by Debra Oaks Coe
(c) all rights
As Christians we know that Christmas isn't about
getting; it really is about peace and happiness in your life no matter what your
circumstances. As a child we had many years where there was little for Christmas. We
had a large family and financial resources were scarce. Twice my father was completely without work for a entire year each time.
Never once did some good person or charity come and bring us Christmas. We had many
years without even a Christmas tree. I was married before I even knew that other
families had a large Christmas dinner. Never did anyone bring us good food for
Christmas or a tree or presents. Was I bitter? Did I learn to hate Christmas?
The answer is no. I learned to love Christmas because Christmas didn't come
wrapped in packages and certainly didn't come from a store. Christmas isn't bought with
money -- in fact true Christmas spirit cannot be bought; it can only be applied to our
As a child I learned to love God and love Christmas because I loved the scriptures and
loved the gifts of the spirit that I found there. We could be close as family and we
could have fun even without presents, good food or a tree. I learned to love the
decoration on others houses and the music in the stores. I loved the worship services at church and most of all I loved prayer
and the feeling of a great love from my Father in Heaven that came with it.
The Christmas I remember best was the year I was 14. My father had already been out
of work for two months. There was little saved to fall back on and we were using my
sister's and my babysitting money to buy food with. At the time we were grateful for
enough flour to put together baking powder biscuits as the main part of our meal so you can imagine what Christmas dinner looked
like. It was my first year of Seminary and we were studying the Book of Mormon.
I remember feeling like I really needed to know if Jesus was the Christ, if the
church was true and what these meant for me other than just strict rules of what I could
and couldn't do like not dating before I was sixteen, drinking, smoking, etc. Most
important I wanted to know that even though my father was out of work and times were tough
that God was still there and was answering our prayers.
Shortly before Christmas I was reading the Book of Mormon and found the words, "Man
is that he might have joy" At this time of my life the idea that we were
created to have joy was a surprise to me. My life didn't seem that joyous. I
wasn't doing as well in school because I was preoccupied with the problems at home.
None of my friends ended up in the same classes as me in school and so I felt
lonely. We were having little if anything for Christmas, and the prayers for my
father to find work went unanswered. I wondered how it could be true that so much of
our purpose for even being alive was to have joy.
I thought about these words for quite some time. I thought about all the teachings
of the church and about life in general and why God would have given us so many
"rules." One day as I sat thinking about all of this a peace came to me as
I realized that joy and peace have little to do with our outside circumstances. But
they have everything to do with what is inside of us.
I thought about Christmas coming and what it really meant. It was more than a baby
in a feeding trough (otherwise known as a manger). More than shepherds and angels
and a virgin mother with a bright star in the sky. It was about a very loving Father
who cared about each one of His children with such deep love that we can scarcely
comprehend it. It is about an older brother who wanted to do all He could to help
His younger siblings achieve all the happiness a God could offer. It is about an
Atoning Sacrifice so great that we cannot ever really understand in this life all that He did for us.
Upon realizing all of this I went from a poor girl with no hopes of Christmas presents to
one very rich with all the greatest blessings and gifts that could be found in all the
world. When we got up that Christmas morning I remember being surprised that a few
small things were there for the very youngest children. I have no recollection of what the material gifts were; I
only remember being thrilled and surprised to see one very inexpensive gift for each of
the smaller ones. What I do remember is spending lots of time
together playing games and enjoying each other's company and thinking about how much
greater was the love Jesus Christ had for me and that I had a great gift of peace through
Him and his teachings. This was my most memorable Christmas because my gift from my
loving Father in Heaven was a testimony that has carried me through many troubled times
and a testimony that has helped me to keep the commandments of God which in turn has
always allowed me to be happy no matter what.
My gifts that Christmas were the kind that could not be returned to the store; rather they
were the kind that could last not only through the year, but last a life time. The
only thing that could take these most precious gifts from me, was me. These are what
Christmas is always about. The only thing that really spoils Christmas is pride in
thinking we know more than others and refusing to see where we can improve, not making
amends where we can -- no matter who is wrong, an unforgiving heart and harboring ill
feelings, lack of charity toward all, etc.
One of my favorite stories is "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" because it
beautifully illustrates that you can take all the material things away and still Christmas
comes and the full Christmas spirit can be felt. I must wonder if the Christmas
spirit is stronger when we have less material things cluttering up the real meaning.
The truth is that we can have many material gifts and still not have Christmas but more of
just a gift exchange instead.
May you all have a very Merry Christmas and truly invite Christ into your