December 14, 2022
For many of us, one Christmas stands out from all the others. Although I did not guess it, my own “truest” Christmas began on a rainy spring day in the bleakest year of my life. I had no job and was on my way downtown to visit the employment offices. I had no umbrella, and as I sat down on the streetcar I saw a beautiful silk umbrella with a silver handle inlaid with gold and flecks of enamel. I had never seen anything so lovely.
I examined the handle and saw a name engraved, so I decided to take it with me and find the owner. I exited the car in a downpour and thankfully opened the umbrella to protect myself. I then searched for a phonebook and found the number! I called and a woman answered.
Yes, she said, that was her umbrella, which her parents, now dead, had given her for a birthday present. But, she added, it had been stolen more than a year before. She was so excited that I forgot I was looking for a job and went directly to her small house. She took the umbrella and her eyes filled with tears.
She wanted to give me a reward but her happiness was such that to have accepted money would have spoiled something. We talked for a while and I must have given her my address.
The next six months were wretched. I was able to obtain only part-time jobs here and there, but I put aside money when I could for my little girl’s Christmas presents. My last job ended the day before Christmas, my rent was due, and what little money I had, Peggy and I would need for food. She was home from school and was looking forward to her gifts the next day, which I had already purchased. I had also bought a small tree and we were going to decorate it that night.
The stormy air was full of the sound of Christmas merriment as I walked from the streetcar to my small apartment. Bells rang and children shouted in the bitter dusk of the evening. But there would be no Christmas for me. No gifts, no remembrance whatsoever. As I struggled through the snow drifts, I just about reached the lowest point in my life. Unless a miracle happened, I would be homeless in January, foodless, jobless. I had prayed steadily for weeks and there had been no answer but this coldness and darkness, this harsh air, this abandonment. God and men had completely forgotten me. What was to become of us?
I looked in my mailbox. There were only bills in it and two white envelopes which I was sure contained more bills. I went up three flights of stairs to the apartment and cried, shivering in my thin coat. But I made myself smile so I could greet my daughter with a pretense of happiness. She opened the door for me and threw herself in my arms, screaming joyously and demanding that we decorate the tree immediately.
Peggy was not yet six years old but had proudly set our kitchen table and put out pans and the three cans of food which would be our dinner. For some reason, when I looked at those pans and cans I felt brokenhearted and misery overwhelmed me. For the first time in my life, I doubted the existence of God.
The doorbell rang and Peggy ran to answer it, calling that it must be Santa Claus. Then I heard a man speaking to her and went to the door. He was a delivery man, and his arms were full of packages. “This is a mistake,” I said, but he read the name on the parcels and they were for me. When he had gone I could only stare at the boxes. Peggy and I sat on the floor and opened them. A huge doll, three times the size of the one I had bought for her. Gloves. Candy. A beautiful leather purse. Incredible! I looked for the name of the sender. It was the umbrella woman, the address simply “California” where she had moved.
Our dinner that night was the most delicious I had ever eaten. I prayed, “Thank you, Father.” I forgot that I had no money for the rent and no job. My child and I ate and laughed together in happiness. Then we decorated the little tree and marveled at it. I put Peggy to bed and set up her gifts around the tree, and a sweet peace flooded me like a benediction. I had some hope again. I could even examine the bunch of bills without cringing. Then I opened the two white envelopes. One contained a check from a company I had worked for briefly in the summer. It was a note that said, my “Christmas bonus.” My rent!
The other envelope was an offer of permanent position with the government—to begin two days after Christmas. I sat with the letter in my hand and the check on the table before me and I think that was the most joyful moment of my life.
“The Lord is born!” sang the church bells to the crystal night and the laughing darkness. Someone began to sing, “Come, all ye faithful!” I joined in and sang with the strangers around me.
I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all.
And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.1
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