“The Horse That Saved Christmas,” Ensign, Dec. 1986, 50–52
On our tree each Christmas hangs a little horse-shaped ornament made of dough. To my family, it is the horse that saved Christmas. How did a four-inch tall, cream-colored rocking horse with a glittered bridle save our Christmas? It’s a story we will never forget.
Christmas had always been special when we lived in Kentucky, full of traditions and memory-making hours with cousins and grandparents. Christmas Eve was spent with my husband’s parents, opening gifts, then listening as Granddaddy Sullivan read the Christmas story by flickering candlelight. We would then travel to my mother’s house, where we would spend the night. Christmas morning meant running down her long staircase to find what Santa had left, followed by a day playing with twenty cousins who lived in the area. Aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, “in-laws and outlaws,” as Mama called her seven children and their spouses, spent the day enjoying each other’s company.
Then came the year that a recession in Kentucky forced us to move to Texas, where my husband was able to find a construction job. We spent Christmas that year in Texas with only our immediate family.
“Next Christmas we will go to Kentucky and spend it with Mammy Mae in cousinland,” we promised the children.
Next fall came, and with it the Texas monsoon. The weekly paychecks were small because of workdays missed. When December arrived, our savings were depleted and there was no obvious way we could make the trip to Kentucky for the holidays.
We paid our tithing rather than using the money to make the trip, knowing that Christmas in Kentucky would not be worth withholding from the Lord to get there.
The next week brought more rain clouds to match the one brooding over my head. In despair I went to our bedroom, closed the door, and on my knees poured out my heart to my Father in Heaven. “Please, Father—I need a miracle. We have five little ones who are counting on us to take them to Kentucky for Christmas. They have three loving grandparents who are counting on us to get them there too. I can’t leave my babies and get a job. I pray that I might know what to do!”
Immediately I felt a surge of energy, and with it came a plan. In my mind I saw the little cream-colored rocking horses I had made for my oldest son’s fifth-grade class the year before. They were salt-dough ornaments I had cut out, watercolored, then dipped in varnish. The horses were personalized with a name across the rocker. I had learned the craft in a Relief Society Homemaking class, and the ornaments were inexpensive to make. I knew, with ten willing hands to help and with the Lord on our side, we could make more of the ornaments and sell them.
We met in family council and agreed we would need to sell three hundred horses at one dollar each. Our total cost for the project would be twenty dollars. The three school-aged children each took a horse to school the next day to show to their teachers. Word spread, and it seemed everyone had a dollar to spend for a cream-colored rocking horse.
Our kitchen became an assembly line, with each family member taking part in painting, glittering, or dipping each ornament in varnish. By December 15 we were well on our way to reaching our goal. A friend at the bank got one hundred orders. Eli, our eleven-year-old, sold sixty-five. Jacob, the nine-year-old, sold twenty-five, and even seven-year-old Mae sold twenty-one horses. Still, we were almost ninety horses shy of our goal.
That weekend, I was scheduled to speak at the Saturday evening session of stake conference about “living within our means.” I felt inspired to include in my talk the story of our family’s project to let the members know how the Lord was helping us meet a financial goal. After the meeting, a brother from another ward whom I had never met approached me and asked, “Do you have any more of those horses?”
“Oh, yes, we still have to sell about ninety to reach our goal,” I answered.
“Good, I want a hundred,” he said.
We delivered the one hundred horses Monday afternoon and started discussing who we wanted to see first after we crossed the Kentucky state line.
Our project taught us many lessons. We learned that family members grow closer as they work and sing together, and that honest work is the answer to a financial need. We also learned that the Lord will inspire us when we worthily plead for ideas, and he will help us to fulfill our righteous desires.
That Christmas the children made the most of every minute they spent in Kentucky. We gave Mammy Mae twenty-six rocking horses, each one bearing a grandchild’s name. It was our last Christmas with Granddaddy Sullivan. He passed away the following summer.
I am thankful to Heavenly Father for the wonderful Christmas we enjoyed as a result of his inspiration to make a little cream-colored rocking horse.