This is a Christmas story that I wrote about 20 years ago, and you probably have read it before. I still think it is one of my favorite stories; the message remains true no matter how many times it is repeated. This Christmas season, slow down and take time to really think about the real meaning of Christmas.
Christmas Eve always is a busy day around my home, as it is with everyone else. Christmas Eve 1994 stands out in my memory. All my shopping had been done and all the gifts wrapped. Fruitcakes, pound cakes, pecan pies, chocolate, pineapple and jelly layer cakes were waiting to be cut. The large smoked ham was baking in the oven.
But there still were a few more errands that had to be done before dark.
I had worked until lunch time, so I really didn’t have much time left. It is a family tradition at our home that all our children and their families gather for our gift exchange and supper on Christmas Eve. That way, on Christmas morning, they can sleep late or get up early to find all the gifts Santa Claus may have left them under their trees while they slept. Then, the children can play with all their new toys at home.
I had to make a fast trip to deliver gifts to my mother and make another stop in rural Long County. It was very cold and drizzling rain that day. There was a special family that I visited often, especially during the Christmas season. The couple in their late 70s lived with their “special” grandson who was 16. In the previous two years, their three oldest children, who had lived with them their entire lives and were older than me, had died of cancer. The elderly mother had said to me that it would be an extremely sad holiday that year. I hoped to brighten it a little. Their small Social Security checks provided their only income.
When I stopped in front of their gate, I was greeted by the grandfather.
“Git out and come on in here young’un and warm by the fire. How you been doing? How’s the rest of yore folks? How’s that old man of yours? Here, let me tote that box in fer you,” he said.
The box was packed with a homemade fruitcake, a quart of pear preserves from our tree, a pecan pie, homemade chocolate candy and gifts for each of them.
The grandchild met me at the door.
“Come see-see my pretty-pretty tree. I-I found it in the woods, chopped-chopped it down by myself and put-put it up,” he stuttered.
His face and eyes were shining with joy. The star in the East that led the wise men could not have shown any brighter.
The 3-foot-high scraggly pine with few limbs was set in a Maxwell Coffee can filled with dirt. A string of lights with seven bulbs lit up the tree. A few strands of silver icicles completed the decorations. Two or three small wrapped gifts were under the tree.
As I stood there and looked at his tree, my mind automatically went back to my living room where the 6-foot-tall artificial tree stood, lit with hundreds of blinking lights and too many decorations that had been collected over the years. There even was something on it that played music. It was set in a tree stand and had a beautiful red felt skirt over the base. Many gifts were under it. I had not been excited about this tree at all, and in reality I do not like decorating a tree.
I told him how beautiful his tree was. He told me over and over how he had picked it out himself in the woods and that he had done all the decorating. He was so thrilled about it! Actually, his was prettier than mine, as he had put all his heart and soul into it and I had done mine because it was something I was expected to do.
After visiting with the family a few more minutes, I told them I had to hurry home and get ready for my family gathering.
“Young’un, I ain’t got nary a thing to give you for Christmas but some fine turnip greens in the garden. My sweet taters didn’t even make this year. Let’s go and pull you up a mess of greens if you’ll have them,” the grandfather said.
Now, the last thing I needed on that busy afternoon was a mess of turnip greens to clean. But, I did like turnips. So, I followed him in the drizzling rain to the garden behind the house and pulled up several hills of the prettiest white egg turnips.
“You know, I was wondering where I could get some fresh greens to cook with the hambone,” I said. “Cornbread and greens are always good after eating such rich food on the holiday. Thank you so much!”
As I drove home, I felt good inside after making my deliveries for Christmas. Also, I had a fine mess of turnips to clean the next day after the house was quiet again.
The Apostle Paul, speaking to the Ephesian Elders, said in Acts 20:35: “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is better to give than to receive.’” I say, it also is good to be gracious enough to receive something from another when it is given from the heart — even if it is only a mess of turnips.
Nineteen years have passed, but I still think of that special Christmas Eve and the beaming face of the teenager with his beautiful little pine tree so simply decorated.
Merry Christmas to you, and I pray that we all will have a wonderful year in 2015 that will be filled with peace, love, prosperity and good health!