BENEATH THE CHRISTMAS TREE!  By Lori A Alicea

The Christmas of 1989 it was just the three of us.

Our first December holiday without the trimmings we were accustomed to and the relocation from the peaceful acreage of our country life to a noisy city apartment in a subsidized housing community would be quite the adjustment; yet we were thankful for the blessings of family and for Jesus, a baby born to us at Christmas.CANDY JAKE 007

A newly single woman and unemployed a few months prior could have dashed my hopes for a season merry and bright, but when you celebrate the gifts beneath the Christmas tree of your life, you recognize it’s been a joyous Christmas every day since they were born.CANDY JAKE 011

Christmas is a season of giving and the packages exchanged come wrapped as different as the sentiments from which they came.

Raising small children, I wanted them to catch the spirit of giving by putting a new song in their hearts for others, where the lyrics reminds them that as Jesus is God’s gift to us at Christmas, might our bountiful hearts overflow beneath the Christmas tree of neighbors or strangers; even if your mother is unemployed.XMAS GRANDS brooke playing piano

With the curtains drawn from the sliding glass doors of our living room, one could see into their neighbor’s home (and vice versa) when their curtains are opened for the day as ours.

Just a few steps between the back doors of our apartments, it was just the three of them also during this Christmas of 1989; a mother, a son and her baby girl.

Sadly on my part, our families hadn’t been introduced to each other and their story, those unread pages of a mother raising children on her own.

But living in a subsidized housing community is a giveaway that money might be tight at Christmas, so I encouraged my little elf’s to find their song of giving to this neighborhood family, and what we might be able to secretly place beneath their tree come Christmas morning.

There’s always something to give at Christmas; whether baked, made, sung, written or bought; even for a few dollars at the local discount store.

Down the road from our humble apartment and within a short distance on foot, we three took a holiday journey together through the snow covered walkways to Christmas town, pretending Santa had picked us up for a ride on his sleigh.XMAS Jake and Candy 2

Christmas shopping that afternoon was a bigger gift to us as we left our hopes beneath the Christmas tree to renew the hopes beneath theirs; as my daughter picked out a doll for a little girl, and my son a truck for the boy his age next door, remembering the single mom with a pink sweater for a cold winter’s day.CANDY JAKE 011

It was almost midnight that Christmas of 1989 when the lights finally went out from across the yard a few steps away.

Wanting my young son to experience the joy of giving, he stayed awake during the midnight hours with me, filled to the rim of our hearts with excitement, much like the Christmas bag of our wrapped gifts we were about to secretly leave at their back door while the family lay fast asleep.

Waking up that first Christmas morning as a family of three brought a deeper meaning for giving when we terribly longed the memories of Christmas’ past the beginning of December.

We could only imagine a little girl’s smile captured as her eyes noticed a doll beneath the Christmas tree waiting to be held and loved by her; the same joyous smile for the neighborhood boy and his mom.cova xmas

Nobody knew but us when Christmas came next door as a song from my children’s heart echoing one winter night in December.

God multiplied much from the little we had, when we three were willing to give it away.

One Christmas memory from 1989 is a greeting card I love to mail to our loved ones from time to time; as its inscription and message is timeless for every December 25th of our life.vintage-christmas-cards-for-family-and-kids

IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS By Lori A Alicea

With the Christmas holidays finally here, most of us have completed our shopping and gifts of all sizes and shapes have been wrapped and placed under the tree to honor our longstanding tradition and spirit of giving.

So many gifts have been purchased from wish lists, ideas, hunches, or desperate last minute resorts when a person is too difficult to buy for.

When the long-awaited mystery inside the wrapping paper is finally revealed, gifts have a way of sparking a range of our emotions.

From tears, screaming and jumping for joy for the gift idea that you nailed.

To the eye-roll and half-smile of the present you’re confident will be returned or re-gifted.

Or the recipient who laughs or stops mid-sentence in their remarks of their newly unwrapped gift, “Ohhhhh…you shouldn’t have”.
Translation….you shouldn’t have.

There are those gifts from an elderly grandparent or person of “limited means” you appreciate because it’s their thought that counts.

Sometimes though Christmas pauses with a moment you least expect, catching you and your heart unaware and off guard when you receive that present you first have to wonder about for a few minutes, then breathe out a bit of Christmas “awe” as you realize that what you hold isn’t the gift,

But the priceless THOUGHT is the GIFT.

This was Christmas for me years ago, but I remember the details like yesterday.

Gathered around the table after Thanksgiving dinner that year, my husband’s family and I rummaged the Black Friday newspaper ads for ideas to clip out and share between each other for our secret Christmas gift exchange.

All night long we laughed, passed newspaper pages around and clipped out three ideas for our personal wish list.

One idea out of character for me as I am not a “girly girl” who primps and pampers herself for hours, was this sweet manicure set complete with polishes and lotions that caught my attention. Prior to this gift exchange, I wasn’t one to paint my nails, but this adorable manicure set had me thinking that maybe I should start.

When the evening finally drew the curtains to a close at this family Thanksgiving dinner, with most members ready to share their wish lists with a secret Santa, decisions were made at the last minute to nix the gift exchange idea, citing no plausible reason than “just because”, maybe next year.

With my wish list in hand sighing one last time at the manicure set I could have easily bought for myself, crumpled and threw the paper of ideas into the trash, walking away never discussing my Christmas desire nor giving any thought of it the rest of the Christmas season.

While Christmas is a time of secret Santa gift exchanges in many relational circles, Christmas is also a sentimental time to remember your neighbors.

On our country rural street of 350 North where we lived at the time, there were only five houses with five mailboxes at the end of each our neighbors two acre plot of land. Old wooden fences divided most of our properties, and neighbors talked to each other from time to time at the fence, getting to know one another in small talk.

Old man Chester lived with his wife on the east side of our property, and widowed Betty on the west. In our twenty year stay living on 350 North, we became close friends with Betty who took an interest in our blended family and collie.  Chester on the other hand, we occasionally waved to while mowing the grass, plowing the snow, or drinking coffee outside on a sunny day.  We learned of him through his habits and ways, as neighbors usually do living so close in proximity to one another.

This particular Christmas something seemed “off” at Chester’s house. His driveway hadn’t been plowed for weeks.  Newspapers piled up on the front porch.  We rarely saw an evening light burning through Chester’s windows.  We hadn’t seen any sighting of Chester or his wife during the month of December that year.  So, with a tin of homemade Christmas cookies and a worried look, my husband David walked over to Chester’s front door in neighborly concern and softly knocked.  Not expecting an answer with the windows completely dark, David still knocked a few times and to his surprise, a weary neighbor greeted my husband and opened his home for a Christmas visit.

For over an hour, I waited anxiously for my husband’s return. Off and on while busy making cookies, I looked up at our two-acre driveway through the kitchen window for a sighting of my husband David.  Finally, catching a glimpse of him in the moonlit night walking back down the driveway and into the house, he somberly took a seat at the dinner table where I joined him.

Re-telling his visit with Chester, my heart broke to learn that our neighbor had been holding a faithful vigil near his dying wife’s hospital bed these last December weeks, who sadly entered into eternity a few days prior, leaving behind her grieving husband of over fifty years.

Receiving news like this the “lists of Christmas” begin to pale in its relevance; the baking, the shopping, the caroling, the tree lighting, etc. are irrelevant when someone loses a loved one. In the hurt of someone else’s deep wounds and pain, Christmas could do all of us a favor and exit early until another December next year.

But to my surprise, Chester’s sorrow hadn’t quenched his spirit of giving, and sent an unexpected Christmas present home to me, a neighbor he mostly knew in passing.  Taken from the hospital box of his wife’s belongings that still sat on the living room floor when he first arrived home without her, Chester reached inside and handed David a small tin that bore the name of the hospital where Chester’s wife had lived her remaining weeks.
this one 1A small hospital gift to his wife was now a gift to me. Removing the top portion of the tin, it revealed an early desire of my Christmas heart I had forgotten about but God hadn’t; a manicure nail set, albeit miniature.
this oneAt first glance, Chester overwhelmed me when during the darkest hours of his life; he was emotionally willing and able to think of somebody other than himself, by giving me a gift that embodies the sentiment:

“It’s the thought that counts.”

Moments later, God overwhelms my heart realizing when no one knew about this gift but Him, God reveals Himself in a hospital manicure set meant for somebody else, yet through a grieving man, prompted the spirit of giving to me.

So often at Christmas we look for the biggest present, or the most expensive, even the prettiest, wrapped gift under the tree.

Sometimes at Christmas, the best gifts are the least expected.

When I least expected, a gift of a different kind was waiting for me under my Christmas tree so many years ago.

What I had forgotten my Heavenly Father remembered.

The Father who knows every detail of my life that …the very hairs of your head are numbered… Luke 12:17 NIV

He Remembered.  

The Father’s THOUGHT of me that Christmas was His GIFT.