The end of that year was an incredibly turbulent time. In
November on my fourteenth birthday, President Kennedy was assassinated.
It was in the beginning years of the Vietnam War. The Cuban Missile
crisis was not long before that. Uncertainty was everywhere. So
herewith, the story of Christmas 1963.
That was the year that Christmas wasn’t going to bring even one gift…we
thought. It was a poor financial year. I didn’t exactly know that we
were poor. We had plenty to eat. We had clean, warm clothes. We had a
warm, sheltering apartment in Chicago that my stepmother, Maxine, worked
hard to make a haven for us.
Now that I am a parent and grandparent I
realize how difficult it must have been for her to sit us down a
few weeks before Christmas and explain that there wasn’t any money for
gifts. If all the money she had managed to save was pooled, we could
have a special Christmas dinner. Back then there were no such things as food banks or church assistance.
considered the dilemma, and then one by one, we agreed that a special
dinner was the best use for the money we had. Once that was settled, we
put it behind us and life went on.
Then, a couple weeks before Christmas, Mum told all of us to hurry home immediately
after school, as there would be a surprise. Friends of the family
planned to bring each of us a gift and wished to be present when we
opened them. So on this day, I slung my books into my locker at school
and rushed home. Pounding up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I
eagerly flung open the door—and froze in my tracks.
level surface in both the dining and living rooms was covered with
gifts. Piles of beautifully, lovingly decorated boxes with bows and trinkets. A tree twinkled merrily in
the corner. The melodies of familiar Christmas carols filled the air.
Unexpectedly, Christmas had come to our home.
As I stood in the open doorway, I could
not imagine what had happened. Certainly, we didn't get rich
overnight. I shut the door before walking around the rooms gently touching the lovely boxes.
Mum, more excited than I had ever seen her, urged me to look in the
kitchen where two boxes of groceries, a ten-pound ham, fifty pounds of
potatoes, and a five pound box of chocolates sat on the table. A special Christmas dinner
In a little while, when my brothers came home from school and my dad arrived from work, we opened the gifts. Of all the
Christmases in my life, this is the one I can remember every single
thing I received--not because I was a greedy kid, but because they were
all gifts of sacrifice from strangers
Our family friends were a
minister and his wife with a church in Indiana. One of their church
families approached them, seeking a family that wasn’t going to have any
gifts for Christmas. The parents and children of this church family
voted to give up their Christmas gifts so that a family, unknown to
them, would have a special Christmas.
The minister and
his wife undertook the responsibility of obtaining clothing sizes and
special needs, plus transportation and delivery of the gifts. And they
delivered our heartfelt thank you letter to the anonymous family.
Christmas grows closer, whether we are rich or poor, I look back on
that Christmas and know that we are blessed because we are together.
Every year I remember the blessing of being loved unconditionally by