Joy from Sarah Sundin
"A Stack of Joy"
Two little girls under the tree, sitting back-to-back, opening identically wrapped gifts at a measured pace.
My sister, Martha, is only fifteen months younger than I, so we often received the same gifts in different colors. We’d sit back-to-back so each of us could have the same splendid moment of surprise when the red-and-green Santa paper fell away.
Christmas was a small and quiet affair in our household, but always joyous and loving. The four of us lived in Southern California, while all the grandparents and aunts and uncles lived back east. Airfare was pricey in the 1970s, so we didn’t go visiting, nor did we receive visitors. I did have moments of jealousy over my friends’ giant loud family get-togethers with dozens of relatives, but our subdued holiday appealed to me.
I loved Christmas more than anything—the exquisite anticipation, Santa’s house at the mall, the church pageant, the carols, and the gigantic Christmas tree formed with lights on top of the Savings and Loan. The crèche set up with great care, each delicate piece placed just so, with Baby Jesus at the center. The little white plastic church on the coffee table that lit up from the inside and played “Silent Night” when you turned the key. The sheer wonder of the season.
Like all families, we had unique traditions. Purchasing a tree required visiting every lot in town—often twice—or so it seemed to me. My father would always wait until Christmas Eve to do his shopping, and yet he always, always found a parking spot directly in front of the Broadway department store. And almost every year, the family waited for me to finish writing my birthday thank-you notes before the Christmas gifts could be opened. Whoops.
We unwrapped our family gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve, a German tradition from my father’s side, and then we opened “Santa gifts” on Christmas morning. My friends in school were jealous that we had “two” Christmases.
Although we’d opened the bulk of the gifts the night before, my sister and I couldn’t wait to see what Santa had brought us in the morning. We weren’t allowed to go into the living room until our parents were awake, but they took so infernally long to wake up! My memory is rather vague on this matter, but I’m sure two giggling, excited, bouncing little girls were a bit on the obnoxious side, especially with our house’s creaky hardwood floors. Considering a new Christmas tradition my mother implemented . . . I gather we interfered with our parents’ sleep.
One Christmas morning, I tiptoed out of my room, probably to go giggle with my sister—or to wake our parents—and stopped dead in my tracks.
On the floor in the hallway, perfectly spaced between my sister’s room and mine, sat a stack of books!
I fell to my knees, overcome by joy. There had to be a dozen novels, none of which I’d ever read, and each title sounded more enticing. I can’t remember if I woke Martha or if I selfishly retreated to my room and let her make the discovery on her own, but I do remember spending the next several hours holed up in my room, and I do remember my parents having to cajole the two of us out of our rooms to open our stockings. “Just one more chapter,” we begged.
Yes, we were (and still are) readers. Yes, we were on the nerdy side. But my mother wisely used that to her advantage.
As an active member of the PTA, my mother volunteered in the PTA’s thrift store. This is where she bought the books—for next to nothing—and bought herself the priceless gift of sleeping in.
From then on, one of the biggest delights of Christmas morning was waking early to see what lovely stories awaited us in the hallway. Martha and I plowed through the books, getting swept away into characters’ adventures and exploring new places and time periods, while my parents slept in bliss. The stack of books also eliminated the Christmas afternoon letdown. While the new outfits and toys had already lost some luster, we still had books to enjoy!
Such a simple, clever, and inexpensive idea. And yet it produced the great Christmas gifts of wonder, peace, and joy.
You can find her at http://www.sarahsundin.com
Purchase her book On Distant Shores HERE
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