By OSV Readers
My eyes flew open. Christmas! It was finally here! My little brother and I darted into my parents’ room to wake them up. We sprinted down the steps and into the family room.
We immediately started searching for the pickle. What does a pickle have to do with Christmas you ask? Whoever finds the pickle on the tree first gets the pickle present, which is sitting away from the rest of the presents. I might put the pickle in one spot, but on Christmas morning it would be in a completely different spot! But, wait!
Is that the pickle over there? Yes, it is! I plucked it off of the tree and picked up the pickle present.
As soon as I did, my brother, Jacob, burst into tears. I couldn’t bear to see him cry, so I gave him the pickle present. My parents must have been proud because they gave me a neatly wrapped box. I slowly pulled off the ribbon and held my breath. I lifted the lid off the box. My very own cell phone! I must have said “thank you” a million times!
What really mattered to me was seeing my brother’s face light up when I gave him the pickle present. Isn’t that why God put us on the Earth? To love others, and to treat them like you want to be treated? A pickle on a Christmas tree? Yeah, you bet! Merry Christmas!
— Katie Klinko, Grade 6, Butler Catholic School Butler, Pa.
My father was a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Navy. At one of his yearly physicals, a spot was found on his lung. He was immediately sent to Bethesda Naval Hospital. He was gone for a year.
Then, on Christmas Day, he was allowed a home visit. When I ran up to him to give him a welcome-home hug, for I dearly love my father, he stopped me from coming too close to him. He was trying to protect us, his children, from whatever he may have had.
My mother served him his Christmas dinner on separate plates, from the usual family plates, and he ate away from the family.
When we opened our Christmas presents that year, we could not bring our presents to him to touch. My father sat in his usual chair. I looked into his face — he was watching his family with so much love in his eyes. His love for his family was the perfect Christmas present ever! His gift was so pure and was not even gift wrapped. My father was my best Christmas present. (Christmas is, after all, loving each other.)
My father recovered and is now 91 years old.
— Sister Mary Gabrielle Thomas, V.H.M., Mobile, Ala.
Most of my “ancient memories” are associated with Sacred Heart Church in Syracuse, N.Y., where I had been an altar boy — and where I celebrated my first solemn Mass of Thanksgiving on May 19, 1957.
When I was in grammar school, there were about 40-50 altar boys, and we were required to take part in the “ Pasterka ,” or Shepherds’, Mass at Midnight and the “ Suma ,” or Solemn, High Mass at 10:30 a.m. It was only after the High Mass that we received our Christmas presents from the pastor, Msgr. Casimir S. Piejda. At the greater solemnities the younger servers sat and knelt on the top step of the sanctuary near the Communion rail. Some servers were also assigned to serve at a “third Mass” that morning.
For these festive occasions the altar boys wore cardinal-red cassocks with affixed red capes with yellow fringe — worn on the backs. We were handsome enough to pose for the calendars distributed by one of the Syracuse companies that produced church candles! To distinguish us from the true cardinals, the Felician Sisters would add stiff Buster Brown collars and large red ribbon bow ties.
One year, Msgr. Piejda gave us copies of the pocket-size Father Stedman’s missalettes, which contained the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin and Polish. The proper orations and Scripture readings for each Sunday were in Polish. I used this prayer book whenever I attended Mass, even though I had not yet studied Latin or Polish grammar.
Msgr. Piejda instructed the people who desired to receive holy Communion at the Midnight Mass that they should abstain from food and water for three hours beforehand. One Christmas Day, I went to receive Communion at my extra Mass, and the celebrant told me: “Matt, you are not allowed to receive Communion twice on Christmas Day.” I confessed to him that I had succumbed to temptation and had eaten a chocolate after 9 p.m.! But I did maintain the “Eucharistic fast” from midnight that morning.
— Father Matthew S. Wieczorek, Endicott, N.Y.
By December 2004, my father had died, I was jobless, my wife was a stay-at-home mom, we had no income, and my third child, Joshua, was sick. We were on our way to Jackson, Mich., to take a test for a job.
My mother asked us if she could come — she hadn’t gone anywhere since Dad died — and we welcomed her. We were coming home when mom yelled that Joshua was not breathing, and he was blue. We took him to the nearest hospital; from there they took him to the children’s hospital in an ambulance. We were told he had a severe case of bronchitis and was not doing well. The hospital priest asked us if he was baptized. We said no, but that we had planned to baptize him.
Joshua was critical; he could not breathe on his own and had stopped eating. We could only see him 30 minutes at a time. Later, the doctor told us Joshua took a turn for the worse, and he probably wouldn’t make it through the night. We were in tears, and we called everyone and told them the worst. My in-laws said God was punishing us because we were Catholic. It was time to visit Joshua. Nurses came by giving us their apologies.
We felt helpless, and then the priest came by and asked us if we still wanted Joshua baptized. We said yes, and with my in-laws’ comment still on my mind, Joshua was baptized. It was time to go. The doctor came out 15 minutes later, smiling. Joshua had made a complete turnabout. Just before Christmas we took Joshua for his follow-up. They couldn’t find even a trace of the bronchitis, and I had also found a job. My wife and I found strength in our faith.
— Kenneth W. Barnhill, Louisville, Miss.
Christmas of 1935 I was 3-and-a-half years old. I had not been feeling well for several days, but on Christmas morning I was even worse. My parents called the pediatrician and described my sore throat, high temperature, swelling hands and feet. He didn’t think it was anything to worry about.
Being Christmas, my mother drove my older siblings to Mass while my father stayed with me. My mother told of tears shed as she drove, so worried that I might die.
Meanwhile, my father called our longtime loyal doctor in our hometown 50 miles away. After describing my symptoms to him, Dr. Byrne said he would hop in his car and leave his family on Christmas morning. He made the trip through the snow to my side.
After one look at me, he knew I needed to be in the hospital. He packed me up and headed back to our hometown, with my parents and my sisters and brother close behind. They dropped my siblings at my grandparent’s house where all the family had gathered for Christmas. After explaining the ominous news to them all, they headed for the “sisters’ hospital” where Dr. Byrne was preparing me for blood transfusions that I would get from my uncle and mother.
Back at the family gathering the aunts and uncles were preparing my siblings for the worst — that I would probably die. Prayers were flying fast and furious among the cousins and all the family.
Their prayers brought a miracle in the form of Dr. Byrne, my savior, and his prompt, unselfish actions.
Later, he explained I had strep throat, and without the antibiotics that we have today, I probably would have died. But he knew that the blood transfusions would give me the antibodies from my donors that would act like the antibiotics that we have today.
I have always felt that God wanted me to live so I could marry my wonderful husband and give birth and raise six beautiful children. I feel I owe God my life and my family’s lives to his hearing and answering fervent prayers that beautiful Christmas Day.
— Janet B. Schmitz, Prairie Village, Kan.
My story goes back 25 years, but it seems like yesterday.
Our then-12-year-old daughter, after a day in which we saw one doctor after another, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. She was frightened, and we were stunned. It was one week before Christmas, a bitter cold and rainy night in Pittsburgh.
I left the hospital to go home and get a few things, knowing that I would return. In the middle of the intersection, I dropped all of my paperwork and there it sat in the pouring rain. I broke down and cried, right in the middle of a very busy street. It was truly one of the most draining moments that I can ever remember — the total helplessness a parent feels when she realizes that she cannot make everything better; my stark inability to protect our little girl.
I found my way to the car and sat trembling for what seemed like an eternity. As I started the engine, the radio came on playing “Silent Night,” so softly and reverently. I sobbed until there were no more tears, then just sat there and let the peace of God wash over me. His soft whisper said: “It’s OK, I have you now.”
Words will never adequately describe the feeling I had of being caressed by my heavenly Father. I think of that night so many times and always with wonder of the awesome power and love of God.
— Kathy Raimondi, Pittsburgh, Pa.
On Dec. 22, 2007, my grandma passed away. This has always been a tragic time of the year for our family. Twelve years ago, on that same day, my grandpa on the other side of the family died. My grandma had cancer for a while before she passed away, as did my grandpa. I was too young to know what was going on when my grandpa died, but not for my grandma. This all really inspired me not to take the elderly and life for granted.
One day when my parents and I visited my grandma while she was still ill in the hospital, there was a strange connection. She seemed to be staring at me for a couple of minutes. While this was happening, my mom said, “She loves you.” When we got back home my mom said, “The reason why she was looking at you was because Grandma knows she is very sick and could go any day, but also she knows she will never get to see you grow up.” Once I heard my mom say that it really hit me hard that when she’s gone she’s gone forever. Later, I realized she wasn’t gone; I just had to find her.
— Chris Gamble, Grade 8, Butler Catholic School Butler, Pa.
To my 15-year-old mind, Christmas couldn’t have been worse. Not one piece of clothing I received fit (and at that age, it’s all about the clothes), and I wasn’t crazy about the other non-clothing gifts I’d received. Consequently, I felt I’d been “gypped” of Christmas.
I sobbed in bed that night and had to force myself to pray. In the midst of my selfish complaint of a prayer, an inaudible, unsolicited question presented itself in my mind: “What is the true gift of Christmas?”
This question from out of the blue brought a sudden stop to the tears and caused me to reflect. My intellect knew that Christmas was about the gift of God’s son, not about material presents. Despite that knowledge and my Catholic upbringing, the realization had never filtered to my heart.
That night, through God’s grace, it truly registered in my heart that the Creator of all, the God of the universe, gave to humanity — right down to myself — the unfathomable gift of his own Son, which led in turn to the gift of our eternal salvation. That Christmas, I received the unparalleled gift of being overwhelmed with joy as the immensity and reality of the true gift of Christmas penetrated my uncomprehending heart.
I refer to that experience as the night I “got” — both in terms of receiving and understanding — the best Christmas gift ever given.
Now, 25 years later, there has not been a Christmas gone by that I haven’t looked with joy and gratitude beyond the paper-wrapped gifts to the real gift that was given — and continues to be given — in the Incarnation of our savior, Jesus Christ. I pray that everyone “gets” the best Christmas gift ever.
— Natalie Hoefer, Indianapolis, Ind.
It was a very special honor for our grade school choir. I was in the third grade and excited as could be. We were chosen to sing the Midnight Mass at the local Catholic hospital. The Sisters of St. Francis, who founded the hospital, had requested the Guardian Angel Choir of St. Casimir School (Hammond, Ind.) to enhance that very special night of the birth of our Savior by our enthusiastic, youthful voices. How many hours of after-school practice that December I can’t quite recall, but no one complained.
For my mother, who had trained at St. Margaret Hospital by those very nuns as a registered nurse, it was also a very special occasion. She could introduce many of the Franciscan Sisters to her two young daughters after the Mass. In fact, she was still putting her nursing education to work part time to help out at the hospital and remained close friends with many of the sisters. All of her five children were born at the hospital, and I was given my name by a sister who pronounced that since I was born on the feast day of St. Rita, that should be my name and she should be my patron saint.
Christmas Eve arrived with a dusting of snow and chill in the air. Our parents drove us to the hospital, and our choir director, Sister Gabriel, was there to greet us. She assured us that we had practiced sufficiently and gave us an encouraging smile. We confidently walked up the narrow winding staircase to the choir loft.
The small hospital chapel was beautifully decorated, with Jesus in the manger and Mary and Joseph to the side of the altar. Christmas trees decorated with glittering white lights sparkled along with the many altar candles. Among the songs we sang I can only remember “Silent Night” and “When Blossoms Flowered ’Mid the Snow.” I recall looking down on the small congregation and seeing patients in wheelchairs.
After Mass the good sisters rolled out a silver cart with hot chocolate and peppermint sticks. What a treat and special thank you for the wonderful singing. I can’t recall any of the presents I received that year — my only Christmas memory is the splendor of the altar, the peaceful calm I felt, and the goodness of the Franciscan Sisters. That Christmas of 1959 is one I’ll never forget.
— Rita Connolly, Bergenfield, N.J.
In 1943, I was in ground school in Greencastle, Ind., preparing for the Naval Air Corp. On Christmas Eve, I was on guard duty at one of the university buildings from 8 p.m. to midnight. At 12, my relief came, and I began walking to our barracks several blocks away.
There was no traffic in the streets and no people were passing by. There were only a few electric candles in some windows. Great glistening snowflakes lazily wafted down and puff clouds of snow arose at my feet as I walked along.
Softly, I began singing Christmas greetings to the townsfolk of Greencastle. “Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright.” “O Come, let us adore Him, come let us adore Christ the Lord.”
The townsfolk never heard me; they did not see me. Still, as I remember that beautiful night, there is a quiet joy in my heart as I lovingly gifted them but expected nothing in return.
— Father John Doyle, Sacred Heart ChurchMountain Iron, Minn.
Our advanced Signal Corps unit arrived in a small village of Wiesbaden, Germany, in December 1944 and occupied a small vacant house. We were five in number, and upon inspection I was surprised to find a crucifix hanging over the bed, and a Bible on a small table along with a rosary. I suddenly felt like an intruder.
Shortly after moving in, there was a knock on the door, and a blond lady with a young daughter inquired about their “Huhn,” which turned out to be a chicken cackling in the yard. The lady started chasing it, no doubt for supper that evening. This was her home, and she was living with the neighbors.
Realizing her plight, we decided to move out the next morning, but before departing, we stocked her shelves with our “C” rations.
Contrary to orders, one of my men had taken the rosary as a souvenir, and when he asked me what they were for, I took the beads from him, deciding that I could put them to better use. An hour later we rejoined our company, and as I dismounted my truck I reached into my pocket and the rosary beads fell to the ground. As I stooped over to pick them up, I heard the patter of .50-caliber bullets all around me. Two German fighter planes seemingly from out of nowhere came flying so low I could see the pilot, and before I could fire a shot, they were gone.
It was Christmas day and my birthday as well, so I always felt that the good Lord gave me a birthday present on this day — my life!
My faith was renewed in the power of the Rosary, and I’ve carried it with me always.
— James H. Maloney, North Quincy, Mass.
The day before Thanksgiving onboard USNS Shughart — a Military Sealift Command ship off the coast of Dubai — we learned “All liberty was canceled” during morning quarters. Threat Condition Bravo had started. Effective immediately, there would be no going ashore for the planned Thanksgiving party. We heard the ship motors change sound and soon found we were headed out to sea.
Thirteen of us were U.S. Navy, the rest of the crew were civilians. We lived on a ship the size of an aircraft carrier, loaded with military equipment.
Christmas was approaching soon and since hostilities began, there was no personal mail. Everything was reserved for operational necessities. Although spaces were decorated, it would be a rather somber Christmas.
As the Admin-Postal-Supply-Chief, the role of morale, welfare and recreation fell to me. I thought about the rather spartan Christmas we would be experiencing. I had to go ashore, and the opportunity presented itself to do a little shopping. I loaded up on candy, nuts, little goodies and trinkets and stuffed them into my bag along with other supplies.
Back onboard, I scrounged for colored paper, tape and glue. One of the civil service mariners wandered into my lair and was commandeered into elfdom, gluing Christmas cutouts from wrapping paper onto the construction paper. By zero dark thirty on Christmas Eve, all 54 bodies onboard had personalized, gaily wrapped cornucopias hanging from their doorknobs along the passageways.
Finally, a poem was taped to the bulkhead across from the galley and finished the job. Tired but satisfied, we stumbled off to our respective bunks to sleep.
The next day was great. Grown men gathered in the galley with their goodies happy as little boys with Christmas stockings! The spirit of Christmas could not be denied, Operation Desert Fox notwithstanding.
— Kathleen E. M. Melville-Hall, Alpena, Mich.
Six-year-old eyes and ears recorded my first memories of Christmas, however, my adult mind now reflects a deeper perspective of them.
To return to that day I have only to replay the memories and they come alive once again.
It is Christmas morning and with my family we pile into Dad’s Model A Ford that takes us 22 miles roads to Grandpa’s farm.
The house appears out of the cold, misty day on the Kansas prairie, surrounded by a grove of trees, barren of leaves in the gray winter scene, except for a few cedars that display their Christmas green.
Entering the warm house we are met with cheerful greetings of “Merry Christmas” from aunts preparing dinner on the cook stove.
The aroma of rolls baking in the oven fills the kitchen, whetting the appetite.
Missing is the grandmother I never knew, having gone to her reward in the fall of ’27.
As we head into the dining room we are greeted with hearty cries of “Merry Christmas” once again, followed with firm handshakes by grandpa, great-uncles and uncles who rise from their chairs.
One uncle is missing from the celebration, having not yet been discharged from the Army.
Around a wood-burning stove, the swapping of news and stories continues as we wait for dinner.
At last the blessing is said and Christmas dinner is served that includes succulent roast duck with mouth-watering sage dressing.
In the afternoon, the women wash dishes and visit in the kitchen, while the men play cards.
As the players study their new card hands before the next play, the silence is punctuated by the crackling and popping of wood that has been added to replenish the fire in the stove.
As twilight descends, kerosene lamps are lit that illumine the rooms with a golden hue.
Goodbyes are said as we climb into the car, and we drive off, waving until we reach the road.
During the drive back to town with Mom, Dad and my sisters, bright moonlight shines in through the car window and its silver glow reflects on the gravel road as a lamp to light our way.
Nearly all the adults present at that Christmas celebration have passed on where, please God, they now live in paradise, reunited once again, to participate in the eternal banquet with him,
who is the reason for all our Christmas celebrations, be they of the past, the present, or the future.
— Wayne Andrew Lickteig, Corpus Christi, Texas
Lighting a torch to find a distant land
You journeyed far by God’s command.
Innocent in your tender years
The prophesy foretold
You would cry a woman’s tears.
That night you carried the holy seed,
Man’s redeemer, on a cross to bleed.
So serene in the cattle stall,
Your Son was born,
A prince to all.
Obedient to His human form
Mary, dear mother,
You kept Him warm.
Greeted by kings to this sacred site,
You cherished the moment,
Of the night.
As his instrument your world began
Delivering the destiny,
Of the Almighty’s plan.
— Maria Sundy, Monaca, Pa.
I wakened, on my face was a light Only to behold it was the moon so bright Dawn of December 16 it was Thought of home, start of the “aguinaldo”* Mass
I looked out the window to see Through rooftops, glittering lights like a Christmas tree Made my heart leap with sadness and joy Thought of caroling little girls and boys.
As I gazed through the sky, it was bare Of glittering stars they were nowhere Only the moon so bright and alone Yet gave me peace and joy as it shone.
Then I remembered as a young girl long past With my grandmother, we heard the dawn Mass Young and old we walked with Along streets lined with tables of “suman” and “puto bongbong”**
Christmas come and go
Memories that makes our heart aglow
Yet there are memories that make us sad
When from our family and friends we are far apart.
** rice delicacies
— Rita V. Cruz, Somerdale, N.J.
“There truly must be a bigger reason
For fuss during the Christmas season,”
I thought that night.
Read on, for I was right.
Santa! Reindeer! Chimneys! Snow!
Presents! Goodies! HO! HO! HO!
Trees! Holly! Stockings! Lights!
Look at all of these delights.
Decorations are put out.
Little children play and shout.
Excitement lingers throughout the air.
Preparations go on everywhere.
For right now though,
Let’s take a trip back to two years ago.
My mom, my dad, my grandma, my sister, and I got into our car one night.
Being together felt just right.
Together we started to depart,
Listening to carolers sing from the heart.
Heartwood Acres was our destination,
A 20-minute drive from our location.
We entered the park and drove on in,
Just us five, me and my kin.
Ahead we saw lights placed with care.
It was so beautiful we couldn’t help but stare.
There were lights of all colors, sizes, shapes, and designs.
No wonder there had been long lines!
Looking and laughing together,
We barely noticed the changing weather.
Snow had begun to sprinkle down,
Right on top of the bears’ town.
We drove past lit-up Santas, penguins, reindeers, stars and more.
There were decorations galore.
It was so much fun sharing time with everyone,
I didn’t realize we were almost done.
Too soon the road was bending,
And this night was ending.
But I carry many happy thoughts from that night,
Some memories are extremely bright.
But so do the things I now know,
Because of that night two years ago.
Christmas isn’t about the material stuff!
No, not at all. That’s just fluff.
What it’s truly about,
We really should shout.
Jesus! Faith! Mangers! Love!
Stories! Memories! Gifts from above!
Families! Life! Smiles! Joy! Cheer!
Hope and Blessings for the year!
— Kate Kletzli, Grade 8, Butler Catholic School Butler, Pa.
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