For 27 years now, Our Sunday Visitor readers have shared their joyful, poignant stories associated with the Nativity of Our Lord. We at OSV hope you enjoy this new selection, and we wish all of our readers and loved ones our prayers for God’s blessings this Christmas season and throughout the new year.
A child’s gift
This is a story my mother, Irene Bromenshenkel Trisko, wrote for her children. She is 79 years old and still lives in her hometown of Sauk Centre, Minn.
I was a child of about 10. The day came when we kids were taken uptown to church for our pre-Christmas confession. The only other time we went uptown was to attend our weekly Saturday morning religion classes. Today, a weekday, we had to wait in the car or in the stores for our parents to finish their shopping.
We kids had no money for spending. Our pockets held the meager change saved throughout the year and earned doing the few extra chores for which we were paid pennies and sometimes a nickel. Nevertheless, we enjoyed looking at the merchandise displayed.
My sister, Dorothy, and I waited in Hillerud’s hardware store on Third Street, for our dad to finish his business. We were browsing in the aisle, looking at items normally carried in a hardware store, when I spied the bowls. They were a pink-shaded white, with pink roses and a gold border trimming the upper edge. They were the loveliest dishes I had ever seen. This would be a wonderful gift for my mother! They were 25 cents each, which was more than all the change in my pocket. But I couldn’t take my eyes off them.
When my dad finished his business, we turned to leave the store. We were walking down the street, headed for the car, when an idea struck me. I would ask my dad for some money, something that was unheard of in those days, as parents had all they could do just to feed and clothe the family. Before we reached the car, I stopped on the sidewalk and impulsively asked him for a quarter.
“A quarter? What do you need?” he asked impatiently.
“I wanted to buy a pretty bowl for Ma,” I replied wistfully. I watched as his eyes softened and he could see my childlike desire. Of course, here was a child who wanted only to give a gift to her mother. He reached in his pocket and to my surprise, gave me not one but two quarters! I could buy two bowls.
I wrapped them carefully and hid them away until Christmas Eve. When the presents were passed out from my older brothers and sister, I proudly presented my gift to my mother. As she peeled back the paper, she expressed both surprise and delight. Surprise that I could give her a gift and delight because she, too, loved beautiful dishes. I felt so pleased to have given her a gift that she truly appreciated. I doubt if she ever realized the gift she gave me in her appreciation. I have carried it in my heart ever since.
— Juleen Trisko-Schneider, Northome, Minn.
I was reared in a Hispanic neighborhood. Because it was and is an ethnic neighborhood, the Hispanic traditions were so special during the Christmas season. One tradition was the “Beggars’ Christmas.” On Christmas morning the poorest of the neighborhood children would roam the neighborhood pleading for Christmas treats. As children chant “trick or treat” on Halloween, so would they chant, “Mis Creesmas! Mis Creesmas ... My Christmas! My Christmas!” My parents stocked an ample supply of hard Christmas candy, nuts and fruit for them.
Every other Christmas, my siblings and I received a brand-new winter coat or jacket. Two years past, I was given my most prized possession, a black vinyl motorcycle jacket. Even though it was snug and worn, I had no intention to stop wearing it. That particular year, hooded parkas were in fashion, and I thought they were ugly, especially when compared to my many-zippered, chrome-studded jacket. My parents intended to properly clothe us, and I was expected to eventually wear the parka.
The beggars began their annual rounds that Christmas morning. One young boy had no jacket and shivered at our doorstep. He reminded my father of the poverty that he experienced as a little boy during the Great Depression. My father immediately told me to fetch my precious jacket and give it to the boy. My heart broke, but I dared not disobey. My eyes welled up with tears as I gave the beggar my prized jacket. I turned and ran out the back door to the swing set behind my home, and I sat on a swing and wept silently. I then heard children laughing and saw, at a distance, the boy wearing my jacket. I was only 9 years old, and I despised that boy.
However, as time passed, I eventually understood what my father did. Unknowingly, my father gave me the best of gifts. He taught me at my tender age that genuine charity requires some sacrifice. This form of giving is the most sincere and genuine expression of one’s love for another. I learned that possessions will perish, but that the memories of one’s good deeds will long endure.
— Clyde A. Archibeque, Albuquerque, N.M.
Mama and Daddy were converts to Catholicism. Carrying her rosary into war, he faithfully went to confession, attended Mass and received Communion before each mission he flew as a belly-gunner over Europe. Daddy said praying the Rosary and knowing Mama waited at home gave him hope in the prison camp.
When Mama became ill, we knelt to recite the Rosary beneath a painting of the “Agony in the Garden.” Unexpectedly finding himself a widower with seven little girls, he insisted on placing us only in Catholic foster homes. Years went by. There was pressure to adopt. During Advent he considered the options.
On Christmas Eve he made the first of four surprise visits. Pulling us into his lap, he presented each daughter with her own sterling-silver rosary topped by a filigreed cross. Then, he explained to us that Eileen and Charlie were to be our new mom and dad. The parents-to-be were overjoyed: Paula and I dumbstruck by what his words meant. Surrounded by crumpled wrappings and ribbon, I sat stunned in a crushing sadness holding my new rosary and fingering the letters on the back of the crucifix that spelled out: “Rita Love Daddy.”
Time, a rosary and a maturing faith enabled me to appreciate the tremendous sacrifice my father made that Christmas. Two thousand years ago another Father gave his only son into the arms of a waiting world.
What gift can I give to my two fathers who gave everything? By God’s grace and Daddy’s prayers, I’ll make of my life a Rosary of good deeds crowned by a cross of sacrifice and engraved by love in letters spelling out: “Daddy Love Rita.”
— Rita J. Van Horn, Kansasville, Wis.
Bonding over Nativity
During the first 11 years of my life, my mother existed in a catatonic state. Daily my grand-mother and I fed, bathed and dressed Mom, and then led her to the tattered rocker where she spent her day, staring at nothing, speaking to no one.
Things began changing during the summer of 1959 when I turned 12. A new psychiatrist took over Mom’s care at the clinic. She told Gran the medicines “managing” Mom’s condition were actually making her zombielike. As the doctor gradually decreased the dosages, Mom started to lose her stare and even utter an occasional word. By winter, she walked around the apartment on her own. Shyly at first, she seemed to realize that I was her daughter.
Still, on Christmas Eve when Gran left for Midnight Mass, I felt nervous being alone with my mother. So I sat on the couch that would soon open into a bed for Gran and me. I stared at the tiny Christmas tree that Gran and I had decorated with snowflakes I’d cut from tinfoil. Below it sat our one treasure, a Nativity set Gran had brought when she immigrated from Ireland.
I heard Mom shuffle into the room before I saw her. She walked to the Nativity and picked up the plaster manger. “It’s empty,” she said.
“We usually put Jesus in the manger after Mass,” I stammered. I found the box, took out the tiny Christ Child, and brought it to Mom. “Would you like to do it now?”
Reverently, Mom placed Jesus on the straw. Then she turned to me, smiled, and said, “Happy Christmas.”
With Mom and Jesus in place, it indeed stands out as the happiest Christmas ever.
— Kathleen M. Muldoon, San Antonio, Texas
When our home burned down in December 1950, I was 12, the eldest of seven children. By the time the firetrucks arrived, the home was completely gone. For three weeks, the three eldest lived with a neighbor family, and on Christmas Eve our whole family moved into a friend’s home.
As we readied for bed, we were reminded that there would be no Christmas. We understood, a little sad about that, but very happy that we had a nice place to live until our home would be rebuilt.
Around 10 p.m., the doorbell rang and in walked parishioners from St. Thomas Church in Crystal Lake. They came with a tree that they decorated, along with a complete Christmas dinner and extra food and gifts for each of us children. I can still see my gift of a gold sweatshirt and jeans, plus a game.
I am ever so grateful, every Christmas, for every person from that parish who made it possible for us to feel loved and have something to make Christmas special for us.
Our parents were like Mary and Joseph with no place to call home, and on the day the world celebrates his birth we found refuge in a dear friends’ home, and the parishioners who brought us our gifts were like the shepherds and the Magi who brought gifts to the Christ child. This has been, and will always be, my fondest Christmas memory.
—Laurie Schwarz, Des Plaines, Ill.
Sweet spring showers bring a fragrant bouquet
A soft wind blows and meadowlarks play
The pine covered hillside wild creatures reside
A season of growth as you reach for the sky
Through long summer days you sit parched and brown
Your needles fall softly and cover the ground
The struggle so mighty the rewards seem so few
But from such despair a strong pine tree grew
Now the days they grow short there’s a chill in the air
Changes are coming a fate we all share
The birds now seek cover in your boughs lush and green
Autumn winds are upon you it’s now time to dream
You wear a white mantle as snow covers the ground
The song of the saw and soon you fall down
Was the struggle in vain for a seedling to grow
You’ll soon bask in splendor your purpose to know
To be lifted once more in a glorious light
The spirit of Christmas you embody tonight
Decked out in splendor your time has now come
To herald the birth of God’s loving son.
— James M. Bilbrey, Fairborn, Ohio
After an early festive Christmas Eve dinner, we still had the farm chores of milking, feeding the animals, etc., before we could clean up to attend 8 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass.
My husband and the boys, all in their late teens and early 20s, were in the barn doing chores when I suddenly realized we would be late if we did not hurry. As there was no clock in the barn, I decided to remind them of this. I hurried to the barn and as I opened the door and stepped inside, the scene before me gave me pause.
These young men were hurrying and scurrying so happily as they did their work — one feeding calves, another feeding cows, a third feeding cats and a fourth helping my husband with the milking. The radio was playing Christmas carols while they were singing and whistling along with it. Seeing these semi-worldly, twentysomething men with different academic degrees being simple boys again for an evening, and seeing their happy anticipation of the joys of Christmas while doing their homely, mundane tasks brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eyes.
Even though I was in a hurry and had to hurry them, I had to stop for a minute and drink in the scene I would never see again. My heart swelled and my cup “runneth over.” We had raised them well!
— Kathleen Mulhern, Wykoff, Minn.
Dec. 24, 1979, Elena, my family’s housekeeper, woke me up early in the morning, a large box in her right hand. “For you,” she announced teasing. “From whom?” I asked half-awake. She disregarded my question. “He asked me to tell you he’s on duty on Christmas, but he’ll try to come and see you anyway.”
It was from Jigs, my fiancé. He was a member of the Armed Forces. I read the card on top of the box. “Sweetheart, I chose this for your Christmas present so you will not be sad. I hope you’ll like it. I love you! Jigs” It was a pink elephant stuffed toy with oversized wings. It had an extended spring attached to its head. As you held it by the spring, it would bounce and the wings would flap continuously looking like it was flying.
Jigs didn’t come on Christmas. I held the pink elephant close to my heart. It kept me from feeling totally sad. Five days after Christmas, a friend of his came by. “I hate to tell you this,” he said, “but Jigs was gunned down and he’s got 50-50 chance of surviving.” Jigs went through several operations to remove 12 bullets in his body. But one bullet stuck in his lungs, causing his death.
I could not move on with my life after Jigs’ death. I quit school, eventually. My mother sent me away on vacation. I returned after a year, when my pains were gone.
I thanked God for strengthening me during those difficult times of my life. His Words, which I held onto so tightly, sustained me. “This, too, shall pass.” Indeed, my brokenness passed, as he healed me from my own wounds.
—Hermie Climaco, Oxon Hill, Md.
A visit to Bethlehem
When my husband and I were newly married, our parish priest knocked on our door and invited us to join Christian Family Movement. He told us he was asking all the young couples that had just registered in our parish in Southern California.
Soon, we all gathered every two weeks for many years after that initial invitation. We followed a book that shared Scripture and a discussion topic based on that Scripture. Then we were assigned an “action” to perform before we met again.
One meeting just before Christmas, Father asked us to help a mother with seven children who lived in a poor section of Los Angeles. Their father was not in the home. Father asked each of the seven CFM couples to take a child for Christmas and buy some clothes and a toy. We decided to visit Maria and her family one Christmas evening, bearing our gifts, wrapped with love.
I will never forget entering the humble home. There was Maria with a wide smile welcoming us into the dimly lit room. She offered us some juice, served in little tin cans. Soon Maria gathered her children around her to sing some Christmas carols. When they sang “Silent Night,” we could feel the Christ Child’s presence among us. I felt tears well up in my eyes. The family had so little material wealth, but were rich spiritually. We left Maria’s home knowing we had been to Bethlehem that night.
— Susan J. Kent, San Diego, Calif.
My Christmas memories go back to 1948. That year in February I had left my home and family in England to join my fiancé, a former U.S. airman, and get married. We had met when he was on leave from his posting at U.S. Air Force Base in Hanau, Germany.
I came to this country after five years of war, and I knew deprivation with shortages of food, clothing and the ever-present blackout. They are memories I can never forget. When I arrived in Philadelphia, it was like a “land flowing with milk and honey.” The bright lights, the abundance of food and the lack of destruction was, to me, a miracle.
That first Christmas in this country was one I will never forget. My in-laws had a beautiful tree with gifts under it, and their house was decorated with holly and mistletoe. There was a turkey dinner to enjoy with food in abundance, the likes of which I had not known since my early childhood.
That Christmas brought a special joy to my husband and myself. We shared a secret that we would not disclose to the rest of our family for several weeks: I, like the Blessed Mother, was “with child.”
The true meaning of Christmas was with us that year.
— Sheila J. Cook, Media, Pa.
A child’s generosity
I was stationed with the Marine Corps in Hawaii in 1995. One of my duties was serving as the coordinator for Honolulu’s Toys for Tots program, which collected new toys to distribute to underprivileged children at Christmas. It was Christmas Eve, our unit had collected 40,000 toys since Thanksgiving, and had already distributed most of them through local charities, including the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center and the United Way. But we still had a couple hundred toys left, and Stanlyn, one of the ladies with Catholic Charities who worked on the Waianae Coast of Oahu, told us about some homeless families living on the beach who had not been helped yet.
With only a few hours of daylight left, we loaded up the truck and headed out west from Honolulu. A half-hour later we came to the end of the paved road and found our first family. “Mele Kalikimaka” (“Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian) we yelled, as we pulled up to their campsite. I climbed out in my camouflage uniform and opened the door to reveal my assistant, Sgt. Dan Furiak, who was dressed as Santa Claus. Dan gave each child two toys and a couple pieces of candy, and we drove down the trail stopping every 50 yards or so for another family. We were almost at the end of the trail when we came to a family living in a tent, with two small girls, one 4 and one 5 years old. Santa (Dan) and I got out, and showed the girls the toys we had left. The girls each took a dolly, but when Santa told them to each take a second toy, the littlest child told us, “No thank you, we want to leave enough for the other children.”
— Michael R. Morris, Goose Creek, S.C.
Gift of Christ
Covered in hay was a newly built stable,
And there, inside, a small empty cradle.
“Would we process with Jesus, newly born babe?”
We surely did, and into the space that baby was laid.
Mum had arranged that it would just be us,
We walked up the aisle without any fuss,
And as the baby, next to his Mother was laid,
I sensed then for us that moment was made.
For we saw, in this vulnerable child,
He had no gifts but his Mum was not wild,
She just accepted, next to her Jesus lay,
His “gift” to us would arrive on many a day.
I have grown up and now 68 years,
Look back and remember so many tears,
But the “gift” then to me as a boy so small,
Was the CHRISTMAS gift which goes to us all.
No money is needed it comes to us free,
The loving of Jesus, for you and for me.
Don’t look for parcels, nor packages large,
Don’t look for gifts, don’t push nor yet barge,
In the quiet of Christmas do not toil or stress,
Look not for toys, in fact look for much less,
And you will discover as I did way back then,
The warm gift of Jesus comes again and again.
— Brendan Fulham, Suffolk, England
‘Key of Heaven’
It was late December as the war was raging on the Western Front and the doughboys were in their trenches, half frozen, waiting for supplies and ammunition.
A young infantry man along with his assistant were driving a team of two horses toward the front lines. The driver was called a wagoner, and as they approached their destination a scout climbed out of the parapet of his trench to help them unload. Suddenly, an enemy flare lit up the night sky and a shot rang out killing the scout.
One of the horses was also killed, and as the assistant got off the wagon to unhitch its harness, he was wounded. The wagoner finally was able to get help to unload his supplies, and just as he started back to battalion headquarters, a shell exploded nearby and gassed the whole area. He was able to put a gas mask on his buddy before protecting himself, but not soon enough. He was briefly exposed and never completely recovered, sustaining residual effects the rest of his life.
Upon reaching the field hospital back at battalion headquarters, he carried his wounded comrade into a hospital tent, where he gently put him down on a makeshift bed. The assistant, realizing the severity of his condition, reached into his pocket and pulled out a prayer book titled “The Key of Heaven,” and as he handed it to his comrade he whispered “Merry Christmas,” then expired.
Years later, the prayer book was passed on to his son — me!
My dad received decorations for heroism from Gen. Pershing. The grandson now has the prayer book encased in a velvet box, too fragile to use anymore. But the prayers therein are truly the “Key of Heaven.”
— James H. Maloney, Quincy, Mass.
“My heart is ready, O Lord,
My heart is ready.
I will sing his praise ...
Awake, my soul,
I will awake the dawn... (Ps 57)
Did he come this morning.
Bringing love to you?
Did you hear his whisper,
Of his way the true?
Were you wrapped in silence,
Were you well prepared?
Did you lift your heart and mind,
To what few have dared?
Did you say I love you,
You are my desire?
Did you feel his warmness near,
Did you touch his fire?
Did he let you see his face,
Alleviate your fears,
Did he know your many sins,
Did he taste your tears?
Did you say to him the words,
“May we never part,”
Did he come this Christmas dawn,
Did he touch your heart?
— Thom McGorray,Tucson, Ariz.
Jesus is the main draw
It was snowing, as usual, in the greater Washington, D.C., area. The year was 1964, and I was 4 years old. We were attending St. Mary’s Catholic Church. My poppy was one of the weekly collection men. He and a few other men were standing and chatting before Mass in the rectory. The telephone rang, and the voice on the other hand asked if Sen. Robert Byrd was attending Mass this Sunday?
Poppy, who was quick on his feet, replied, “I cannot promise. However, we do expect the Lord will be attending, and knowing that to be an incentive, we are more than certain it should bring in a heavy crowd.”
— Hannah Hope Smith, Spindale, N.
Calm on rough seas
Fifty-four years ago, a number of soldiers from all over Europe made their way to Bremerhaven, Germany, the great port on the North Sea, to begin a voyage across the Atlantic.
I had spent almost two years in Hanau, Germany, with the 7th Army 288th Armored Field Artillery. Now, it was time to go home.
We left Bremerhaven at 7 a.m. aboard the USNS General William O. Darby bound for New York. We were all excited and happy until we reached the Atlantic Ocean when it hit — big-time seasickness!
The sea was especially rough that year, and everybody on board was affected. The days were dark and cold. Gloomy would describe our feeling.
Our boat had few amenities. Upon boarding, I recall walking up the gangplank with my duffle bag on my shoulder. Crossing the deck, I took a moment to look into a porthole of a room on the deck. Not bad. Looks kind of nice, I thought.
Next thing I knew, we were being ordered down nine stairwells to our new quarters in the bottom of the boat where we were to feel every wave and slap of the ocean. It was akin to traveling steerage.
Christmas Eve arrived as we lay in our hammocks with little to cheer us. Then a message came through the intercom. It said that all Catholic servicemen were invited to attend the praying of the Rosary at 1800 hours (6 p.m.) in one of the conference rooms.
A number of us gathered and prayed the Rosary that evening despite our dizziness and nausea.
Thank God for the anonymous person who made the announcement to pray the Rosary that Christmas Eve night on our long 11-day trip across the Atlantic Ocean.
I think of that voyage often and how it was a bright spot on an unusual Christmas Eve.
— George B. Frost, McMurray, Pa.
Once, long ago, when summoned by a Star,
Three kings: Melchior, Caspar, Balthasar
Sojourned forth from foreign lands afar
Their minds and hearts and souls, like ours, astir
With gifts of Gold and Frankincense and Myrrh
Bestowed upon The Infant, Word-Made-Flesh
The Chosen One, The Christ who was foretold —
Forever will their journey be retold.
— Ralph Capasso, Fishkill, N.Y.
At Christmas time
When the star did shine on Christmas night
How bitter was the cold
The animals tried to warm the air
For the Babe — just hours old!
Infant Jesus, were you sad
There was no room left at the inn?
With love in our hearts, we call out to you
It’s open — please come in!
— Frances Zeglen, Cleveland, Ohio