When the first snowfall of the season brightened up our modest settler’s home, and my mother began humming “Leise rieselt der Schnee” (“Snow Falls Soft in the Night”) while baking Christmas cookies, we children knew the Christmas season had arrived. That’s when my three friends and I, nine or ten years of age, began preparing for Christmas in earnest.
It was during the Great Depression and we were desperately poor. Nonetheless, it was also the time of the Little Match Girl – a time when destitute people empathized with those even less fortunate, in an attempt to bring some joy into their lives.
And hadn’t the Christ Child, whose birthday we were about to celebrate, given up everything to bring us love and joy? We children knew we had to bring some Christmas cheer to a needy person in our little community. Sad to say, our dire poverty allowed us no money to buy gifts.
Undaunted, we eagerly gathered paints, scissors, and glue made from flour and water, and began to fashion handcrafted Christmas gifts. As we worked, we practised singing Christmas carols. Often, when we grew weary of our preparations and would rather have played outside, we admonished each other: Christmas wasn’t far away and we best be ready!
The recipient of all this hard work would be old Mrs. Harms, who was bedridden with arthritis. She was a true prayer warrior (but, in our society, people dared not call her a “saint,” lest she become vain or arrogant). This elderly lady lived down the next street with her married children.
When the day of our Christmas giving had arrived, we gathered up our meagre gifts, put on our winter boots and coats, and ran down to Mrs. Harms’ house. We gingerly knocked on the door and, after stating our mission, were ushered into the sick woman’s room.
What a sight greeted us! There, in a dimly lit room was Mrs. Harms. Wrinkled and crumpled, she lay in a fetal position on her bed of pain. Her hands looked so twisted and gnarled; we wondered how she could knit them together in prayer, while enduring such physical pain.
We were nearly in tears. But Mrs. Harms’ toothless smile belied her ailing condition as she heartily welcomed us to sing a few songs for her.
We cleared our throats and geared up to sing every Christmas carol we knew, believing adamantly that this would bring some joy to her suffering life. That singing took a long time. Then, like four miniature Magi, we presented our gifts, wary of the expressions on her face. Happily, she praised every one of our little creations, and thanked us for them.
Then she noted that it was time to pray. She prayed for a long time, almost as long as our singing, and thanked God profusely for bringing us down to see her. Those words lent credence to our mission.
Mrs. Harms looked so happy. We felt relieved that our Christmas magic had worked. Then, after wishing her a Merry Christmas several times, we slid into our winter gear, tumbled into the snow, and headed straight for home.
Many years have passed since that childhood experience, and time has erased and added to the event, transforming it into a beautiful Christmas story. Whether we were in the presence of the Christ child when we presented our little gifts, I cannot tell (Matthew 25:39–40).
I do know, however, that the essence of the story has remained the same – Christmas is not just for receiving, but also for delivering God’s love, joy, and happiness from the depths of our hearts to others.