“Christmas Scribbles,” Ensign, Dec. 1992, 47
It is not uncommon for the family of a medical student to be penniless, particularly if the medical student is also the father of ten children. Such was the case in 1976, when my father was completing his one-year residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.
It had been a meager year. Because our stay in Cleveland was to be short, none of us was allowed to pack more than that which our family van could carry. Everything else had been left behind.
As the weather cooled and Christmas approached, the younger children began to wonder what gifts Santa Claus would bring them. The older children wondered what gifts we could possibly afford to give each other. It was a sobering thought.
But Mother called us together. “Be creative with your gift giving,” she said. “The only true gift is the one you give of yourself.”
Her suggestion inspired us, and during the next week we worked hard, creating thoughtful presents from the heart.
And then Christmas morning came.
As expected, the floor beneath the Christmas tree was almost bare. But the stockings tied to the banister were filled with fruit, nuts, candy, and curiously colored pieces of paper.
After we had eaten our traditional Christmas breakfast of rice pudding and raspberry cream, we gathered our stockings and hurried into the living room. Because we had no chairs, we sat cross-legged on the floor, our faces illuminated by the brightly lit Christmas tree.
Taking turns, we each emptied our stockings onto the floor and read aloud the scribbled handwritten notes: “Merry Christmas. For Christmas this year I will wash your hair five times. Love, Cynthia.”
“Merry Christmas. For Christmas this year, I sewed the hole in your navy blue sweater. Love, David.”
“Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad. For Christmas this year we will play a duet for you on the piano. Thank you for the piano lessons. Love, Stephanie and Lona.”
The list of gifts went on and on, each as touching as the last. Our eyes and our hearts were filled with joy as we understood the meaning of giving and receiving of self.
And every year we are reminded of that lesson when, inevitably, someone asks, “Do you remember our Christmas in Cleveland?”