“We Didn’t Have a Tree, Until …” Ensign, Dec. 1974, 60–61
The Christmas Eve I remember best began with a glorious snowstorm that filled the streets so that even the streetcars had a hard time making it over the icy rails. It was great sledding weather, and when Mother asked my teenage brother to run an errand for her, I gladly accompanied him. I was nine, and sledding at that time was a life of ease for me, for Grant either had to pull me on the sled or run along behind while pushing me, hoping to jump on for a ride while we coasted.
The happy years of my childhood came during the great Depression. For me, it was a time of learning and sharing. I was even encouraged to accompany Grant on his daily rounds after school while he sold cottage cheese from door to door to supplement the family income. You see, Dad was having a rough time of it. Our new store, which had been doing well right up to 1929, was closed now, and Dad found it difficult to keep a job as store after store, and factories, too, closed their doors.
We were gliding now, laughing as we went, to deliver some reports to the Relief Society president from our mother, who was her secretary. We were welcomed into a gaily decorated, warm house, and before we left we were each rewarded with a lovely big orange. What a treat! Before the age of transportation as we know it today, oranges were scarce where we lived, and to receive one in your Christmas stocking was something special. But to get one for doing practically nothing was an unexpected joy, and we traveled home with light hearts. Christmas was already a success!
Yet, at home, it was a bit hard to tell it was Christmas. For the first time in our lives no brightly lighted Christmas tree stood in the corner between the piano and the colonnades. Our family had talked it over and decided we could dispense with a tree this year. The tiny gifts I had made for Mom and Dad in school, wrapped in white tissue paper, rested uncomfortably on the sewing machine, alongside the small packages my brothers had managed to acquire with carefully hoarded pennies.
After a supper of hot soup and crusty bread, we lingered at the table awhile, then washed up the supper dishes. And then we sat. What do you do on Christmas Eve when there are no presents to be wrapped, no pies to be made, no tree in the front room? We played a game. And then we sat some more. Finally Dad could stand it no longer. Jumping to his feet, he almost shouted, “I’ve got 50 cents in my pocket. Let’s go see if we can get a tree!” Fifty cents! And no payday in sight. What love and devotion must have determined that sudden decision!
Yet, at the very moment, before we could say anything, the doorbell rang. My brother and I ran to the door, and to our surprise no one was there. We looked around in disappointment, and then we saw it—a glorious tree! We looked in every direction but could find no one to claim the tree. It had to be ours!
I can still feel the thrill, the excitement. I can still see the tears on my dad’s cheeks as he helped us decorate it. We hadn’t told anyone that we didn’t have a tree, and we had been very careful not to invite friends to our home for them to discover it. Later the bishop of our ward disclaimed any knowledge of it; the Relief Society thought it was a wonderful gesture but refused any credit for it; the neighbors were no more friendly than usual—so, we never knew where the tree came from. But the road seemed brighter for us as a family because some good soul had brought us a Christmas tree—and love—on our darkest Christmas Eve.