This post from staff writer Dallas Fitzgerald recalls his best Christmas ever in a story from his childhood.
When I was seven, my parents separated, and in the aftermath of their separation, my mother struggled financially. She never let me or my brother know how bad it actually was, but when I look back on that period of my life, I realize how hard she worked to make ends meet.
She was working a full-time job and another part-time job from home, and I remember times when she would come home late from her full-time job, make us dinner, and then sit at the desk with her calculator and a stack of papers until we went to bed. There were times when I would wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and I would see her still sitting at the desk working.
When Christmas rolled around that year, my brother and I made our usual lists and gave them to her to give to Santa Claus. I can’t even remember what I asked for that year, but I remember that when we gave her our lists, she said something like, “Santa’s had a rough year, so don’t be too upset if you don’t get everything you asked for.”
At the time, I thought nothing of it. Santa doesn’t have rough years, does he? Or maybe he does. My seven-year-old brain struggled to make sense of her words, but if anyone would know about the state of Santa’s year, it would be my all-knowing mother. I struggled to think of a time in all my seven years of existence when she had been wrong about something before, and I couldn’t. In the end, I decided that perhaps Santa does have rough years.
On Christmas Eve, I got sick with a nasty holiday cold. “Ho, ho, haaachooo,” could be heard all through the house, and instead of going outside on the porch and watching the snow fall from the sky, I was stuck inside the house in my bed with snot falling from my nose. But my mother was right there next to the bed, picking up my used Kleenexes, taking my temperature, and delivering piping hot chicken noodle soup to my bedside.
After a long night of coughing and sneezing and nose blowing, Christmas finally came, and though I still felt greener than the Grinch, I was able to muster up enough holiday cheer to make the trip downstairs to the couch to open presents.
There weren’t many gifts around our tree, and all the boxes were pretty small. Nothing on my list could fit in any of these boxes, I thought. I figured my mother was right. Santa really had had a rough year.
I opened the biggest present first. I eagerly tore at the wrapping paper until it lay in a crumpled heap at the foot of the couch. I was left with a plain white box, which I opened to discover one of those white Coca-Cola bears that McDonald’s used to sell at Christmas time for a few bucks when you bought something from the menu.
My brother opened his first present, and he got a white Coca-Cola bear too. We glanced at each other as if to ask, “Did you have this on your list?” Then we both looked away as if to say, “Me neither.”
I opened my next present, and my brother opened his. We looked at each other again, “Nope, me neither.”
When we finished unwrapping all our presents, we were both left with the entire collection of toys that McDonald’s had offered with their Happy Meals for the month of December. My mother must have sensed our disappointment because she went into her bedroom to bring out two more presents.
“I got you each one more gift,” she said with a smile.
My brother’s face lit up and so did mine, and we had the presents unwrapped before they even left her hand. Our eagerness quickly turned to confusion. I received the movie The Addam’s Family and he received Charlotte’s Web. We looked at each other one final time, “Nope, me neither.”
After sitting in silence for a moment, my mother started talking.
“Santa had to eat McDonald’s Happy Meals for two week straight so you could have Christmas presents this year,” she said, still smiling.
Slowly, smiles broke out across our faces. We argued over who would get to watch his movie first, and the rest of our Christmas was spent watching the same two movies over and over again until we both fell asleep on the couch.
Every year, at Christmas time, I think back to that Christmas. I remember how sick I was, and I remember how disappointed I was. At the time, I would have said that that was the worst Christmas ever, but each year, the memory of that Christmas glows a bit brighter. Each year, I think of that Coca-Cola bear, those Beanie Babies, and those movies, and I am reminded of the strength of my mother’s love for her two sons. I am reminded that it truly is the thought and the love that is behind the gift and not the gift itself that matters most. Twenty years later, I think back to that Christmas, and I remember it as the best Christmas ever!