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December 25, 2019

The Christmas of ’51

by Anne Paddock

Several years ago, I posted a story about the Christmas holidays and the Christmas of 1951, when my husband was 4 years old. It’s a story worth reposting because its message conveys the real meaning of the holidays:  being with the ones you love.

In my husband’s family, the Christmas of 1951 was a very special holiday that is fondly talked about every year.  My father-in-law was teaching at Penn State while my mother-in-law was taking care of her two young children: a four-year old (my husband) and a 1-year old (my sister-in-law).  A few weeks before Christmas, the bank made a mistake and put a deposit in their account but by the time the mistake was caught, part of the money was already spent and my in-laws had to pay the money back which meant there wouldn’t be much money for Christmas. They decided to forgo the Christmas tree and spend what little money they had on presents for their young children.

A couple of days before Christmas, my then 4-year old husband was playing outside. Up the street and at the curb in front of a fraternity house was a Christmas tree that had been thrown away when the residents left for the holidays.  He dragged the tree home because he knew his parents couldn’t afford to buy a tree that year. Taken aback by his resourcefulness, his parents put that half dead tree up in their family room and by all accounts, it was perfect in their eyes except that it was missing a topper.

My in-laws had not bought a present for each other because money was scarce so they went downtown and bought an angel to top their tree and that was their present to each other the Christmas of ’51. They had 56 more Christmas days together and every year, that same angel was on the top of their tree to remind them of that special Christmas when all they really had was each other and that was enough.

Looking back, I learned something very important from my husband’s family. The celebration wasn’t about the tree, lights or presents; Christmas was about being together, telling stories and laughing – something his family was very good at even when they had their differences. In the years since, my father-in-law would lift his wine glass and as his voice cracked he gave thanks for all of us being together to share the day;  and, that is what Christmas is all about:  being with the ones you love.  Merry Christmas.

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