By OSV readers - OSV Newsweekly, 12/23/2012
This marks our 29th year of asking Our Sunday Visitor readers to pass on their personal Christmas memories and poems to us. The submissions evoked joy, meditation, laughter and tears, and we appreciated reading all of the heart-warming entries.
Unfortunately, we can only share a few here, but we hope the ones we’ve chosen mean as much to you as they did to us. May God bless you and your family this Christmas season.
A special meeting
Christmas of 1969 was my greatest Christmas memory that I will never forget. On Dec. 13 of that year, I met my wonderful wife-to-be, Irene, at a bowling tournament we had both attended. She was a beautiful brown-haired, blue-eyed young woman of 25 years at the time. The following day she agreed to accompany me to go see the Christmas lights in Boston. We enjoyed our time together very much during the Christmas holiday. A few weeks after we had started dating, I took her out to the New Year’s Eve dance in Lowell, Mass., the city I grew up in. I told her that I really hoped this could be a great year for us. She replied by saying, “I don’t see why it cannot!” On Feb. 14, 1970, we got engaged and were married on May 30 of that same year.
I am very happy to say that 42 years later I am still married and very much in love with her. Today we reside in Salem, N.H. We are blessed to have three wonderful daughters together and three grandchildren who light up our lives. I feel so lucky to have married such a wonderful woman, and I thank God for bringing her into my life. I am sure that our strong beliefs in our religion have helped carry us through many difficult times, including raising one of our daughters who has special needs and still lives at home with us.
Irene’s nickname is “my angel.” She is always there for me, reminding me to be strong and have faith that things will somehow work out. She has really changed my life.
I know that meeting her during that Christmas season so many years ago is the greatest Christmas blessing I have ever had.
— Dennis Groulx, Salem, N.H.
An 8-year-old is capable of great observations — the innocence of life and the wonder of Christmas.
My family arrived in London, from our home in the United States. We arrived in the 1950s.
I had met a young British girl my age named Doris. The day after Christmas, which in England is Boxing Day, I was invited to Doris’ home.
I discovered that in England, Santa Claus is Father Christmas. Instead of coffee, there is tea. I was offered a cup, which I accepted and enjoyed, feeling very grown up. The house Doris lived in was brick, a very small house, known as a row house, with a small backyard, part of which had been made into a vegetable garden.
I loved my visit with this British family. After tea, they offered me a Christmas cracker, which I knew nothing about. The Christmas cracker is a small cardboard tube covered with brightly colored paper. Two people, each holding one end of the tube, pull the tube, creating a small explosive pop.
I must have looked at the Christmas cracker as if it was a bomb ready to explode, because my friends were laughing. I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth and pulled — pop — out popped a small gift, a scarf, when the Christmas cracker came apart — which for me became a treasured Christmas memory and memento.
— Sister Mary Gabrielle, Mobile, Ala.
Sharon’s First Communion
By the Christmas of 1972, our 7-year-old daughter, who had been suffering from acute lymphocytic leukemia since she was 2, had used up all of the medicines that could help her at that time. The only recourse for her was a bone-marrow transplant, which was still in experimental stages. It meant that she would have to go to Seattle to have this done and would be gone six months.
She was in the first holy Communion class at our church and was to make her first Communion in the spring.
Our parish priest, hearing of her plight, suggested that she make her first Communion at Mass on Christmas Day!
Well, needless to say, it was the most beautiful and meaningful Christmas Day that our parishioners had ever been treated to!
There wasn’t a dry eye in the Church, for everyone knew of our daughter’s fight for life. Sharon died nine months after the transplant.
— Shirley Amon, New Eagle, Pa.
Christmas Eve 1955, and beyond ...
My family owned a small grocery store when I was young. The store closed everyday at 6 p.m. sharp. However, on Christmas Eve, that was never the case. From age 4 to age 20, I remember the store actually closed around 1 a.m. on Dec. 24. The scenario played out like this. My dad, mom and I locked the store at 6 p.m., while in the background Gene Autry, the TV star, was singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on my small phonograph at the back of the store. The little 45 rpm yellow record could be heard as the door was locked. Mom was put in our car, and by 6:28 p.m., she was safely in our house.
Then my Dad and I would return to our store, Gene Autry was now silent, but you could hear the record needle making a scratchy noise until we put the phonograph off. Dad and I filled boxes with food and paper bags with simple gifts, then we picked beautifully scented Christmas trees and got them all ready for delivery. We loaded up our two-door gray Studebaker coupe, which over the years evolved into a green Chevy Nova.
We stopped at our first destination of five houses. Dad and I went up the stairs, so quiet, delivering good food, a few gifts and a tree. Packages were lovingly placed, and the tree was left standing strong and tall and oh-so-fragrant. Then the plan went into action — Dad would leave holding the door open, while I knocked gently on the lucky family’s door. I ran as fast as I could down the stairs, and into a warm, safe, waiting sleigh disguised as a Studebaker. The sleigh was always parked half a block away.
Years passed and every Christmas Eve was spent on my Dad’s adventurous journey. Finally, at age 17, I popped the question to my Dad: “How come we spend Christmas Eve like this, driving around? My friends say we should be home like everyone else.” My Dad smiled and paused. Finally he said, “Jack, would you be happier at home, warm and eating cookies, waiting for presents or would you rather be doing what Christmas means?”
That night I really missed his message. However, I thought about it many times. Now at age 63, I wish I had a Studebaker to ride in on Christmas Eve, with my great Dad guiding it expertly up and down familiar streets, opening the door, emptying our car, carrying Christmas joy and a beautiful tree. That tree always left pine needles in the car and in my pant cuffs, tree sap all over my hands and the beautiful fragrance all around — Crabtree and Evelyn could never duplicate it. Christmas Eve, “a Holy Night,” when heaven and earth meet in love.
Thank you, Dad, for being a great teacher. Merry Christmas! Thank you for sharing with me the real message of Christmas.
— Father John P. Tackney, Cambridge, Mass.
Gift of music
The year was 1956, a snowy chilled December, and this was the Christmas that changed my life! Our children’s choir was selected to sing for Midnight Mass. I was 10 years old, just beginning to sing and play the piano, and so delighted to be part of the special group chosen that year. We had a very liturgical and dedicated choir director, Mr. Barrot, and he diligently pulled forth from us the most beautiful music.
In those days, the choir was situated high in the back of church in the choir loft, and we all had to process down the stairs and up the aisle to receive holy Communion, which would have meant a break in the music during that time. But this year, no break was to be had for Mr. Barrot. He summoned me into his office and stated he had a solution to keep the music “on” during the entire Communion period. I was asked simply to play “Silent Night” on the huge pipe organ as he processed down to receive holy Communion. He showed me how he would hold down a chord, as I would slip on the bench beside him and move my hand into the pressed-down chord and “take over”! (Back then, this had never been done before.) Upon his return from receiving holy Communion, I would hold the same chord down, and he would resume the playing.
Of course, terrified, I said my “yes” to Mr. Barrot, but spiritual reality stepped in and I found out this was my first “yes” to my Lord and my God. Like the Little Drummer Boy, this was my special gift to the newborn Christ Child!
If I practiced “Silent Night” once, I practiced it a thousand times, all alone in that quiet, darkened church, except for the ever flickering sanctuary light, signaling that someone was there, and I was playing my music for God! Over and over in those silent church days practicing before Christmas, an awesome prayer shift happened, and the Lord drew me closer to him through the music to be gifted to him and for the entire Catholic community on that silent night.
The musical exchange went perfectly (although my heart was pounding louder than the Little Drummer Boy’s drum!). My entire family and friends traveled to be there to share and support my endeavors. But the interior response and perhaps my opening to the spirituality arising from religiously praying my music before my Lord and God moved me into both a physical place and spiritual space heretofore unknown. Ah, grace! Christmas that year, and the relational growth with the Lord every year moving forward, has been truly a silent night, a holy night! Thank you, Mr. Barrot, thank you my Lord and my God for the gift of music!
— Mary Jean Wethington, Aurora, Ind.
For 40 years now it’s been a “Mary Christmas, to you and yours” since our mother, Cora Mary, died on a Christmas morning.
We took turns holding her hand. But she gazed beyond my sister, Mary, and me. Then she released her rosary and quietly was born to eternal life.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners: now and at the hour of our death!
A Merry Mary-Christmas, to you and yours, each and everyone!
— Father Philip Sheridan, Trumbull, Conn.
The little lamb
A number of years ago, I was celebrating a Baby Jesus birthday party at my parish for the little children. We always had a great response. We would have games for the children, a piñata and food. The special part of the party was a birthday cake for Jesus, and we would also have a sing-along.
I asked the children one time what song they would like to sing for the Baby Jesus. One little girl put up her hand and I called on her. She said we should all sing the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I thought afterwards how right that child was in her request. Jesus is the Lamb of God and Mary did give birth to Jesus. A little theology from a preschooler. Also we did sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.
— Father Joseph E. Vamos, Crown Point, Ind.
A daily foot patrol of our local business district 46 years ago should have been nothing but routine, except for the miracle that occurred as a result of events that transpired. It was a very chilly Christmas Eve and a stop into the bookstore, before closing, led to a conversation with the owner, who happened to be a local minister.
After the usual banter about the season, weather and local news, the minister inquired about our family and our plans for the holidays. I told him about our daughter, who was born with brain damage and at the age of 2-and-a-half, could not yet sit independently or stand and that she had to be either propped up or held in a chair by a seat-belt to prevent her from falling over. I also spoke of my wife, who was expecting our second child in May. The minister reassured me that God was watching over us and offered to place our daughter’s name on the prayer list of his church that evening. I made him aware that we were Catholic and belonged to St. Mary’s down the street, but he was undeterred and spoke of God’s love of all of his followers.
I thanked him and went about my duties. Upon arriving home, around 10:30 p.m., we decided to open a few presents and took Patty out of her special chair and over to the tree. She was so excited by the lights and ornaments. We sat down on the floor and propped her up as usual, giving her a present to hold. Before we realized, she was sitting up on her own and tearing at the wrapping, leaving us in shock. It was then that I told my wife about the minister’s church and prayer list. Patty surprised everyone by her continued progress from that special, blessed night.
— William and Susan Patsche, St. Clairsville, Ohio
Memories of Christmas, 1945
I’ve never forgotten the ambience of that Christmas season: colorful lights and decorations, jolly jingly holiday music, hustle and merriment on Christmas faces I met in my daily wanderings. You see, I was homeless. I didn’t matter to anyone, and a heavy, cold heart lump validated my lack of connection. Angry energy there, but mostly acceptance and struggle to survive.
Days passed just hanging out in the lobbies of rundown hotels, a park by the river, bus or train depots. With five depots in the city I could look like I was waiting, with my battered suitcase, for a bus or train. Lots of time also for walking around the city viewing homes, families, all the things going on in that world apart from mine. I perfected the skill of sleeping sitting up. I was hungry often, but physical hunger hurt less than the hunger of spirit for a smile, a greeting, an affirmation: You’re here. I see you. Your life matters.
On a cold day, walking my rounds, I met an elderly woman who noticed I wasn’t wearing gloves. “It’s too cold today not to have gloves,” she said, pulling gloves from her hands and fitting them over my chilled fingers. “Thank you,” I said. We each went on our way, I luxuriating in the warmth of wool around my hands and the inner glow of validation by another human being. Such kindness intrudes as an alien force, challenging the heavy, cold heart lump. Experienced often enough, it may even begin to generate self-esteem.
— Yvon Remark, Scobey, Mont.
Christmas Blessings from Above
Dad died on Christmas Eve 2011. Two weeks before his death, Mom — who also was ailing — said to me, “Cheryl, why don’t you contact Marvin?”
Readers' Christmas poetry
A widow for five years, I had dated Marvin while in college 37 years ago. Though I longed to marry again, I got upset with Mom and told her that I didn’t go looking up old boyfriends, that Marvin was married and that I wasn’t in the business of breaking up marriages.
However, I said a quick prayer: “Lord, if I was to marry again, I want to marry Marvin — but I will never go looking for him. If it be your will, you will have to bring him to me.”
Dad’s obituary appeared in the local newspaper on Monday. Marvin was in town visiting his family and read of my Dad’s death. When he showed up at Dad’s visitation on Wednesday, I did not recognize him. He offered his condolences on my Dad’s and my husband’s death. He then told me that his wife had died seven years earlier. I was shocked! Mom was so happy to see him. Dad had loved Marvin and was upset with me when we broke up.
That night, I received another blessing: before he died, my husband told me that he knew it was God’s will that I marry again. That night was my 26th wedding anniversary, and I felt my husband — smiling down from heaven — give me his blessing.
Five days later, on Jan. 2, my precious Mom went home to join her beloved husband and Lord. On June 23, 2012, my beloved Marvin and I were joined in holy matrimony. Out of death, came life.
— Cheryl Masaitis-Spychaj, Alexandria, Va.
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