Committee had, because of the poverty brought on by World War II, determined to give some Christmas help to people in need.

I was excited. All I needed to fill my responsibility was to choose a family in my neighborhood who needed help, and I had to provide a large wooden apple box to fill with goodies for that family.

It sounds so simple now, but I didn't know any poor families, and apple boxes were very hard to come by after the war.

By the second Sunday, all the older deacons had turned in the names of their families and had apple boxes. All names had to be turned in by the third Sunday, and I was getting desperate. I had an apple box but no name, and I just had to be as faithful as the older boys.

The third Sunday came too quickly, so at quorum meeting in a moment of inspiration, I gave the name of the "Witch." I didn't know the lady and she wasn't really a witch, but when we played war too close to her small house she would come out and yell at us. She sounded just like the witch in "The Wizard of Oz," so we named her the Witch.

Christmas Eve came and we took our boxes down to the church where the Relief Society sisters began filling them.

There were home-bottled goodies of all kinds. There was bottled fruit and jams, homemade mince meat for pie, potatoes, flour and shortening for baking, and even a new apron for the mothers. In my box there was even a homemade Raggedy Ann doll.

On top of all this was a large home-grown roasting chicken.

All the boxes and all the deacons were loaded into the quorum adviser's pickup truck to make the deliveries.

What a glorious night. The stars were brighter, the air fresher, and the Christmas music sweeter, and we were happier, singing songs and calling, "Merry Christmas" to every one we saw.

All over town we went delivering boxes and, in one place, a Christmas tree and trimmings to a grandmother who had five grandchildren to raise, thanks to the war.

At last my turn came and a panic attack hit me. I was afraid to face the Witch. We pulled up to her cottage and it was all I could do to carry that heavy apple box the 30 feet to the front door. There was no porch, just three steps.

I sat the box down on the top step and timidly knocked. The mother opened the door just a crack to see who was there and I lost my nerve. I yelled, "Merry Christmas!" and ran for the safety of the truck.

The older deacons were yelling at me that I was supposed to carry the box into the house for the lady, and I looked back and she was looking at me and picking the things out of the box to take them inside.

Finally we left, but I had not heard the last of it. Every time we met we would talk about that wonderful evening, and every time someone would say, "Yes, and Lyle wouldn't carry this lady's box in for her and she had to take all the stuff into the house a piece at a time."

Summer came and the Witch's husband came home from the war. I will never forget the haunted look in his eyes.

My stepfather hired this war-hardened veteran to help me dig an irrigation ditch to part of our garden. Every once in a while when we would take a break, I would catch him looking at me in a funny way. It sent chills up my back.

When we went to lunch, I came back out first and I looked over across the street and saw him talking to the Witch and they both were looking at me. I thought of all the times the other deacons teased me about making this lady carry her own box into the house.

We went back to work on the ditch and when we stopped for a water break, he approached me and asked, "Are you the boy that brought that big box of goodies to my wife at Christmastime?"

I saw the hard look in his eyes and knew I was as good as dead, but I screwed up my courage and answered, "Yes sir."

Then to my amazement, tears started to roll down his cheeks and he said, "I'd admire to shake your hand," and he did.

He told me his wife and two daughters had been facing Christmas with no presents, no tree, and a cupboard totally bare of food. Not knowing where to turn, she had been praying. The Lord heard her prayers and sent one of his ordained servants to her home. In this case it was a young boy just ordained a deacon.

I have been grateful for years for that opportunity.

Many years passed. A mission was served, a temple marriage took place and six children had been born. It was Christmas again, but in a new home in a different city and a different state.

The children had gone to bed all excited for Santa to come. I had a good job, but the first paycheck paid for the house rent and the security deposit. We had a Christmas tree, but not one dollar for presents.

I knew how disappointed my children would be but I could not find a way to solve the problem. I walked out the door into a beautiful starlit night to talk to my Father in Heaven. I wept in agony, but somehow felt comforted.

I turned to go back in the house and saw what I had missed while coming out. Standing by the door was a brand new bicycle and next to the bicycle was a large green trash bag filled with gifts for the children. Perhaps it was the tears in my eyes or maybe the stars in my eyes, but somehow that big trash bag looked, for a moment, just like an old wooden apple box. This time I picked it up and took it into the house.

— Lyle C. Tillett

Stealing Christmas dinner

Christmas I Remember Best: Stealing Christmas dinner

As I sit in my comfortable warm, well furnished home here in Provo, and glaze at the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, my mind drifts back to Christmases of the past. One I remember most vividly of my childhood was the year 1944. I was 11 years old.

The Second World War was at its peak. I was living in the little town of Medemblik in the north of Holland at the home of my father's sister Tante Jans Koenradt and her husband Matteo Koenradt.

The Germans had confiscated all the food in our country. The weather was cold. The stores were all empty; there was no transportation, no gasoline, no electricity, no trade or goods of any kind. Anything that could be used to burn for heat was used by the people, such as a fence, a shed, and some resorted to the burning of their own furniture to try and stay warm.

Once a day we were allowed to go to the German food line and receive three scoops of food for the family, which at that time was just my mother, my brother, who was three and a half years older, and me.

We were not sure of what the food consisted of. Some said it was ground tulip bulbs mixed with potatoes and onions and perhaps some sugar beets. Whatever it was, we were very grateful for it. One scoop for each of us — no more, no less. We had no candy, meat, cheese or any of the marvelous things that we here in America take for granted and have access to everyday.

For growing young boys, the two things most on our minds were food and how we could keep warm. My brother and I slept with our mother so that we could utilize our body heat to keep warm enough to sleep during the cold icy nights. Before bed each night, our mother would wrap our feet in burlap bags that she had previously washed so that they were soft. The nights were cold and long.

By morning we were very hungry, and we would arise early to check the shorelines of the Zuider Zee for any fragments of driftwood or anything that might have drifted on shore during the night. We were not alone in our hunt. The search for anything of use was very competitive. We wore the burlap bags still on our feet from the night before inside our wooden shoes. If we were lucky, we would hurry home with the wood, being careful, ducking through alleys and taking little short cuts known only to my brother and me. There were always a few boys bigger than us waiting to take away from us our little pile of driftwood or whatever else we may have found.

Some days on the way home we would stop by our friend the shoemaker. Sometimes he would trade us a little sack of wood chips from the shoes he carved for one larger piece of driftwood. These little shavings would enable us to start our fire easier. Nothing went to waste. On these days we felt very fortunate because there were many days that we had no fire at all.

My Uncle Koneradt worked for the Department of Agriculture and would oversee the crops that were raised for the Germans, such as flax, sugar beets, potatoes or onions. Because of his job, he seemed to have privileges and things that no one else had. It was talked about throughout the little village that he collaborated with the Germans. He was very selfish with his goods and shared with no one. One of his privileges was that he was allowed to keep chickens in a chicken house near his home from which he could gather fresh eggs. He was one of the few people in Medemblik to have this privilege. Needless to say, he was not a popular man and considered by some to be a traitor.

One morning, a few days before Christmas, we stopped by the shoemaker's place. As we visited with him and shared with each other our feelings of hunger, he approached us with a plan. My brother Keesje and I were impressed. We were raised in a very religious home and always were taught to be honest. We had pure hearts and the plan the Shoemaker told us about we would never have thought of on our own.

He wanted us to steal one of our uncle's chickens and bring it to him. This was to he done in secret; we were not even to tell our mom. He told us if we would do this, he would have his wife cook the chicken and keep half for his family and the other half he would bring to us for Christmas dinner.

My brother and I pondered this in our minds; our mother always knew where we were and what we were doing. However, the Sunday before, the priest had told the congregation that at this time it was not necessarily a sin to steal. As we thought of this, it seemed one way we could give our mother a Christmas gift. There had been no presents on December 5, the usual day of St. Nikolas in Holland.

We pondered and discussed just how we could do this so no one would know. We decided to do it when it was dark and everyone was asleep, even the chickens. One evening we waited till everything was quiet and dark. My brother was to wait by the gate and open it for me when I came with the chicken. I crept into the chicken house and grabbed a chicken and as I did so the chicken squawked and awakened all the other chickens. I saw a flashlight turn on in my uncle's room. My heart was pounding hard. I ran to the gate, but it was locked. I had to hand the chicken over the fence and then jump over myself. Time was short.

We ran around the block holding the chicken by his neck. I have often wondered if I choked it or scared it to death. It was pretty limp as I handed it to Keejse. I knocked on the shoemaker's bedroom window to tell him we decided to take him up on the plan. He smiled and let us in.

He took the chicken but decided we couldn't possibly go home yet as my knees were covered with chicken manure and I smelled like the chicken house. The shoemaker's wife spent some time on my clothes and did her best to clean me up. We arrived quietly back to the house before daylight. No one seemed to suspect Keejse and me of the adventure we experienced the night before.

About 9 a.m. on Christmas morning there was a knock on the door downstairs. My aunt answered the door, and there on the doorstep was the shoemaker holding a plate with half a chicken, potatoes and carrots. He told my aunt he had something for Mrs. Jacobs and her children upstairs. My aunt said, "take it on up." As my brother and I looked out over the banister, we saw my uncle look up and raise his head almost as if it clicked in his mind as to what was going on, but he didn't say a word. This is a Christmas I will never forget. We ate the chicken, and for several days after, my mother cooked the bones until there was nothing left.

— Tony Jacobs

Pardon me, Papa Noel

Christmas I Remember Best: Pardon me, Papa Noel

Growing up in France during the '30s was not what one would call a thrilling experience, especially if one was unfortunate enough to belong to the laboring class, which I did.

The general idea that the world had of France being a glamorous and romantic place was true only for the middle and upper-middle classes. The working class had to struggle day in and day out with poverty, high taxes and just plain surviving in squalid surroundings. The future seemed rather bleak for us children. The only two things that made my life bearable were the love of my family and the exciting world of books. Books made me forget the poor neighborhood I lived in and my ugly clothes.

My clothes were hand-me-downs from my big sisters, and the only new thing I was allowed to have was one toy a year at Christmas. Only one. As an adult, I now realize what sacrifices my parents had to have made to provide for that one toy for each of their four girls, but at the time, I was much too young and too self-centered to be aware of their hardships.

Christmas 1935, just before my eighth birthday, stands out in my mind as the time I became a con artist. When poverty stares you in the face on a daily basis, you learn young to work your way around it.

On Christmas Eve, as tradition warrants, I polished my shoes to a mirror finish and placed them before the fireplace for Papa Noel to admire. Papa Noel is very partial to polished shoes, I was told, and might find it in his heart to have a special toy for you, if you're good. Well, lately I had been very good, so my chances were great. It's uncanny how children's behavior improves with the approach of Christmas.

Sleep eluded me that night. I was too excited at the prospect of that toy I had waited for all year. One year for a child is of course double eternity, and that eternity was about to end in just a few hours. This was too overwhelming for the little person I was.

At last daybreak came. I ran barefoot on the cold tiles to the fireplace, my heart beating like a drum. A tiny table and a tea set were waiting for my eager arms. How could anything so exquisite be mine? "Louisette, Mireille, wake up! Papa Noel has come. Come and see what he gave me."

I was so thrilled with my new gift that I did not want to take time to remove my night clothes or even stop to eat lunch. All day long I played and imagined fancy ladies having tea with me. I smiled and bowed gracefully and was the perfect hostess to my imaginary guests.

And then night came, alas too soon. Why couldn't we have Christmas more often like, let's say, everyday? If I placed my shoes in front of the fireplace tonight, could I fool Papa Noel into thinking that it was Christmas Eve all over again?

After all, the man was getting awfully old and bent and, like many old people, had probably become forgetful. It was worth the try, and I certainly had nothing to lose.

Once more I placed the spit-polished shoes on the tiled floor and went to bed with visions of toys and treasures piled high in front of the fireplace. Not too surprisingly, sleep fled from me. I laid in bed staring at the darkness in the room and listening for every creaking noise. A long, long endless night.

The sounds of morning brought me running to the hearth before anyone else was up. My little shoes were overflowing with candles, nougats and chocolates. I exploded with joy. I had won! I had succeeded in fooling Papa Noel. Oh what a clever child I was. I had found an endless source of free goodies.

That night, I repeated the same procedure. As I set down my shoes, I realized how small they were, and the little imp on my left shoulder whispered to me to go to the closet and fetch my father's boots. It made sense that the bigger the shoe, the bigger the loot. My devious young mind was already working overtime. How fast one learns.

Naturally, I had a hard time falling asleep, not because of remorse, I'm sorry to admit, but because of just plain greed.

At long last, morning came. I ran to the scene of the crime, so to speak, and reached eagerly inside the boots. Too my utter dismay, I found a garland of onions in the first one and one of garlic in the other. I was thunderstruck and stared in disbelief. For a fleeting moment, suspicion fell on Mama, but no, perish the thought, my sweet angel of a mother could not have done anything so cruel, so underhanded, so perverse. No, it was just Papa Noel telling me in no uncertain terms that he was up to my tricks and that Christmas was finally over.

A repented and a much wiser little girl went back to bed to find warmth and solace under the big fluffy comforter. I was not to grieve too long because that was not in my nature. I had so much to be thankful for anyway. My parents and my sister loved me greatly, the bed was soft and warm and life was good. Yes, life was very good. After all, I had had my moment of triumph, my moment of glory, and how many 8-year-olds could brag that they had tricked Papa Noel, even just once?

— Jeanne Rutishauser

Christmas during the Great Depression

Christmas I Remember Best: Christmas during the Great Depression

It was December 1935. I was about 7 years old. It was Saturday. Mother went over to visit her sister and took baby Norman with her and left my 4-year-old sister, Florence, and me home in Father's care.

Father had chores to do outside, so Florence and I played inside. I had just started school and was eager to teach my little sister all the wondrous things I had been learning. She, a quick learner, was equally eager to know, and I loved being the teacher.

But after a time, we grew tired and opened the back door to see what Father was doing outside. He quickly barred our exit and said gruffly, "Get back in the house." We were puzzled. Our kind father didn't usually talk so brusquely, and the tone of his voice warned us to obey … now.

So, we went back to our play. But after a while curiosity got the best of us. We wanted to know what was happening, so we dashed out of the house.

The vision of that moment will stay with me forever. There was a patch of brilliant red in the snow. Hanging in the tree was something familiar, but different. It was my pet lamb! Freshly butchered, skinned, drawn and quartered. Dead.

This lamb had followed me everywhere that summer and fall. He was not like some of the others I had known who took every opportunity to chase me and knock me down if I didn't keep a wary eye. My dear pet would never again frolic in the sunshine.

My young heart burst with shock, then grief, then anger at what I thought was my father's betrayal. Christmas that year was sad for me. When lamb chops were served, I would go away from the table and the hurt would start all over again.

My child mind did not consider the fact that my father had a commitment to raising and butchering the donated lamb for one half of the meat. I didn't comprehend that Dad already had delayed the deed as long as he could because he dearly loved animals. I wasn't aware there was a Great Depression. I didn't think about work being scarce or nonexistent, and that my father had only a part-time job.

How could he be so cruel? How could he do such a thing?

With the passing of the years, I have come to understand that heart-rending experience of my childhood. I've learned to search for deeper meanings.

I have more understanding, deep respect and great love for my earthly father Bill, who had the self-reliance and fortitude to do what he needed to care for his family during an economic crisis, even though the task must have been more distasteful to him than it was to me.

William Henry Golder emulated his God more than anyone I've ever known. He taught me many truths by example. Like the Savior, he sacrificed for me.

I still have love for the little lamb who was sacrificed for our family's physical welfare. He sacrificed for me.

My love for Jesus is great. He came to Earth and bore all things so his understanding of mortality would be complete. He tries to teach us the way of peace, the way of learning and truth, the way of true joy.

He sacrificed for all of us.

Thank you, dear fathers in heaven.

— Lucile Golder Ridd

Brown bread brought us blessings

Christmas I Remember Best: Brown bread brought us blessings

Aunt Maggie wasn't really my aunt. Mother's parents died when she was young, so she lived with an uncle and aunt and their daughter Maggie.

I never realized that Maggie was different. Because of a physical handicap, she was forever trapped in the body of an 11-year-old girl. As a child, she underwent dangerous surgeries that left her with a dramatic speech impediment along with other physical ailments. She remained a spinster all her life, living out her days in the small greystone house on a corner in Fowlerville, Mich.

Forever on her own, Maggie embraced all of us as family and we spent many Sundays at her home enjoying some very odd meals. You see, Maggie believed she didn't need recipes to cook. In fact, she didn't even need measuring spoons or cups. With a handful of this and a pinch of that, Maggie would mix up her brand of culinary specialties — like her infamous dinner rolls.

My brothers and I tried not to snicker as we passed the inedible orbs around the table. The steady glare of Mother sent a clear message, "take one and eat it." I took a bite while Aunt Maggie looked inquisitively in my direction. I chewed and chewed while she stared and stared. Finally, she asked, "Well, how are they."

On the spot, with my brothers looking and Mother's face turning a deep red, I summoned my courage and blurted, "Well, they're chewy!"

Little did I know this was a precursor to a lesson about love, service and Christmas that would forever etch Maggie into my heart and memory.

Each year, after Thanksgiving passed, we set aside a Saturday to join in the massive production effort known as Maggie's brown bread.

Without a recipe and calling on her somewhat lapsing memory, she would grab a handful or two of flour, a fist full of sugar, a scoop of shortening and other ingredients and toss them in a huge bowl while Mother hand-mixed them.

There was a family secret surrounding this event that we were to keep upon penalty of a quick and painful death — Maggie's brown bread was awful!

The nearly 100 loaves she made each year seemed like a thousand. After they had baked and cooled, each loaf was carefully wrapped and tied with a bow. Then my brothers and I would be charged with the sacred responsibility of delivering Maggie's Brown Bread to the residents of Fowlerville.

I loathed this job. It was cold; the bread was nasty and everyone in Fowlerville knew it! Other kids would laugh and point at us as we wheeled the red wagon from door to door, knocked and proclaimed, "Merry Christmas from Maggie!"

It was always the same, they smiled politely, took the bread and told us to thank Maggie for her thoughtfulness. The real truth was that the bread went in the front door and straight out the back. Maggie's bread had a better chance of being used as building bricks than ending up on someone's dinner table.

But Maggie loved everyone and everyone was good to Maggie. This was her way of telling them she loved and appreciated them. No one ever told her the secret, so far as I know, not us, our parents and certainly not the good people of Fowlerville.

As far as I know, Maggie left this world with the recipe for brown bread in her heart.

In my later years, I was moved by her selfless act of kindness and love every year until the last year of her life. She sacrificed to buy the ingredients, sacrificed her time to make the bread and lovingly prepared it for delivery. I firmly believe that the recipients looked forward each year to her Christmas gift. She didn't fill their stomachs. But she filled their hearts.

I remember Maggie now as vividly as if it were 50 years ago standing in her little kitchen working away. I am thankful that she taught me such a valuable lesson. Who would have thought that a loaf of bread would teach a little boy a lesson about a gift of love equal to the Christmas gift so many centuries ago. A gift of love, of sacrifice — a gift that was accepted by millions.

And so it is that while we beckon Christ in our front door, we too, often put him right out the back. Every Christmas, like Maggie's brown bread, we can partake of the gift of love and open the door for him again.

May brown-bread blessings find their way into your homes and hearts this holiday season.

— Jeffrey Novak

One prayer among many

Christmas I Remember Best: One prayer among many

On Christmas Day 1984, my small home town of Castle Dale in Emery County felt still and unnatural. Eyes were filled with despair, bewilderment or sorrow. Wilberg Mine, just outside of town, was an inferno, and 27 miners and company officials were trapped deep within the workings. The rescue attempt had become a body-recovery operation. Almost everyone in town had a loved one either trapped in the mine, working on one of the rescue teams or providing support to the teams.

I was 15 years old. My sister Heidi, 12, and my brother Stephen, 8, and I were alone. A short distance away our mother, a county emergency medical technician, worked at the medical unit set up to evaluate mine rescuers for carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation and other potential health hazards after ascending from their searches. No one had been rescued from the mine.

Our father, exhausted from four long days working at the mine office, supporting rescue teams, working with miners' families and dealing with media, sat in an isolated room of the house staring out a large window, his expression unreadable. For the first time in my life, I thought he looked old.

Heidi and Stephen and I had opened our presents early. Stephen raced around the house joyfully, his He-Man and Skeletor characters locked in mortal combat. But Heidi kept asking when Mom would be home. Was she going into the mine herself? Would she get burned in the fire? What was wrong with Dad? I knew the answer to none of her questions.

But even then, Christmas Day was Christmas Day. I decided to make the best of it for Heidi and Stephen. My cooking repertoire was small back then, but I chose my best dish — spaghetti — for our Christmas dinner. Selecting the best china, I heaped each plate with pasta and covered it with spaghetti sauce. Then I made glasses of chocolate milk and decorated the table with candy canes and candles. Dad didn't come to the table. He had finally fallen asleep. But Heidi's eyes brightened when she saw the table and she stopped asking about Mom.

After dinner, we pulled on red knit hats and mittens and dragged inflated inner tubes up the hill near our house. On the way, I taught Heidi and Stephen the words to a new Christmas Song, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," which sent Heidi into fits of giggles. Over and over we raced down the hill. Soon friends joined us, and for a couple of hours it really did seem like Christmas.

When the snow around us began to look pink and blue in the early Christmas sunset, we started for home. In front of our house, Stephen threw his tube into the snow and laid on it, looking up at the cold, brightening moon. Heidi and I lay on our tubes on either side of him, and we held his hands. I thought about my Christmas efforts and how inadequate they seemed compared to our usual Christmas — the magnificent dinner, the house full of family and friends, the gifts hidden by Santa, the caroling and the homemade divinity. I felt tears threatening.

"This is the best Christmas I've ever had in my whole life," Stephen suddenly said, his childlike voice bursting with enthusiasm. Heidi looked at me. She said quietly, "I love you."

A light streamed across the yard and I saw Dad in the front doorway. We raced to him and he gathered us in his arms. We went inside and warmed our red hands and noses at the fire. Then, my father fell to his knees for a prayer. He prayed for blessings for our family and pled for the safety of our mother and other relatives at the mine. He prayed for the miners. Then, his voice rich with emotion, he offered thanks for each of us, his children. I felt his love to the core. More than that, I felt the beginning of a new consciousness, an adult appreciation of how much my father loved us and how much my parents had sacrificed to raise us. And I said my own prayer of thanks. It was unforgettable.

— Heather Chesnut

I discovered Christmas in Argentina

Christmas I remember best: I discovered Christmas in Argentina

The Christmas of 1983 is one I will never forget. As a young 19-year-old, I found myself halfway around the world in Victoria, Argentina. Argentina had just lost a bitter war to Great Britain over the Falkland Islands or Las Malvinas, as they were called in Argentina. The economy was experiencing inflation of more than 2,000 percent. Money earned that day had to be spent that day or changed to dollars on the black market, or the next day it would be worth half as much.

Everywhere I looked, I saw extreme poverty. Panhandling was a way of life for just about everyone in this small town, which boasted very few people of means and its fair share of poverty. Small children wandered the streets asking for bread or money, fearful to return home without anything for fear of a father’s wrath.

My companion and I went to visit a very poor family who lived in the “Villa,” the poorest part of town, late on Christmas Eve. Cardboard boxes rudely taped together formed the walls, while dirt adorned the floors of the makeshift home. We sat down on the only two small wooden crates in the house while the rest of the family sat on the dirt floor.

The oldest daughter, about 9 years old, opened a small cooler and removed two pieces of bread. We began to refuse, but the father said it would honor him if we would share their evening meal. We knew that they didn’t have any other food in the house. I humbly ate the piece of bread, constantly wiping the tears streaming down my face, knowing that I would offend the entire family if I didn’t eat.

When we left the home later that evening, we had been fed both physically and spiritually by this humble family, who despite their extreme poverty, expressed a belief in God and told us that they knew he loved them. I was struggling with my emotions as we walked toward our warm comfortable flat.

Somewhere along our pathway home, we decided to do something about what we had seen. Our combined monthly draw against our savings accounts amounted to just over $90 each. We stopped at the corner store and purchased about $20 worth of food and a small refrigerator that cost us an additional $35. Every family in the Villa had somehow finagled electricity, and as a result every cardboard box had an antenna that protruded from the roof, giving the small cities an interesting look.

Christmas morning was met with a short heavy rainstorm followed by clear skies. We grabbed the items we had purchased the night before and carefully walked along the muddy path carrying our Christmas gifts. When we clapped our hands to let the family know we were there, the father came out of the house with a puzzled look on his face. When we explained to him that we had brought Christmas gifts, his eyes lit up with surprise. He welcomed us into his home and we once again sat down. We both felt that we had given this man and his family a great gift, one that they would never forget. However, once again the good Lord taught us something we could only learn in such humble circumstances as the ones we found ourselves in.

As I looked around at the children who anticipated the father handing them some of the gifts, I saw a gleam enter the father’s eyes. This time he really surprised us when he instructed his wife to separate the food and to only keep enough for the Christmas meal. He then asked to be excused as he gathered the excess food and walked outside into the warm Christmas air with the leftover bags of groceries and went out and called to his neighbors.

We followed to see what he was going to do. One by one, he gave each of his nearest neighbors in his Villa something from the bags and wished them a Merry Christmas. I can’t express my feelings adequately enough except to say that on that Christmas day, I saw a humble man who could’ve been bitter against God because of his circumstances in life, share the gift he had been given, even though he didn’t know where the next meal for his family would come from. I saw the light of hope kindled by a loving God through this man’s actions. I learned that the lessons the Savior taught us can be relearned over and over again, can be in essence rediscovered at critical times on our lives and remind us all of the true nature and spirit of Christmas.

— David Maughan

Christmas miracles and blessings

Christmas I remember best: Christmas miracles and blessings

In 1950 our church burned down. Some said Old Walt was careless, letting the wood stove get too hot. We held church in the Riverside gymnasium or in Brother Miles’ new skating rink and dance hall, until our new building was finished. Thankfully, the foundation for our new brick church was already underway.

Our family was in the midst of a personal crisis, also from fire. We were harvesting potatoes near the house when our beloved very smart brother Paul, almost 5, determined he would assist in burning the cottonwood tree stumps piled in the pasture. He got matches from the top shelf of the cupboard, then jiggled the handle of the locked farm tank until he collected gasoline into an old can. About half of it spilled onto his new Levis.

When he struck a match, his gasoline-soaked clothing exploded. Miraculously Paul was able to run to a nearby hydrant and douse the flames, although the steam made his burns worse. The fact his jeans were so new likely helped slow the flames somewhat.

Mother was off on a short errand, and no one was in the house, so with wisdom far beyond his young age, and impossible odds, he made it to the field.

My potato-picking partner and I were working nearest the house so it was our sad duty to render first aid. I saw his torn wet jeans and mildly reproved him, thinking he’d climbed through a barbed wire fence and then fallen into the irrigation ditch instead of going by the road into the field. No, he hadn’t fallen in the ditch, he said in a sad little voice, so unlike his usual boisterous manner, and no, he hadn’t crawled through the fence. He just kept repeating, “I hurt me. I hurt me.” I was 15, and didn’t realize how badly he was hurt, as the poor frantic child in a semi-state of shock danced in pain.

We had no choice but to quit work — a real no-no at harvest time when every minute counted, not only for farmers but also for us with what we could earn.

When I finally realized his new jeans were burned, not torn, I chided him for getting matches, and sternly told him he must never do that again, as I began searching for burn ointment. Thankfully, Mother returned from her errand and knew immediately just how seriously he was hurt. It was a long six miles into Blackfoot, Idaho, to the doctor. We picked no more potatoes that day.

The next weeks were a blur and daily reports from the hospital weren’t good. Mother went alone to Idaho Falls for his first skin graft surgery on Thanksgiving Day. We questioned the holiday timing but appreciated the doctor’s willingness to take the first available opening at the larger hospital. We could only hope the skin graft would be successful.

As Christmas approached, Mother quietly suggested Christmas might be sparse, but since we weren’t used to lavish gifts that didn’t seem so unusual. We’d already pooled our meager harvest earnings for our individual family gifts. It was Mother’s next words I would remember.

“With your sister at BYU plus hospital and doctor expenses, money is tight. You ought to know what kind of man your father is. The bishop brought a sizable check to be ‘used as needed.’ Your dad kept it a few days and then gave it back, telling the bishop to use it for someone in need. It would have meant a better Christmas, but I agree with his choice.”

I’d seen that check for $100 in the cupboard where money was kept from items sold such as a calf or hay, until deposited. It was the bishop’s personal check, not a church check. It felt good to know he understood our difficult times, but felt better knowing we could make it on our own.

I have only one other memory of that Christmas. The doctor was jubilant when one tiny patch of pink new skin formed just below Paul’s knee. Once a small area began to grow, new skin would spread like tiny islands that would eventually connect. It would still be weeks before this energetic little boy would walk, and there would be lifetime scars. Yet we could not know one day he’d place in the top four runners in an Idaho state track meet, but the beginning of healing was our Christmas miracle.

Oh yes, and Old Walt sat in the back row each week in a suit when our new church was done, since he had no chores on Sundays. We learned there are many kinds of miracles.

— Elinor Hyde

A Christmas in the middle of the Great Depression

Christmas I remember best: A Christmas in the middle of the Great Depression

In December 1936, I was 8 years old and my father has died the year before at Thanksgiving time. For those who know and remember, the Great Depression was in full bloom.

We lived way out in the country in Lincoln County, Miss. It rained a lot that fall and winter. The ditches were filled with water and mud. The unpaved roads were muddy and full of potholes.

Many days we were unable to get to school because of the piercing, bone-chilling cold, rain and mud. To add to that, we did not have proper clothing or shoes for such weather.

It was nearing Christmas and we — the children — looked forward to it with stars in our eyes and dreams of Santa Claus. Mama was anxious. She knew Christmas morning would bring disappointment she could not prevent. There was no money for presents, barely enough to get food to eat — and there wasn't any way to whisper into Santa's ear what her children needed, much less what they wanted and wished for.

She tried to prepare us, saying: "Santa won't be visiting us this year. He can't get to our house. It's too wet and muddy."

Still, she did not dissuade our preparing for Christmas in other ways.

She went with us into the woods searching for just the right Christmas tree — a little cedar. We gathered vines and holly and mistletoe, and from old catalogs we made paper chains with flour paste. Mama cut out paper dolls and snowflakes to hang on the tree. The vines and holly were strung about the room. The mistletoe was put above the doorway.

And Mama prayed and planned how she would pass Christmas Day with her brood of children that would receive no presents.

Christmas Eve finally came. Our expectations were somewhat calmed, but still we hoped that Santa would be able to get to our house. Mama sent us to bed.

Next morning she arose before we got up and made breakfast for us. We had hot biscuits, fried salt pork, molasses and parched cornmeal tea. The reason I can say with absolute certainty what that Christmas breakfast consisted of is because that was our breakfast every day when we were fortunate to have food. Such things as eggs or cereal were practically unheard of, and bacon or ham nonexistent in our home then.

After breakfast we ran into the front room, and the disappointment registered in our faces. Santa had not come. There were no presents.

Seeing and feeling our disappointment, Mama called: "Come on, it's Christmas. We will just enjoy being together."

During the day, Mama presented us with, what I now know, were very special gifts: the gift of music as she played her little accordion and we sang Christmas carols, the gift of stories as we heard about baby Jesus being born in a stable, and hearing that his birth was the greatest gift to all the world and a gift of love from our Heavenly Father on the first Christmas.

We received the gift of enjoying each other as we played games with Mama.

We enjoyed the gift of food that our mother prepared.

It didn't matter that there was no turkey, ham or chicken and no matter that there was no pie or cake. We ate what we had as though a royal feast was set before us — and indeed it was. Our mother had prepared the best Christmas dinner she could, with love and concern for her children.

Many Christmases have come and gone, but none occupies the place in my heart as did that Christmas. No family was ever more abundantly blessed, for in our poverty we had Mama.

— Annie Hiller

Pageantry, pancakes make angelic memories

Christmas I remember best: Pageantry, pancakes make angelic memories

The dream-filled, restless night finally ended when Papa Seastrand called from the hallway: "Everybody up. Pancakes are ready."

Pancakes? This brought the clan of 10 abruptly to their feet and all scrambled into clothes that had been carefully laid out the night before.

Pancakes! No whole wheat mush to chew this morning? Right! Today was Christmas, the best day of the whole year. Everything special happened today.

All the Seastrands — big, medium and little — knelt in a circle by their chairs as Bishop Seastrand blessed his family and thanked Father in Heaven for the numerous blessings which fell on us. Enthusiastically, we pushed to get to the table as Papa placed a large, lightly browned pancake on each of the 10 plates then heaped freshly churned butter, honey and some of Grandma's strawberry jam on top. It seemed strange not to have Mama dishing up whole wheat cereal, but we managed to accept the situation. Besides, today was Mama's day.

Mama loved to write plays and this year the stake had chosen her Christmas pageant to be presented in the Alpine Stake Tabernacle this very morning. She had worked for weeks rehearsing, making costumes and helping build scenery so it would truly be the best pageant ever.

The pancakes were devoured and the dishes, with a special allowance for Christmas, were stacked in the sink as each family member hurriedly pulled their wraps on. The temptation was too great for Number Three and Number Four girls (Lilly and me) to sneak to the living room door and peek in to see if Santa had made it to our house yet, but a resounding spank on our respective bottoms took the temptation away when Mama caught us.

"The spiritual side of Christmas first … always," Mama said soothingly.

Grandma Robinson arrived as we all lined up, so Papa instructed us that we would use the back door and that a surprise awaited us there. The moon was still beaming upon the newly fallen snow at 5:30 a.m., and since the snow was too deep to expect the Willys-Knight monstrosity to plow through, we would all walk the two blocks to the tabernacle. Some of us could ride, however, for there, leaning against the house all roped and ready to go, were two enormous red sleds. With squeals of delight, all clamored on board.

It was decided that some must push and some must pull, so with Mama and Papa pulling, Sally and Jenny pushing and Grandma carrying the angel costumes, we dashed off through the snow, singing "Jingle Bells" at the top of our exuberant voices.

As we approached the tabernacle, we all gasped at once. The building was lit with brilliant lights from head to toe and an enormous Christmas tree stood in front. Mary Humphries was playing the organ and the strains of "O Come All Ye Faithful" crescendoed and diminuendoed across the glistening snow.

Excitement raced even higher inside as Lilly and I helped each other into our white cheese-cloth angel costumes. But oh, horrors! My new black sateen bloomers showed dark through the material. A hurried consultation with the director, Mama, brought a piece of old sheet wrapped snugly around my waist, but it was so tight that I couldn't move. Another consultation resulted in my being placed in position on stage, at the foot of the manger, and told to stay there.

We were ready. Howard Paxman and Mary H. took turns at the organ, K.J. Bird tapped the music stand, Tabby Grant and Bun Shelley started to sing and the pageant started. Mary and Joseph approached the inn and then were sent to the stable. The little angel "Vivy" was slightly in the way, but they went around.

As a small angel, I had a front seat and watched while the Baby Jesus was placed on the hay, and I even sang along with the choir which was hidden behind the organ pipes. I jumped, about out of my skin, when a shepherd excitedly called out: "Awake, awake! Look the sky is on fire!"

I couldn't help but turn to look and in doing so, tripped. Mother Mary caught me and stood me up straight. Looking at the light above, it became so bright that I had to cover my eyes, and when the shepherds dropped to their knees, so did I.

Then there was a voice saying: "Fear not for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people … and ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger."

The voice was low and clear, sweet and soothing, and as the shepherds, reassured, arose upon their knees, they looked worshipfully at the messenger standing there.

As I looked too, I beheld his white robe, his hands stretched out toward us and his divinely beautiful face. Suddenly the light turned a pink color and up, up as far as I could see there were radiant forms and voices singing: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

As they repeated the song, the angel rose lightly out of the view, but long after he was gone, down from the sky fell the reverberating sound: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Gliding all the way home on the sled, I heard the echo of angels still singing "Glory to God," and I didn't care that Mama told me I had said all the speeches and sung all the songs along with the actors, and that the sheet fell from around me when I turned and that the black sateen bloomers showed through all the time, and that I kept scratching the itchy halo, and that I shouldn't have waved to Lilly in the choir of angels high up on the platform behind the gauze curtain.

All I cared was that I knew tears had streamed down my face while the angels sang because of the tremendous feeling of love that had filled my heart.

I thought to myself: It will be fun to crack walnuts on top of Old Black, to eat the big Christmas dinner and to sit in a circle in the living room as each of us opens our gifts, but still … nothing could take the place of that feeling that had touched my hear.

For on that day in the year of 1928 I received the most precious gift of all … the gift of love.

— Vivian Seastrand Evans

Canceled Christmas gives birth to great tradition

'Christmas I Remember Best': Canceled Christmas gives birth to great tradition

There cannot be many horrors greater to a child than to learn that Christmas, that wondrous once-a-year daydream come true, is not going to happen. The toys, the treats, the anticipation — all gone with the words, "Christmas is canceled."

That was our mother's response to eight bickering and whining kids who had forgotten what Christmas was all about. Lost in all the fighting over the 1977 J.C. Penney toy catalog and the arguing over which kid had been naughty or nice was the true spirit of Christmas — the spirit of giving, of generosity, of peace on earth.

Mom had a flair for the dramatic, so we weren't entirely sure she meant it. One sister tried to call her bluff by taking the Christmas decorations down. Perhaps it was that that firmed Mom's resolve, but either way, she did the unthinkable and taught us something we'd never ever forget.

"Instead of having Christmas, we will go out in search of 'the Christmas Spirit,'" she said to us, our faces dejected and sagging.

Christmas Day dawned, and sure enough, Santa had not made a stop at our house.

But there was little time to dwell on it. We were going out in search of the Christmas Spirit. And amazingly, though there were no gifts and goodies for us that morning, we felt a sense of anticipation at the adventure. This was going to be a very different Christmas.

And it was. That was the first day we saw a homeless man. It was cold out and there was snow on the ground, and as Dad pulled our van to a stop at a downtown Nashville intersection, we saw the man, beating through bushes on the side of the road with a stick, perhaps looking for something to eat. He had on only a thin jacket and we could see his breath in the cold air. Mom rolled down her window as we stared, called to the man, and then handed him a loaf of warm banana bread. He took it, with a slight look of puzzlement on his face, backed away from the car and then broke into the loaf ravenously.

That was also the first day some of us entered a prison. Dad was a friend to a young man who, under the influence of drugs and bad friends, took part in a convenience store hold-up. Tragically, the clerk ended up dead and the young man in prison for the next 20 years. Dad didn't want him to be alone in prison on Christmas. As young kids, we were a bit afraid and clung to our parents as we passed through the clanging metal security gates. And yet, when we met him, Steve wasn't at all what we expected. He reminded us of the young Grizzly Adams, bearded, kind and smiling. We could tell he was glad we had come.

We spent the entire day in search of the Christmas Spirit. We crowded into the tiny dwelling of one of my father's sickly elderly patients to sing carols. We delivered diapers and baby clothes for a young family with a new baby. We brought a Meals-on-Wheels Christmas dinner to a shut-in elderly couple. We left inexpensive gifts for our best friends on their doorsteps, running out of sight at top speed after ringing the doorbell. We brought boxes of food to a family struggling to make ends meet. It was truly an amazing day.

When we got home that night, my parents gathered us together, and my mother put around each of our necks homemade medals, fashioned with red cording, shiny canning lids, glue and glitter. We had found the Spirit of Christmas.

And guess what? The next day dawned, and much to our absolute shock and delight, Santa had come. (Perhaps our parents really don't have it in them to truly cancel Christmas.) And it was wonderful.

But we'll tell you what we remember most about that year. It wasn't the toys and treats. It was the joy of spending Christmas Day bringing happiness into the lives of others — the joy of visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned and welcoming the stranger.

Christmas seasons came and went, and our family went back to celebrating Christmas on the actual day. But that changed with a devastating accidental family death on Christmas Day in 1982. The following year, we put off Santa's visit for a day and spent Christmas first visiting a snowy cemetery and then driving around and spreading Christmas cheer again, bringing treats and gifts and singing carols to friends and neighbors (now in Idaho Falls, Idaho). To this day, our parents keep the tradition that started the year Mom canceled Christmas.

— Ruth Liljenquist Pagan and Sarah Liljenquist Jarman

Reunion with family capped special Christmas

'Christmas I Remember Best': Reunion with family capped special Christmas

As a young girl, I survived World War II in Berlin, Germany. Our country had been pretty much destroyed. I had a chance as the only member of my family to leave Germany for a better life in America, in the city of Salt Lake City in Utah. I've lived in this beautiful land since 1955 and have never been sorry about the decision I made so long ago.

Left behind were my parents, a younger sister and brother. Saying goodbye was very difficult. Would we ever see each other again? On Mother's Day my father died. He was only 50 years old. In August 1961, the infamous wall went up, dividing not only the country of Germany into east and west, but also keeping millions of families apart. I was extremely concerned about the safety of my family and I suggested to them, with the support of my dear husband, that they join us here in America. My sister had gotten married and so we needed to come up with four sponsorships. With the help of some very dear friends, we managed.

My family of four boarded the ocean liner "America" in Bremerhaven and arrived in New York City after only a five-day voyage across the Atlantic. It was there in New York that they got on the train for Salt Lake City. The calendar said December 1961. The arrival date for them had been set for a couple of days before Christmas Eve.

I don't think that I had ever been more nervous or excited and thrilled all at the same time. It had been six long years since we had last seen each other. Even a phone call had been impossible because my family had been phoneless. My husband and my family had never met. How would it all play out?

At this time we lived in a very small but warm and cozy home. Many dear friends donated bedding and other necessary items so that we were able to provide quite comfortable accommodations for our foursome.

During the nail-biting wait period, my husband and I made a major shopping trip to THE store at the time — Grand Central. During the Christmas shopping season, ,Grand Central provided brown paper shopping bags that were at least four feet tall. These were simply huge! There was absolutely nothing this store did not have. We filled two of these amazing bags with many electric appliance and household goods, up to the very top.

Our house was all decked-out for Christmas. Colored outside strands of lights gave our house a look of a Hansel and Gretel Cottage. The outside lights would be a real hit because Germany didn't know about this custom and I just knew that our travelers would be in awe. We had also purchased enough food to feed an army.

In the meantime, while we were up to our ears with making preparations for their arrival, Father Winter played a vicious, cruel joke on us. The train from New York City had turned into the Polar Express. It was being bombarded by a once-in-a-century snowstorm. The train was completely stuck and stranded in the middle of nowhere. It snowed so heavily that the tracks could not be cleared. My 17-year-old brother had learned English in school. This helped the family to at least understand a little about their predicament. It became a very serious situation. Passengers were freezing cold and many other problems kept developing. There was talk about an evacuation but some guardian angel must have done double duty. It's sort of ironic because of this major delay, the arrival time of "our" train ended up being right on Christmas Eve — Christmas morning. Even though our newcomers were utterly exhausted, we all experienced enormous joy. We were elated, ecstatic and so immensely grateful that this roving odyssey had culminated on such a high note.

Many friends and relatives had joined us at the Union Pacific Railroad Station in the middle of the night, giving up their own plans to welcome our globetrotters. Once at home, we just couldn't get enough living in during this Christmas Night. How can one possibly fit six long years of separation into one long night? We were trying to just get used to each other's voices again.

Of course, we had a turkey feast with all the trimmings on the very next day. This would be my family's first exposure to a roasted turkey and most other foods on the table. Before we started to eat, the three men had a crazy idea. They all stepped on to a scale before and after the meal and yes, they had each gained five pounds. I would guess that we were most likely one of the very happiest families in the Salt Lake Valley on this rapturous Christmas day.

"Frohliche Weihnachten" or Merry Christmas!

— Inge Ettrich

Christmas gifts turn selfishness into gratitude

Christmas I remember best: A widow's mite: Christmas gifts turn selfishness into gratitude

Many Christmas gifts are so unpredictable that it takes, in some cases, many years to appreciate their true value. Christmas 1981 was my first Christmas away from home. Six months earlier I had left Utah to serve an LDS mission to Detroit. During this time, I was living in a city with great economic diversity. While some were quite well-off, many were close to poverty. During this time, all I could think about was what my family must be doing to prepare for the holidays.

As Christmas approached, I was excited one day to return to our apartment and hear the telephone ringing. A prominent member of our congregation was calling to invite us to their home for Christmas Eve dinner. What a wonderful invitation! I hung up the phone excited to share the good news with my companion. He interrupted me to say that earlier in the day, he, too, had accepted a Christmas Eve invitation from another member of our congregation, Mrs. Dombrowski.

Faced with a difficult decision, we began to analyze our dilemma. We decided that we would kindly call Mrs. Dombrowski and apologize that we could not accept her invitation. The prominent family always treated the missionaries well. Conversely, Mrs. Dombrowski was a poor widow living in a tough side of town in very humble circumstances.

We finally decided that we would arrive early to the Dombrowski home, visit quickly and then slip away to enjoy a nice Christmas dinner with the other family. Christmas Eve came quickly. Instead of arriving

early at Mrs. Dombrowski's home, we arrived almost a half-hour late. Reluctantly, we rang the doorbell. In an instant, she met us at the door. We apologized for our tardiness. She told us that she had been concerned that something had happened to us. In the corner of her living room stood a large oak tree branch. It was decorated with a strand of popcorn and had silver icicles that had been carefully placed on its dull brown branches. A few broken ornaments adorned the front of the tree. The aroma coming from the kitchen was unfamiliar to me. She had baked a Spam casserole. I thought to myself, "We are giving up our Christmas Eve for this!"

After dinner, Mrs. Dombrowski sang us Christmas carols at the accompaniment of an old player piano that was seriously out of tune. As she sang, my thoughts reflected upon my family, how they were gathered together participating in a similar activity. After only a few moments, I expressed to her that we would need to leave soon. I still remember the disappointed look on her face. She asked if we could stay for just another few minutes. We hesitantly said yes. She then rushed out of the room.

After a few anxious moments, the doorbell rang. As we opened the door, the sound of Santa's "ho ho ho" permeated the air around us. In the house walked a 5-foot elderly Santa Claus. Mrs. Dombrowski had planned this out well. She would excuse herself for a moment, put on a Santa costume that was made for someone a foot taller, sneak out the back door and ring the bell. There she stood in the doorway with a pillowcase over her shoulder. She sat us down and pulled open her sack.

Santa handed each of us a paper sack with a few small wrapped gifts. A black comb, a can of creamed corn, a bar of soap. I was not prepared for what I saw next. As I peered up to see her standing above us, I saw tears streaming down Santa's cheeks. Only at that time did I begin to realize the sacrifice that she must have made to make us happy.

As we finished opening those small but meaningful gifts, we asked if we might stay and sing a few more Christmas carols with her. We never did make it over to the other home that Christmas Eve. I remember quickly going to bed, only to place my face deep in my pillow to weep.

My tears were not tears of homesickness. These were tears of gratitude, realizing the sacrifice and love that accompanied these meager gifts that we had just received. I had been so selfish. Each passing year brings with it greater feelings of thanks and gratitude for this beautiful expression of love and sacrifice.

I have often reflected on this experience, only to recall the story of another night like this more than 2,000 years ago in a manger far away, in even more meager surroundings.

I will never forget Mrs. Dombrowski. She has long since passed away and was most likely never aware of the lessons of life she passed on to a naive 19-year-old that cold Christmas Eve in Michigan.

— Mark T. Anderson

Christmas I remember best: Holiday gift rekindles memory of son

Christmas I remember best: Holiday gift rekindles memory of son

March 12, 1999, was the date of the long-awaited return of our son, Eric, who had just completed an LDS Church mission. The excitement of meeting him at the airport after his long flight from South America will never be forgotten. He had grown up and become a man. The mother's embrace of a son just returned from a two-year absence was never to be forgotten. Watching Eric was fun as he studied how the family had changed, his younger brothers truly a head taller, his sisters and older brother now with so much in common. There was much to catch up on and many fun activities to be planned. Trips skiing and fishing were discussed with his brother-in-law.

And what a command of the Spanish language he had! Eric seemed so happy to be at home and was ready to re-enter school on a Presidential Scholarship. He explained that while his mission was very successful and filled a very important part of his life, he declined a request by his mission president to stay an extra month, telling him he felt an urgency to get back to be with his family.

The activities of the next week, while so familiar to many LDS families, are all a blur now: the interview with the stake president and honorable release, the homecoming, family and friends, and the reacquaintance with our son, brother and friend.

The euphoria was short-lived. Then came the crushing blow. Eric experienced a shortness of breath and tightness in his chest that some suggested might be due to altitude adjustment. Visits with our doctor and an X-ray lab exposed a much more serious condition: a grapefruit-size cancerous growth in Eric's chest.

Our focus changed overnight from fun family activities to searching out the best doctors available and to identifying and curing Eric's problem. Our family had been spared serious medical problems and the "C" word, and the possible ramifications were new to us. While we knew Eric's condition was serious, the process of really understanding how serious took us days and weeks to fully grasp.

We surrounded Eric with love, tenderness and support as he fought for his life. Eric was strong and had determined he would win this battle and would move on with his life. Despite the best efforts of modem medicine and numerous petitions for divine intervention, Eric slipped from this life less than two months after his return home. We were not prepared for his sudden passing, and we were left with a profound sense of shock and disarray. This was not Eric's destiny. It was not supposed to turn out this way.

The months following Eric's death and funeral provided time for healing. We learned to understand the heartbreak and pain faced by many others who have also lost loved ones. Many thoughtful and caring individuals comforted us as we dealt with our great loss. Eric had many friends from his mission who wrote kind words of condolences and support. We especially enjoyed the sharing of stories involving Eric that helped us understand the man he had become. For our family, there were the lingering, wishful thoughts of "if only" and "why didn't we?"

We had his mission journals and photographs that were very special and comforting, but in all of the confusion during the short time he was with us after his mission, we had failed to capture any videos or voice recordings.

Our 1999 Christmas holiday was not the cheerful celebration we had so eagerly anticipated. Instead, our Christmas season was subdued and filled with tears. Eric's personalized stocking was hung with the other family stockings, but this year his was empty.

Christmas Day dawned with traditional present-opening and family visiting. After the midday meal, everyone settled down for some quiet time. I took the opportunity to take a short walk. Passing our mailbox, the thought came to me to look inside. I realized there would be no mail because of the Christmas Holiday, but I looked in anyway, and to my surprise, found a stack of letters and an express package. The mail must have been delivered on Christmas Eve and had not been retrieved. The package caught my immediate interest. It was addressed to the family from someone in Arizona. Inside the package I found a short note along with an audiotape. The note read:
"Dear Johnson Family

My name is Nelson Phelps. Eric was my third companion on my mission in the area of La Pastora (Venezuela) where he was Zone Leader. He and I were together for only about five weeks before he was transferred to San Cristobal.

Anyway, to make a kind of long story short, one P-day Eric gave me this tape to tape over to send to my family because I didn't have one to send. However, I never used it and forgot all about it until I was packing up to go home about two months ago, I decided that I would send this for Christmas so that you could have a Christmas present from myself and Eric. I hope you enjoy this.

Love,

Nelson Phelps"
I immediately returned home and gathered the family together to listen to our son Eric's Christmas message to his family taped 23 months earlier. This tape was Eric's first and only attempt to record a message to us. Following the taping he didn't feel it was done well enough to send and eventually offered it to his companion to tape over.

This precious tape had been miraculously kept safe during the remainder of Elder Phelps' mission and then so thoughtfully sent to us to arrive on Christmas Day. We shed tears of joy as we listened to our son share his feelings and experiences and his admonition to his younger brothers to appreciate the blessings of America as they prepare for their future missions. He sang songs in both Spanish and English, including the National Anthem, to express his feelings towards his homeland.

This was an incredible Christmas gift to our family from a loving Heavenly Father who knew of Eric's short earthly mission. By this and many other ways, Heavenly Father touched our lives in love and tenderness to help us through a very difficult loss.

The memory of the special circumstances of receiving this tape on Christmas Day will always be cherished. At every future Christmas I envision bringing out this tape to again rekindle this special connection with our son Eric. In the midst of sorrow and grieving, the receipt of a very special, surprise Christmas gift brightened our family's Christmas holiday.

— Van Johnson

Enemy sub delivers unforgettable gift

Christmas I Remember Best: Enemy sub delivers unforgettable gift

In the war years, I served my country as a merchant marine. By the time I was 19 years old I had traveled around the world three times, It was a great adventure for a young man, but life as a merchant seaman was very rough, and I had to learn to be tough to survive.

New men went through initiations called "smokers." This is where you either sank or swam as a merchant marine. I found myself in a small boxing ring fighting the toughest man on board. I was knocked down time and time again, but I kept getting up, and each time I pulled myself to my feet, I got a little better and a little more confident.

Though I never knocked the big guy down, I learned one of the best lessons of my life: to never give up and just keep trying.

My efforts proved to be the right thing because everyone came over and patted me on the back and gave me a big hug. Even the biggest and toughest guy on board became a fast friend who always looked after me from then on. These were the men with whom I would share so many amazing experiences. Though many of my memories have become grayed with the passing of the years, there are a few that still stand out as vivid as if they just happened. Let me preface this Christmas experience with the fact that even at my young age, I had faced death before.

There was the time we were in the Indian Ocean on a tanker carrying war supplies to the troops. The year was 1944, and we had all been on alert for the entire week having heard several ships had been sunk by U-boats. The Germans were relentless and usually traveled in "wolf packs," making it most difficult to avoid being torpedoed.

The moon was bright that night, and I could see very clearly. I was on watch on the bow of the ship with binoculars in hand. I surveyed the horizon keeping myself sharp and alert for my task. My older brother was on board with me and was down in the galley having his coffee. I had been on watch for several hours and was getting a little cold and hungry.

The sea was a fluorescent green, which made every white cap and fish glow. As I scanned the horizon I suddenly noticed two fluorescent streaks in the distance. I blinked my eyes just to make sure of what I was seeing. Yes, it was two torpedoes coming straight for the bow of our ship. I quickly grabbed the phone to warn the bridge, but it just rang and rang without anyone answering.

Later they told me they saw the torpedoes as I rang and didn't think we had a chance. I didn't think we had a chance either, but as the ship rose on the swell of the next wave, the torpedo on our starboard side missed us completely. The one on our port side was invisible and I was invisible, and I wrapped my arms tightly around myself and closed my eyes as though I could protect myself from the impending explosion.

I waited frozen in that moment of time with my shipmates as we heard the torpedo skim down the ship, clanging as it went. It banged into us four or five times, and then silence. By some miracle the torpedo's warhead never came in contact with the ship, and we were saved.

Several months later on Christmas Eve, I had just celebrated my 20th birthday on Dec. 21. We were on our way home from the Mediterranean approaching the Straits of Gibraltar on our way to the North Atlantic. We were happily bound for the East Coast of the good old USA. It was a stormy night that Christmas Eve, and I was once again on watch at the bow of the ship.

The sea was covered in white caps, which make it almost impossible to see "turkey feathers," a term we used to describe the white plume that flows behind a submarine's periscope when it is close to the surface. Understandably all of our thoughts were of home and of Christmas and of hopes of soon being with our families.

The past days had been unremarkable, and the sights, sounds and smell of the ocean lulled me into a sense of well-being. Then it all seemed to happen in an instant. I saw the plume of a periscope appear off the port side of our ship. It couldn't have been more than 100 yards away. I had no chance to ring the bridge this time. They must have seen the periscope at the same time I did because the ship was suddenly alive with alarms and shouts of men scurrying to their battle stations.

But there was no time to ready ourselves for a fight. There was no time to protect ourselves in any way. The submarine was already on us, rising up out of that choppy sea. The enemy had us dead to rights. I'll never forget what happened next.

There was a flashing. Dash dash, dot dot dash dot. I mouthed the letters as I saw the German submarine blinking its Morse code message. I couldn't believe what was I was seeing. M-E-R. Could I be reading it correctly? Another "R" and then, dash dot dash dash, a "Y." It was happening so fast as the second word flashed to us in the darkness. C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S. Then it was over. As fast as the U-boat had appeared it sank back into the blackness of the sea and was gone.

We all stood transfixed. No one moved for several seconds as we recovered from our shock and surprise. We had escaped death before by a twist of fate or maybe luck.

But on this Christmas Eve we had been given a gift. As the reality of what had just transpired and the words "Merry Christmas" took hold in our minds and then our hearts, we unitedly sent up a cheer. A cheer of relief, and of joy and true celebration.

I have had many wonderful Christmases since that Christmas Eve in 1944. I was able to marry and spend 56 years with my lovely wife and help to raise our three children.

Each consecutive Christmas has been surrounded by grandchildren and now, great-grandchildren. None of these memories would have ever been possible if it wasn't for that fortuitous night when the "enemy" gave a ship full of men the gift of peace and one of their best Christmas memories possible.

— Lee Wayne Maloy as told to Kathie and Scott Armstrong

Gift giver receives blessings unending

Christmas I remember best: Gift giver receives blessings unending

It was 1935. The Depression was still taking its toll. My father had been out of work for many, many months, only picking up odds and ends in jobs from time to time. Mother was holding us together financially by working as a chambermaid at the Newhouse Hotel.

Every morning after breakfast and after family prayer, my mother would leave for work, my sister and I for school and Father would take his prearranged route up one side of State Street, down the other side, up the east side of Main Street and down the west side. Many businessmen whom Daddy had come to know well were on the lookout for jobs he could fill.

On this morning, a few days before Christmas, it seemed to me he pleaded with his God in family prayer with added fervor. He asked him to please bless him this day that something would open up so he might provide a Christmas for his family.

Up and down State Street, up Main Street and the greeting was the same. Nothing! Discouraged, he stopped at Weidner's Shoe Repair Shop. This good man always had some hot Postum "on" for Daddy to help warm him up, as the weather was bitter. He also had a two-day job for my father which, of course, raised my father's spirits.

As they sipped their Postum together in the rear of the shop, Mr. Weidner handed Daddy a package. "A goose for your Christmas dinner," he said. "A lady who owed me some money for shoe repair brought it in this morning. I already have a turkey for our dinner so I thought, 'I will give this to Max.' "

Leaving Weidner's Shoe Repair, all the way down Main Street, he walked with a heart full of gratitude and thanksgiving. For the first time he could hear the sound of Christmas in the air and see the beauty of the Christmas season in the shop windows. He was going to take Elsa a goose she could prepare for their Christmas dinner. In his mind he made plans on how he would present this wonderful bird to her. In his mind he could see the expression on her face, and that warmed him, too.

To warm him further, he took his usual journey through the Broadway entrance of Auerbach's department store and out the State Street entrance, cutting off a half block from the cold. As he was making his way through the holiday crowd, he met a German woman from his hometown in Germany. She had recently been left a widow with two children to raise.

Father greeted her, saying "Frhliches Weinachten" (Merry Christmas), and the woman began to cry.

"It will not be a merry Christmas for us. I have only one loaf of bread in my house. That will be our Christmas dinner."

Father held his goose tightly under his arm because something in him was saying, "Give her the goose." And he was arguing back, "But I asked you for a blessing for my family this morning. This goose is your answer. It would bring such happiness to my Elsa and the girls." And he pressed the goose more tightly to him.

"Give her the goose" rang clearly still, and he gave the woman the goose.

Now his spirits sank to the very depths. How could he go home? How could he tell Elsa that he had had a goose for them — they deserved it so — and he'd given it away? How could he bear to see her tears? He did not want to go home. In utter despair he walked the next three blocks to his home oblivious to the cold, oblivious to everything except his sadness.

Mother met him at the door with a broad smile and a pan holding a dressed chicken. A friend from Logan had dropped by only a few minutes earlier with the chicken.

"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." At the time he was taking away a goose from Daddy and giving it to this widow whom he'd known in Germany, he was giving us a chicken plus some nuts from a friend.

As though that wasn't miracle enough, my sister, coming home from school that day, was stopped by a man who asked her what she wanted for Christmas. Her answer was: "A pair of anklets and some paper dolls." She wanted the Dionne Quintuplet paper dolls. "Is that all?" the man said to her. "Yes," she said, "because my daddy is out of work." The man handed her a $5 bill.

On Christmas Eve, at 4 p.m. we went to town with our parents. At Kresses' five-and-dime store, they bought my sister and me each a pair of socks and a paper doll cutout book.

I remember that Christmas of 1935 as one of the most joyous I've ever known.

— Elsie Gillis

An Afghanistan Christmas I will cherish forever

Christmas I remember best: An Afghanistan Christmas I will cherish forever

My story takes place in Afghanistan during Christmas 2004.

I had been in country almost nine months and our unit was proving to the 25th Infantry Division that we were far from the normal military National Guard unit. We Utahns are a different bunch to begin with and to have our unit composed of more than 75 percent LDS men and women certainly added to that perception.

We were Mormons in a Muslim country and deep down we knew that we wanted to do something other than fly and hunt down the bad guy Taliban. Generally, our people worked shifts 24/7.

There was no vacation and our time off was limited to just the local area inside Bagram Air Base. They would not let us venture outside of the base fence because it was just too dangerous. Even though we were on a secure coalition base, we wore our weapons everywhere we went. We were armed to the teeth. When we flew anywhere, our helicopters were armed to the max, too, and we were always looking for the bad guys.

Our mission was to support the ground soldiers and hunt out the Taliban, escort coalition helicopters all over the country, and protect our VIPs who were always coming to visit the war effort. That was a pretty demanding mission in and of itself, but being who we were we knew there was more things we could and should be doing as an organization.

On a daily basis we noticed the hundreds and hundreds of local nationals coming to the fence needing medical attention. As we inquired about the situation, we found out that our friends — the Egyptians and the South Koreans — had medical clinics to help these needy people. We made friends with them and they let us begin to hand out humanitarian aid to them.

Back in the States, our wives, friends, and just plain good people collected and sent us boxes and boxes of stuff. This stuff consisted of school supplies, clothes, shoes, blankets, food, books, etc. Everything you could imagine.

The project started small and soon it got bigger and bigger. The generous people of Utah, Hawaii, and other places in the U.S. sent us so much stuff we couldn’t pass it out fast enough. We decided to go bigger so we talked to our commanders and through much persuasion we convinced them to let us adopt two orphanages and outlying villages to donate our humanitarian aid.

We were an attack helicopter outfit and had access to other helicopter assets located on the base. As it turned out we used Army helicopters, National Guard helicopters, and Marine helicopters to transport all this stuff to our villages.

We made contact with the orphanages and village elders to let them know of our plans. It took us months to get it all approved, organized, and all safety concerns worked out.

We took our stuff to the two orphanages with the help of some active Army engineer ground units and our own unit grown soldiers. Every time we delivered the stuff we made great friends and helped hundreds of children. But getting to the villages took more effort.

We got to the village of Jedgalek in the early fall of 2004. Jedgalek was about 150 miles southwest of Bagram Air Base near the Pakistan border in an area known to have lots of bad guys. We used Army Chinook helicopters to haul the goods and soldiers and used Apache helicopters and Air Force A-10 aircraft to give us air protection.

Needless to say our first visit was a bit nerve-wracking because we didn’t know what to expect and what dangers were there. But the village elders and the mullahs (religious clerics) seemed to like what we did for them and invited us back. We ended up taking missions to them almost 15 more times during the rest of the year.

It was getting close to Christmas 2004. We had been to Jedgalek many times and had made lots of friends, but we wanted to do more. We decided to orchestrate the largest military air assault up to that point in the war and to not fire one shot.

And we planned it for Christmas Eve.

The plan was to show the village what a Christian Christmas was by giving the children Christmas presents, and in return the village elders promised to show us Afghan culture and feed us soldiers an Afghan meal.

What an opportunity.

We made 400 bags of gifts for the children. We also gave blankets, coats, and food to the villagers. We loaded 12,500 pounds of goods in a van and slung it beneath a Chinook helicopter to the village. We also transported over 400 coalition soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines to the village via Chinook helicopter.

It was a Christmas Eve I will never forget.

I was “voluntold” to be Santa Claus. I wore my military uniform with weapon and flack vest, but I also wore a ratty old gray fuzzy beard and my Santa hat. I sat at the end of a line of soldiers and wished every child that came by a “Merry Christmas.”

Many couldn't speak English, but they sure tried. And when they said “Merry Christmas” back to me, our soldiers just cheered and cheered. I shook their hands and gave them their bag of presents. I shook over 400 of the grubbiest, dirtiest, roughest, stickiest, little hands and loved every minute of it. The smiles, giggles, and grins of the children made me melt.

The village men danced traditional Afghan dances for us. (There were no women around and women do not mingle and dance with men ever.) They also fixed us huge vats of chicken and vegetables Afghan style (most of the food was donated by us). It was pretty good stuff none the less. But the fact that we were at war and we were celebrating Christmas in a Muslim country was so special for me.

I was with my soldier brothers and sisters doing good for some very poor people and they loved it. We made friends for life, not only among ourselves as soldiers, but also with these wonderful people we came to serve. We ended the day with smiles, handshakes, and hugs. We brought all our soldiers, helicopters, and other equipment back to Bagram Air Base safe and sound. We were exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time.

There was no time to rest though because the very next day, Christmas Day, I was assigned to escort and provided armed helicopter security to Chinook helicopters loaded from tip to tail with yellow bags of mail destined for our soldiers.

Wow, what a mission.

I watched our soldiers at five firebases jump up and down for joy knowing that they were getting Christmas mail delivered to them. These guys are on the front lines doing the dirty work of the war and many times they don’t see mail for weeks on end. What an honor to serve our fellow soldiers by ensuring the safety of the Chinook helicopters getting that important Christmas mail to them.

I ended up flying almost 12 hours that Christmas Day, stopping only for fuel and to deliver Christmas to our soldiers. What an honor.

What a way to spend Christmas delivering humanitarian aid to poor people in a war torn village and then to turn around and deliver mail to our soldiers the very next day.

It was a Christmas season, half a world away from my family, I will never ever forget.

— Gary Wallin

Cambodia giveaway brings joy to givers

Christmas I remember best: Cambodia giveaway brings joy to givers

Christmas Day 2004, and the sun was just rising over Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The country was still recovering from the late 1970s genocide of more than 2 1/2 million people under Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader and the infamous "killing fields" episode. Indeed, there had been little "peace on Earth, good will toward men" in this 95 percent Buddhist land. Nothing had prepared my missionary companion and me for the abject poverty we witnessed serving here as humanitarian missionaries for LDS Charities.

We shared housing with Elder and Sister Taylor, with whom we had previously agreed not to exchange Christmas gifts, but go out on the streets to spread a little Christmas cheer by giving money to the very needy surrounding us. We each put $25 into the pot, which Elder Taylor exchanged into Cambodian currency at the bank. Our total of $100 was exchanged into forty 10,000 reil notes. One 10,000 note equaled $2.50 in U.S. dollars. By our standards $2.50 is not much, but in Phnom Penh, where most people wonder where their next bowl of rice is coming from, a 10,000 reil note was a significant fortune.

We asked Lim, our driver, to have the van at our residence by 10 a.m. Each of us donned a red Santa hat and off we dashed! We drove by Central Market and Russian Market, where tourists shop and the professional beggars line the entries. Many, many times we had contributed to them as well as the young women holding their babies, who they would pinch to make them cry as mothers pleaded "Hungry, hungry." This day we asked Lim to drive into the outer city. We'd asked Heavenly Father in prayer to direct us to his other needy.

Shortly thereafter we spotted an elderly bent-over woman sweeping up the littered street. Jumping out of the van, we began singing "Jingle Bells" as we came toward her, placed the money in her hand and cried, "Merry Christmas"! She looked at our black missionary badges, then looked at the money in disbelief, started waving her arms in a gesture of appreciation as we returned to the van. We waved our red hats out the window to her.

Driving along, we saw one young man going through the garbage in an effort to recycle goods. As we began singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" we got his full attention, and then placed the money in his hand. He put it mechanically into his pocket and walked about 100 feet when he suddenly sat down, pulled the money back out and just stared at it in shock and disbelief. We shouted "Merry Christmas" to him and returned to the van.

As we drove along the riverside, we stopped across from a young mother with her baby and a metal cart. She was counting all the aluminum cans she had collected that day. She was sitting under a tree, so we approached her with our great singing of "Jingle Bells," placing the 10,000 reil note in her hand. It might as well have been 10 million reil because she started to cry with joy from such good fortune coming from four singers in red Santa hats and wearing black missionary badges.

In another area we saw a young little family riding in a metal cart being pushed by the father. They were looking for things to recycle. The mother was cradling a new baby in her arms while a wide-eyed little boy smiled as we sang "Jingle Bells." I placed two 10,000 notes in the father's hand. He was so excited and surprised that he looked at them again and again, then passed them to his wife, who held them to her heart and cried tears of joy.

This was one of my most rewarding, joyful and never-to-be forgotten Christmas Days!

As we knelt in prayer that night, we thanked Heavenly Father for the great gift of his Beloved Son and those choice Christmas Day experiences we had shared with our Cambodian brothers and sisters who validated for us once more our Savior's teaching: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35)

— Joyce Durham Larsen

Christmas marks birth, death of a truly wonderful grandma

Christmas I remember best: Christmas marks birth, death of a truly wonderful grandma

The Christmas I remember best started with a miracle. Not a miracle in the gift giving, receiving, feasting, normal Christmas miracle expectations, but in the quiet awe of truly seeing and recognizing a miracle for what it was.

Dorothy Linton was born on a snowy Christmas Day in 1917. Her parents were both immigrants to the United States from England and were very poor. Dorothy grew up with an amazing musical talent and spent many hours over many years creating beautiful music for soloists and choirs. She raised six children alone, and even took in a daughter and three grandkids after a divorce. I was one of those kids.

At the time, my grandma was sweet and loving, but I was too young to really have a friendship with her. Due to health problems in later years, she came to live with our family when I was in elementary school. Being a little older, I finally got to have a friendship with my grandmother. I would spend hours in her room watching TV, doing crossword puzzles or just talking. She had the softest arms. That probably sounds very strange, but I would kiss up and down her arm just to feel that soft skin against my lips. I do that now with the soft skin of my own babies, but it's not the same.

Christmas morning 1981 just hours after my parents had finally made it to bed after setting Christmas up, my grandma got up and started playing Christmas carols on the piano. She was like a kid, and you have to remember, it was her birthday.

As we got even older, she would come and stay with us when my parents would go out of town. I remember watching out the pantry window waiting to see her car drive up. I was 14 or 15 and still giddy with the excitement waiting for my grandma to come.

Shortly thereafter a lump was discovered in her side. It looked to be about the size of a mason jar under her skin. She would hold it and say, "This is my ticket home!" You see, she had lived a hard life. But through all of her trials, she never strayed from the teachings of living a Christ-like life. She knew what was coming, and she was ready for everything. A reunion with her parents and family members that had gone on before awaited her, and she was ready.

She was put in the hospital just days before Christmas. I was a junior in high school and was part of the Davis High choir. We had a concert on Temple Square that year and came home late on a Sunday night. I found out that she was in the hospital and demanded to be able to go see her. It was a school night, but I prevailed. I remember thinking how small she looked in the big hospital bed. She was moved to a care center, and I got to visit her again on Christmas Eve. She wasn't awake during our visit, and I remember thinking, "Please take her! I'm going to miss her, but please take her!" She was suffering, and she was ready. We went home that evening with plans to come back Christmas Day, but that visit never happened.

You see, the miracle came around 9 a.m., on Christmas Day 1987, her 70th birthday. We had finished up our Christmas morning and were going to start getting ready to visit her, when the phone rang. I was holding a teddy bear and sitting quietly in the living room. I couldn't hear the phone conversation, but I knew what had happened.

Grandma got her gift. She got to go home. She got to leave that frail, sick body behind, and she was having a wonderful reunion. I pictured it in my head as though those loved ones were waiting, watching with giddy anticipation for her to show up, just like I had so many times when she'd come to visit us.

It has been 19 years since those events took place, and yet I remember them all so vividly. I remember being angry with my 16-year-old self. I didn't cry. I couldn't cry. It was what we had been waiting for, and you can't cry when you get what you wished for.

I've cried many times over the years that have followed. Even now as I relive them here, I can't help but cry. But at that time, and it remains true today, I had seen a miracle, and I would never forget it! Christmas Day saw the birth and death of a truly elect soul, and I cherish the heritage that she has bestowed on us. Not only in the incredible music that she left behind, but also in the lessons of unconditional love that all of us as her family have continued to feel from her.

She truly was a Christmas miracle!

— Robyn Nykaza

Doll mansion is father's magical labor of love

Christmas I Remember Best: Doll mansion is father's magical labor of love

1963 was an eventful year. The Beatles released their first album; Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his powerful "I have a Dream" speech; the Vietnam War continued; and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. But for an 8-year-old girl in Provo, the greatest event of 1963 would be Christmas.

It all began in the middle of October when my father started spending a great deal of time outside in his shed. It was an old, dimly lit, cold wooden shed filled with currently unused but "sure to be needed in the future" items.

As a young girl, I was convinced that every variety of spider known to man lived in the vast cobwebs covering each corner and small, four-legged creatures must certainly call the rafters home. But to dad, the shed was his little piece of heaven on earth. He loved tinkering on various projects year-round.

So, at first the time he spent in the shed mid-October went virtually unnoticed. However, as December approached, he had established a nightly ritual. Immediately following dinner, Dad would put on his warmest but well-worn coat, wrap a scarf around his neck and depart for the shed.

Hours later, covered with sawdust, he would return. I just couldn't fathom what could possibly be so important that Dad would be willing to spend hour after hour in that ridiculously cold, dingy shed.

By Christmas Eve the anticipation of the wondrous treasures possibly waiting under our tree made it almost impossible to sleep. Christmas morning — at long last! As my older sister and I eagerly waited in the hallway wearing our "you can open one present on Christmas Eve" pajamas, Mom and Dad turned on the lights of the tree and took their proper place on the living room couch.

The picture-perfect scene was now complete and it was time for us to make our grand entrance. I am certain there must have been numerous gifts tenderly placed under the tree by Santa during the night, along with our newly filled stockings.

But there was only one gift that I remember and will never forget. There in the middle of the room stood a wooden dollhouse. A dollhouse beyond any little girl's dream. A dollhouse with six perfectly decorated rooms filled with intricately crafted wooden furniture. No detail had been forgotten. Barbie and Ken had just moved from a shoebox on my shelf into a palatial mansion.

During the years following that magical Christmas morning, the dollhouse was put to great use. My fortunate friends and I spent endless hours caught up in the splendor of imagination. However, as time passed and Barbie and Ken lost their allure, the dollhouse sat vacant in my bedroom.

Eighteen years later in November of 1981, without my knowledge, Dad lovingly carried the dusty dollhouse out of my old bedroom and returned it to the shed. He began renovating each room and rebuilding the now war-torn furniture. This was to be his gift for my 4-year-old daughter, who had recently discovered the wonder of Barbie.

Once again, the nightly ritual of bundling up and heading for the shed began.

By Dec. 10, two rooms had been completed and Dad was on schedule to have the entire dollhouse transformed and ready for occupation by Christmas.

However, my dad unexpectedly passed away on Dec. 11.

A week later, I learned of his plan to present the dollhouse to my daughter. I went outside and with tears flowing placed the key in the rusty lock protecting Dad's treasures. There inside, stood the dollhouse — my dollhouse.

Newly finished furniture sat on Dad's old worktable, as well as items still needing to be completed. I brought the dollhouse to my home and completed the remaining rooms the best I could.

On Christmas morning, my son and daughter stood anxiously waiting in the hallway wearing their "you can open one gift on Christmas Eve" pajamas. I turned the lights of the tree on and took my proper place on the living room couch.

It was now time for my children to make their grand entrance. As my daughter entered the room, her eyes lit up and she screamed with pure delight as she became the new owner of the mansion.

I only wish my father could have shared in that moment.

I would have given anything to have been able to thank him for his long, patient, loving hours in that old shed.

He, however, was elsewhere starting the ritual over again. The master craftsman had gone ahead to start preparing yet another mansion.

— Lori M. Nadeau

Acts of kindness touched family

Christmas I Remember Best: Acts of kindness touched family

Christmas 1983 promised to be rather bleak for us.

In April I had lost my position at U.S. Steel's Geneva Works and had practically worn out a pair of shoes pounding the sidewalk in a futile hunt for stable new employment. We had battened down the hatches, canceled magazine subscriptions, ended piano lessons and scaled back discretionary purchases of all kinds — and learned to live on very little.

We were truly blessed throughout this experience. It seemed that whenever we hit a new low spot, some good friend or neighbor, usually anonymously, dropped off a box of groceries or a $50 bill. I managed to get some church food assistance and a few extra days of National Guard duty just when we needed it most, so we were able to keep up with our bills and meet our basic obligations, despite the many bumps along the way.

But it was not easy, and there were discouraging times, especially as the search for full-time employment dragged on and on. Particularly disappointing were the "near misses," those times when it seemed like I had a good shot at a job only to have the opportunity slip away.

Despite the challenges and disappointments, our family held together well. Everyone was healthy and happy and we had sufficient for our needs.

But it was hard for us not to dread the coming holidays just a little bit. The prospect of such a materially meager Christmas for our eight little ones, ages 3 to 12, was almost overwhelming at times.

And then on Nov. 30, I spotted an item in the local American Fork newspaper soliciting gifts for a special "Christmas Family." Thinking that helping with this worthy project, even in a small way, might be a good way to take our minds off our own troubles, I showed the article to my wife, Eva. As we read the details more closely, especially the depiction of the family's circumstances and the ages and gender of the children, it dawned on us that it was a perfect description of our family! How in the world did they find out about us?

After an initial wave of embarrassment at being considered a suitable object for communitywide charity, we sought advice from our clergyman on what we ought to do. He counseled us to swallow our pride and let our neighbors and friends help. Not yet convinced, we contacted the newspaper's publisher, hoping perhaps to persuade him to find a more needy family, but when he expressed his and his staff's heartfelt conviction that we were the right family, we reluctantly agreed to go along.

What a wonderful experience it turned out to be! We were overcome by the outpouring of love and kindness by so many good people in the community.

A local square dance club provided a beautiful, fully decorated Christmas tree. Others provided groceries, including all the fixings for a great holiday feast. There were gifts for all of us; so many, in fact, that they literally filled our living room. We were able to stash enough away to take care of the following year's Christmas as well. Our hearts were indeed full of gratitude for such generosity. Other community organizations also reached out to help hundreds of other families in our community that year, and kind neighbors made it a memorable Christmas for many beside us.

Among the many gifts, however, was one very special one. Some good person had sent along a set of beautiful, hand-made Christmas stockings — one each for Mom and Dad and all the children. They immediately became a central feature of our family Christmas tradition and have been ever since. But the most interesting twist of all is that they had "mistakenly" included one extra stocking. It wasn't until several weeks later that we learned that there was to be one more member added to our family. How did they know? God knew! And he touched their kind hearts in this very special manifestation of his love.

— Michael Abel

Christmas has special magic in non-Christian land

Christmas I Remember Best: Christmas has special magic in non-Christian land

Dec. 24, 1984, Rabat, the imperial city of Morocco. 5:30 p.m. I had just left my office to go to the market for a couple of last-minute gifts for Gayle. It was dusk as I left the shop where I had made my purchases and began to wend my way along the crowded cobblestone street, past colorful hanging rugs and works of brass.

I was feeling just a little depressed. It was Christmas Eve. Ever since I can remember, Christmas Eve has been the most special night of the year — imbued with a subtle magic that, for me, literally fills the air. But not one person on my crowded street was feeling any Christmas Eve magic. I was alone in a strange, non-Christian land.

Just then the call to prayer floated down from the tower of the mosque. It was a peaceful sound. I found, in fact, that it carried with it a sort of spell — not the Christmas Eve magic that I was yearning for, but, nevertheless, a reverence filled the street and touched me.

When I reached my car, there was a street attendant beside it. There are thousands of these attendants around Morocco. They watched over cars while their drivers were away and then helped

guide them out into the traffic when they returned. I usually gave these guardians one dirham (10 cents) for their services. The attendant waiting for me that evening was a dwarf. He had guarded my car many times, and we had developed a speaking acquaintance. I decided that since it was Christmas Eve, I would give him 10 dirhams, instead of just one.

"Bon soir, mon ami, un cadeau pour noel," I said.

Well, you should have seen the look on his face. He wrapped his stubby arms around my leg and thanked me profusely. As I drove away, he waved to me and kissed the hand that held the money.

At home I was greeted with squeals and hugs from the little kids and a wonderful Christmas Eve meal.

After dinner, we sat around the tree and read about the birth of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, and in the Book of Mormon and in the Quran. We talked about our Latter-day Saint understanding of Jesus and compared it to that of the rest of the world. Then, after all six stockings were hung and we were preparing for bed, I told the kids about the little dwarf and how he had reacted to my tip of 10 dirhams.

"Oh, how neat! Wouldn't it be fun to go around and give 10 dirhams to all the beggars? Hey, let's do it! After all, tomorrow is Christmas," they exclaimed. The next morning found Rebecca, Casey, Polly, Danny and me in the marketplace. Our pockets were filled with 10-dirham notes, and we were hunting for beggars. What a look in the eyes of those unfortunate people as we handed them about 20 times the normal alms. First it was surprise, which quickly changed to gratitude and then intensified to a special deep appreciation as they said "barrakalouffik" and called down blessings from God upon our heads.

Most memorable of all was a young mother we found at the end of a narrow street, all wrapped in black, sitting on the stones against a wall. She had a sleeping baby in her lap and was huddled over it. Her knees were pulled in front of her, and her head rested on her arms, which, in turn, rested on her knees. One arm was extended out beyond her knees, and the palm was turned upward. I approached her, but she didn't look up. I placed the money in her hand, and she still didn't took up. I tapped her gently on the wrist. She raised her head enough to see the note, and her fist closed quickly upon it, but she did not look at us.

Everyone was quiet as we drove back home. "I will never again wish that I could get more for Christmas," said Rebecca. Polly's comment was "I only wish we had given them more."

That night, after the house had gone quiet, I came to a striking realization of something, something I had never appreciated before. Jesus was born in a non-Christian country. Except for a few members of his family, there was nothing special or magic about the first Christmas Eve. It was strange, but there in Morocco, with just our family and a few friends to share our beliefs, we were probably as close to the real Christmas — the first Christmas — as we will ever get. And, most special of all, we had discovered that, just as Jesus had taught and demonstrated, it really was more blessed to give than to receive.

— Kent Crookston

Santa goes the extra mile

Christmas I Remember Best: Santa goes the extra mile

It was Christmas Eve, 1986. My wife and I were newlyweds going to BYU. I worked at a small bicycle shop in Orem. The shop was small enough that every bicycle in the place was sold for Christmas. As a convenience, we stayed open late Christmas Eve so that parents could hide the bicycles somewhere that wouldn't be discovered by their children.

The owner of the shop was a kind man by the name of Kenn Hughes. He brought in some Christmas goodies, which were shared by all as we waited for people to come and pick up their Christmas surprises. One by one the bicycles were picked up. Gradually the floor emptied until around 8:30 p.m. there were just three bicycles left. All three bicycles were purchased by the Smiths who had just recently moved to Santaquin, just south of Provo. We were starting to get concerned at the late hour so decided to call to find out when the bicycles would be picked up. We checked the paperwork, then called directory but could not find a phone number. Around 9:30 p.m. Kenn decided that something must have come up and that the bicycles would likely not be picked up that night. He sent us home.

My wife had come to the shop to pick me up. As we drove home, we visited about the bicycles and the children who were likely not going to have a very merry Christmas the next morning. We decided that this just could not be. We didn't have an address but figured Santaquin couldn't be all that big of a town, so took a chance and drove there, hoping to knock on a few doors to see if anyone knew the people we were looking for. As we drove into town, we noticed a trailer park and for some reason decided to pull in. I went to the first home with a light on and knocked on the door. "Sorry to bother you, but is there by chance a new family in the neighborhood by the name of Smith?" I asked. By now it was around 10:30 p.m. and the snow had begun to fall quite heavily. The lady at the door was in a nightgown and not real happy to be bugged so late on Christmas Eve. But to our surprise she replied that a new family had moved in a week or so ago and lived just three doors down. I thanked her, wished her a merry Christmas and went three doors down.

The lights were off, the snow was coming down with a vengeance, and the wind was blowing. My wife and I stood on the wooden doorsteps and knocked. After quite some time, a lady came to the door. "Sorry to bug you, ma'am, but is this the Smith residence?" She looked curiously at me then answered "yes." "Ma'am, I work at the bicycle shop in Orem. Did you by chance lay away three bicycles for Christmas?" She replied in the affirmative, and then, voice wavering, proceeded to explain why they had not been able to pick up the bicycles. Her husband had been laid off from his job in Arizona. They had moved to the area to start a new job. They were expecting his final paycheck in the mail and planned to use it to come and pay for the three bicycles. For some reason, the paycheck had not arrived on time, so they had explained to their children that Christmas was going to be a few days late that year. She was very apologetic for not letting us know. I could hear the sadness in her voice as she spoke of her disappointed children. She promised they would come in the following week and finish paying for the bicycles and pick them up. "Please don't sell them," she pleaded. I assured her that we would hold them for her. Then we said our good-byes and headed for home.

The ride home was miserable! We felt so bad for those three little children. This was their only Christmas. They were so new to the area that they hadn't had time to unpack. There was no Christmas tree. The children's beds had not even been assembled yet, so all three of them were on the living room floor in sleeping bags. The move had been traumatic. New town, new school, no friends, now no Christmas presents. My wife and I decided that somehow these kids needed to get their bicycles the next morning. On the way home we called Kenn and explained to him what we had discovered. To our delight he said, "Well, come back to the shop! We've got some bicycles to deliver!"

At about 12:30 a.m., Kenn, his wife, my wife and I arrived back at the Smiths' home and unloaded the bicycles. We sat them by the front door and then knocked. After quite some time, Mr. and Mrs. Smith both came to the door. As they opened the door and saw the bicycles, Kenn said, "So, do you believe in Santa Claus?" "But we don't have the money to pay you right now," came their reply. "We'll worry about that next week," said Kenn.

I will never forget the look on the faces of these two sweet parents. I will always remember the tears of joy and expressions of gratitude as we tried to quietly roll the bicycles into the tiny living room without waking the children. We just about made it, too, but one of the children woke up and caught us. He realized what was going on and sprang out of his sleeping bag screaming for joy at the top of his lungs. The other children were startled out of their sleep and were quickly on their feet, circling around the room, excitedly chattering as they admired their new bikes.

We soaked it all up for a few minutes more, then said our good-byes. I hugged my boss and thanked him for being so kind. Then we got in our cars and floated on home. I learned that night what Christmas was really all about.

— Aaron Spilker

Simple Santa gift brings joy to a child's heart

Christmas I remember best: Simple Santa gift brings joy to a child's heart

The tough thing about Christmas for orphan children is attending school, usually with children who have families. Captivated by the stories of schoolchildren about Santa Claus and gifts, SoonHee grew up thinking that she was naughty. She tried so hard to do what was right, but Santa Claus left her only an orange each Christmas.

SoonHee lived a truly unique life. By age 13 she had experienced more than most people do in a lifetime, most of it not good. Her mother died a few months after her birth in South Korea. Unable to deal with the baby and her three older siblings, SoonHee's father turned to alcohol and abandoned the children. SoonHee's older sister tried to find surrogate mothers to nurse the baby, but in desperation resorted to feeding her a mixture of flour and water.

Luckily, SoonHee's sister encountered Father Ben, an American Catholic priest trying to establish an orphanage in Korea. Father Ben supplied her with life-preserving infant formula. By age 2, SoonHee was at Father Ben's orphanage full time. Around age 7, SoonHee's father returned, and she lived with him and various foster families for several years.

A family in the United States would have likely adopted SoonHee as a baby, but her father refused to relinquish his parental rights. At age 11, SoonHee found herself back at Father Ben's orphanage.

Life in the orphanage was sparse, but it was definitely better (and safer) than living with foster families. There had been a couple of incidents at the orphanage, but it was a good place. Once, SoonHee had received a spanking from a nun for eating toothpaste. Another time, SoonHee and another girl sneaked into Father Ben's kitchen, stole some peanut butter and ate it in the dark under a pew in the chapel. Feeling guilty, they confessed to Father Ben but were surprised to find that he already knew. He simply smiled and said, "I'm glad I could share with you."

While living in foster homes for the last several years, SoonHee hadn't even received an orange from Santa Claus on Christmas. As December rolled around at the orphanage, she hoped she had been good enough to at least receive an orange from Santa Claus this year. She had tried so hard, perhaps harder than ever before.

Things had been pretty tough at the foster homes — a lot of bad things had happened to her there — but she tried not to let those experiences dampen her spirit. Being back at the orphanage and seeing Father Ben so happy had given her hope. SoonHee thought Christmas would never arrive. In the meantime, she tried so hard to be good.

Eventually the big day was finally at hand. Christmas morning she jumped up from the makeshift bed on the floor and rushed to the place she had received an orange those earlier years at the orphanage. There was the sweet, glossy orange. She was elated! But she was also confused. What is that? she thought as she looked at an oblong, shiny, orange-colored package with English letters on it. Perhaps Santa had noticed.

Carefully SoonHee unwrapped the package exposing a brown substance — kind of like a candy that she had seen other children at school eat. She tasted just a small bit of it, ever so cautiously. The chocolaty flavor was unlike anything she had ever tasted. The sweet, crisp wafer middle made her eyes sparkle as she crunched it. She couldn't believe her good fortune!

Over the next several days she tried her best to make the bar last as long as possible, nibbling just a small piece of it at a time, ever so carefully unwrapping and then rewrapping the sweet chocolate prize. Santa had indeed noticed!

Epilogue: The chocolate Christmas is a true story. SoonHee's father relinquished his rights in 1986, and a family in Roosevelt adopted her at age 13. SoonHee remembers Father Ben and the chocolate Christmas fondly. It taught her that even small and simple things do make a significant difference, if only in the heart of a child.

After coming to America, SoonHee also rediscovered the familiar chocolate wafer candy bar in the orange package she had received at the orphanage: the Kit Kat candy bar. Santa Claus now brings her a Kit Kat bar every year.

Father Ben died March 26, 2001, after serving the people of Korea for more than 30 years. One child placed for adoption in the United States through Father Ben's efforts visited him in 2000 and reminded him of a stone monument on Tokchok Island in a small park filled with ancient juniper trees commemorating his work there. Father Ben simply scoffed in his humble way, "They could have done something else with that money."

— Jason Haddock

Surprise in a shoebox

Christmas I remember best: Surprise in a shoebox

In 1933, Amy was left an orphan at age 8. Her father had died in May of that year and her mother had died in Amy's infancy. So her grandparents had to take over raising her.

Her father, Wendell, had always been so generous, jolly and fun with her and Christmas simply would not be special without him. The light-heartedness and mirth she had become accustomed to this time of year would surely be missing.

Young Amy had always known that her father had the power to arrange for her to receive exactly what she really wanted most from Santa since he had a direct link to the North Pole. Now, Amy was afraid the conduit was gone.

As Barbie dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo have been popular in more recent years, Shirley Temple was the absolute rage in 1933. Naturally, it would mean the world to little orphan Amy to have that doll. She realized that her grandfather and grandmother were very busy people and she was not sure they could perceive how much having that popular Shirley Temple doll would mean.

Amy knew how her grandmother, Grammy, traditionally procrastinated and would not plan to do any Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve. By then the dolls would be long gone. Amy was afraid Grammy would not get word to Santa.

Eighty years ago, in 1933, the United States was still in the depths of the Great Depression. Although Amy's grandparents had been fortunate to weather the storm, being of pioneer stock they had a strong basic ethic of austerity. Therefore, the standard gifts would include a simple toy, a game, a book and a puzzle. The stocking would be filled with a big grapefruit, apple, orange, nuts and a silver dollar. But there was always a surprise from Santa. Or so Amy hoped.

Finally, the anticipated Christmas morning dawned. Young Amy had to toss and turn in bed until 7 a.m., the designated time for the Christmas Day activities to begin. So Amy skipped down the stairs followed a bit more carefully by her elderly grandparents to see what Santa had brought.

The living room was filled with wonder, but Amy felt crestfallen as she looked around the room because there was no Shirley Temple doll.

Grandfather started pulling out the packages to distribute one by one, in turn, to prolong the fun and excitement.

Amy received the puzzle, a book she came to adore titled "The Really Doll," which she shared lovingly with her own daughters and granddaughters for many years much later on, and a brand new game Monopoly, which was quite the thing in 1933.

The presents were now unwrapped, and there was no Shirley Temple doll. Without her late father's conduit, Santa had failed her. There only remained an old, brown box, and it was Grandfather's turn.

Grandfather reached for the box, the shape and size of a shoe box, wrapped in bland, brown paper with a simple string. He exclaimed, "Oh, just what I need. A brand new pair of shoes. But wait, there is a card attached to this box. Why, this is not for me. It must be a new pair of shoes for little Amy."

He proceeded to pass the box to his now intrigued granddaughter.

She took the gift, cut the string, pulled off the plain brown paper, and opened the austere box. She beheld what had to be the most beautiful Shirley Temple doll ever created. Little Amy was absolutely speechless. The heartache of the loss of her father diminished as Santa was able to come through and provide one of the most heart-warming and wonderful Christmases a child could have.

Amy was my mother. Christmas 1933 served as a salve and balm to help alleviate her mourning and was the Christmas she remembered best. And through the years her Shirley Temple doll remained as a keepsake and reminder of the miracle of peace and hope the Christmas season brings.

Since Amy's passing in 1996, the doll, preserved and on display in my sister's home, continues to serve as a reminder of sweet generosity and wonderful Christmas magic.

— Richard Engar

Small gifts generate gigantic joy

Christmas I Remember Best: Small gifts generate gigantic joy

Berlin, December 1949. The great and terrible war had ended in May 1945. The once-magnificent city of Berlin still lay in ruins. Homes were wherever they could be improvised...in boarded-up ruins, dug-out basements, on farms in barns and sheds. Food could be obtained, but poverty's grasp made the necessities the main concern. Christmas with all of its trimmings would have to wait at least another year.

Every family had lost loved ones. Some families were separated by the patrolled borders of their divided land. The maimed were everywhere to be seen; many people were still missing. The orphanages were full, the children's faces were blank, their eyes expressionless and without hope. Few people lived in the same houses they had lived in before the war...or even the same city. Elders Wilson, Gregory and I, young LDS missionaries, visited three orphanages to give them quilts that had been sent from Utah. One orphanage was sponsored by the Catholic Church, one by the Lutheran Church and one was run by the government. There were tears in the eyes of the sisters as they gratefully accepted the quilts. The workers at the government-run orphanage asked if we would like to see the children. We accepted the invitation, completely unaware that a scene of human sadness and tragedy would be branded upon our memories for the rest of our lives.

The door opened on a dimly lit room with nine or 10 children seated around a table. They were mending their stockings. The stockings were covered so completely with patches that you could not distinguish the color of the original wool. Bunk beds lined the walls; they had been made from rough lumber salvaged from the ruins. There was a straw pallet covering the rough boards and, looking more like a neatly folded bundle of rags, a blanket at the foot of each bed.

Conversation failed us as we drove home that December night. A scripture came to mind: "But who so shall offend one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea." Surely, severe punishment awaits those who wage war.

It was decided that the children who came to our Sunday School must have a happy Christmas this year. Toys were made, some for girls and some for boys. A box of oranges was obtained, as were the ingredients for cookies, thanks to the U.S. military. Each child was to receive a sack of cookies, an orange and a toy.

Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, so during Sunday School the children were all assembled in a large auditorium in a bombed-out school. There was no heat, of course, so they all sat there in their coats. Sitting next to me on the front row was a dark-haired, dark-eyed little beauty. I cannot remember her name, but her face is etched in my memory to this day. She wore a blue snow suit obviously sent over from America. Over and over I heard her recite to herself the little poem children are expected to say to Father Christmas. "Lieber guter Weihnactsman shau mich nicht so boese an. Stecke deine Rute ein. Ich will immer artig sein." In Germany, Father Christmas is strict and ill-tempered. He carries a bundle of willows with which to punish the children who misbehave. The children's poems are meant to soften him. A literal translation of her poem is "Dear, kind Father Christmas, do not look so displeased with me. Put away your switches. I will always be good."

A child's name would be called and he would receive his presents. The first child, after saying his poem, received a sack of cookies, turned and started for his seat. He was stopped and given an orange, and he again started for his seat. Once more, he was stopped and was given a toy. He could not believe that he would be so fortunate as to get three presents.

My little friend became more and more anxious as she waited for her turn. I began to wonder if her name had been missed. I decided that if for some reason she did not get her presents, I would take her shopping as soon as the stores opened. I would buy her a real doll, Swiss chocolate and a whole box of cookies. Finally, last of all, her name was called. She jumped down, ran up on the stage, and recited her poem, received her sack of cookies and started for her seat. She was called back and given an orange, and again she started for her seat. Again she was called back and given a doll. With an expression of pure joy she returned and cuddled her doll. These children, the real victims of the war, had been conditioned to believe that they could not expect to be as fortunate as other children, even though they had seen every other child receive three presents.

At 20 years of age, I had not thought much about the adage, "It is better to give than to receive," until that December of 1949. Not once did I think about what I might receive for Christmas that year but rather how I could make this Christmas memorable for someone else. My Christmases would never be the same after this one. This was a Christmas I would never forget. This was a Christmas I must never forget. This priceless experience was 49 years ago, and not one Christmas has passed that I have not mentally peered into that angelic, anxious little girl's face.

— Robert H.M. Killpack

'Dear Bug': A mother's testimony endures

Christmas I Remember Best: 'Dear Bug': A mother's testimony endures

The outside Christmas lights danced on my bedroom curtains as I tossed and turned. It was Christmas Eve and being 13, an official teenager, I was ready for the 10-speed bike. All my friends either had one or would have one by morning.

With my bedroom door closed tight I could hear the stirring, closet doors opening quietly, the crinkle of wrapping paper, the scissors on the curling ribbon. As I lay on my pillow wide-eyed I figured they probably wouldn't wrap the bike; they'll just set it out. I could hardly breathe as I pictured the scene in my mind.

Then, just as the sounds began to fade, I heard something that made me jump up and put my ear right against my bedroom door. No, I wasn't sure, but I was pretty sure I heard it! Tick, tick, tick. That was it! The sound of a 10-speed bike coasting. I knew that sound 'cause I listened to it every day after school as I walked next to Patty's bike.

I tiptoed back into bed and tried to close my eyes and dream. Then, the hour finally arrived and all five of us were huddled at the meeting spot at the bottom of the stairs waiting for Mom to give us the OK that Dad was finally awake.

When we burst through the paper my eyes fell upon another magical Christmas morning, just like it had been since I could ever remember. I found my stocking full and lying gently across my many gifts. I received all that I needed and most of what I wanted but it didn't include a 10-speed bike.

I carefully drew the candy from my stocking trying to reach the orange at the toe. Between the candy and the orange was a sealed white envelope. I looked around and noticed only my older brother and I had one. I opened it and began to read the words written in my mother's handwriting.

"Dear Bug." BUG! That's my nickname. Dad gave it to me when I was born. But, I'm a teenager now!! I read on . . . "I know you wanted a bicycle for Christmas, but with Dad being out of work a few months this winter, we just weren't able to buy the bike and make it equal for all five of you. But, now that you're growing up I decided this year I would give you my testimony of love and faith."

As I read the entire letter a certain peace came to my wanting heart. And although they didn't fall to my cheeks, I felt tears in my eyes. The letter ended, "There will be other Christmases and even bicycles but I wanted you to know that I love you, and there isn't anything in your life that you and the Lord can't handle together. All my love, MOM."

Then, it happened. The phone rang. Tammy told me all about her brand new bike. I told her mine would come later and I shared my beautiful Christmas gifts. It would be June on my birthday when I got my bicycle.

Years passed and I was married with six beautiful children. The year 1998 was a particularly difficult year.

In May I had tumors removed from my throat. In June we received a phone call asking us to care for an 11-month-old girl whose parents could no longer care for her. In July we found that the property of the house we lived in was being bought for commercial use and Ken's job dropped some of his hours. By August we were packing to move and our son was nearly killed in a tragic industrial accident.

And believe it or not, the clock kept ticking and the Christmas Eve of 1998 still arrived. I sat on the couch exhausted and staring at the scrawny pine in the corner wondering, "Where do we go from here?" With much of our things still in boxes I couldn't find the star that topped our tree for years.

I was prompted to look in the cedar chest for the star. As I rummaged through the school paper and high school pictures, I discovered an old envelope. On the back it read, "Shirlene." Stepping back to the couch I snuggled in a blanket and opened the envelope.

"Dear Bug." Oh, how I love that name. Dad gave it to me when I was born. Tears began to blur the page as I read Mom's handwriting. "I know you really wanted a bike this year."

Tears turned to sobs of gratitude as I read the precious testimony of love my mother once gave me in my stocking. I read on, "I just wanted you to know how much I love you, and . . .

"There will be many more Christmases and even bicycles, but remember there isn't anything in your life you and the Lord together can't handle. All my love, MOM."

The tiny string of lights danced on the curtains in my living room as I fell to my knees beside the couch in humble gratitude for a precious gift I received as a young girl.

Where bicycles rust lie the treasures of the world. I would have to say that one of the most memorable Christmases in my life was not the year I didn't get a 10-speed bike, but the year of 1998 when I received into my heart the miraculous gift that time will never erase, the words of my mother's testimony of hope.

— Shirlene Wright