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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Twelve Days of Christmas

It was Christmas. The snow that gently hugged the tips of the mountains and the farolitos (paper lanterns) that graced the homes and business establishments in the desert Southwest told me so. But it was not Christmas in my heart. My children were busy with their holiday parties, and simply baking the perfunctory cookies for them was a massive chore. You see, tragedy had struck our family just four months earlier by way of the untimely and sad death of my oldest daughter, Kristen.

Much to my surprise, life proceeded, albeit on a surreal level. How would I get through the holidays? How could I be strong for my family? Christmas was just two weeks away, and my parents decided to fly out and join us. They had not weathered the death of their grandchild well. It was good that we would all be together for this holiday. Little did we know what was about to happen to us on that holiday.

It was a quiet night. The lights of Albuquerque sparkled below us, and I had just finished playing Christmas songs on my piano when the front doorbell chimed. My son, Nick, was quick to see who had come to visit us this late.

“What in the world?” he exclaimed. “There is no one here.”

My daughter, Kate, ran to the door and gasped in surprise. Sitting on the front porch was a beautiful white candle covered in a glass dome. The fire of the candle danced merrily, and we quickly brought it inside.

How nice! Who could have given us such a nice present? Why didn’t they stay so that we could thank them? So many questions!

The following night, after a particularly stressful day, we once again heard the sound of the doorbell. The children laughed merrily. This time, a basket of freshly baked ginger cookies was left for us. They were still warm and covered with a clean red-checkered dishtowel.

Nick quickly ran out onto the porch and into the driveway. No one was there. What was going on? Who could be doing this? And how could they disappear so quickly without a trace into the night?

On the third night, we waited with anticipation. Nick had a plan that he felt would be foolproof. He would be ready this time if the doorbell rang. He camped out in the foyer, directly in front of the door. Sure enough, this time, there came a knock. Before anyone had a chance to respond, Nick swung open the door. However, much to his chagrin, he wasn’t fast enough. Nestled among delicate green foil were two crystal tree ornaments. They were filled with a fragrant, spicy potpourri. We immediately placed them in a prominent location on our Christmas tree.

This was fun! My father’s eyes sparkled with life, and my mother’s face was lit with a happy smile.

How wonderful! Someone was playing the “Twelve Days of Christmas” on us. But who? Who could be doing such a wonderful thing?

The fourth night arrived, accompanied by a storm. Wind and snow lapped against our windows with a fury, and we were certain we would not receive a visit from our Christmas "ghost" on such a dreary and cold night. We were wrong!

Right on schedule, the front door rattled with a knock, and this time, two tiny, wooden angels with starched lace wings were left behind for us to behold.

The children ran to the end of the porch. Nothing could be seen, not even a footprint in the snow. Such a mystery!

On the fifth, sixth, and seventh nights, we received tall, honey wax candles, a nut bread bursting with cherries and almonds, and a tiny nutcracker carved from clothespins and held together with pipe cleaners.

Now it was time to get down to serious business. Our curiosity was piqued. We simply had to know our mystery benefactor.

“No,” said my father. “Whoever it is does not want to be seen, and it is our responsibility to keep it that way. This is part of the gift. This angel is also receiving a gift, the pure and obvious joy of giving, secure in the knowledge that he or she is bringing joy to this family at a very difficult time.”

He, of course, was right.

On the eighth night, we waited. No one came. Disappointed and tired, we went to bed. We had come to look forward to our nocturnal visits and now wondered why they had stopped.

Morning dawned brightly, and when my husband stepped outside to retrieve his paper, lo and behold! On our threshold were two gifts: a red poinsettia, and a lovely Christmas cactus that was preparing to bloom. Our friend had truly caught us off guard this time. Indeed, our eighth and ninth day gifts had been quietly left outside our door sometime during the night.

On the tenth night, we received an apple pie, steaming hot and carefully wrapped in red and green napkins.

On the eleventh day, brown and white handmade coasters made of cardboard and lined with satin ribbon were left. So lovely!

Christmas Eve was upon us, and it had happened so quickly that we forgot our sad spirit. Our sweet angel had taken our minds from our loss and had treated us to a very different kind of Christmas. It was one that we had never anticipated.

Each night, the children had run outside in a vain effort to catch a glimpse of our benevolent friends, and yet, on the twelfth night, we still had no idea who had so diligently and kindly bestowed us with its sweet blessings.

On the twelfth day - Christmas Day - we sat in the living room. All of our gifts had been exchanged, and we had enjoyed a quiet family dinner. It had been a good Christmas, after all, loving and joyous.

Then, the front doorbell rang. Right on cue, our secret Santa disappeared into the night, leaving behind a small white envelope. Upon opening it, we found that our twelfth Christmas gift was a message, neatly written in a child’s hand. It read:

I am the spirit of Christmas
Which is PEACE
I am the spirit of gladness
Which is HOPE
I am the heart of Christmas
Which is LOVE
Have a Merry Christmas!

We were changed from that night on. We began to heal. Going on with our lives seemed a bit easier. We never knew who left all of those wonderful gifts. We did, however, divine the “Spirit of Christmas” and how important it is to take the time for friends. We learned how essential it is to bring a bit of sunshine into a dark place, not simply at Christmas, but all year through.

Reprinted by permission of Janet K. Brennan (c) 2001 from A Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.

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