Written by Deb Angerman
When my sisters and I were little, our household was not always a happy or peaceful home. Anyone who has grown up in the shadow of alcoholism will understand exactly what I mean. We spent a lot of time and emotional energy tiptoeing around our volatile stepdad, knowing that any day could turn ugly on a dime. We were six, three and one when our mom remarried, and as the eldest I was very protective of my sisters. We formed a tight bond, clearly understanding at a very young age that together we could weather any storm. We moved to the house where we spent the remainder of our childhood when I was eight, and it proved to be our saving grace. An old cape cod-style home built in the 1940s, it had secret passages through the attic dormers and a shared closet where we created a clandestine room in the back, deep behind our clothes. We girls had the entire upstairs to ourselves. Mom and dad lived downstairs. The upstairs was our sanctuary, our place away from the world downstairs, and for the most part neither of our parents ever came upstairs. No matter what might be brewing downstairs, we could while away the hours in our land of make-believe, under the cover of intricate blanket forts, secret passages, pirate ships, castles and music studios.
Christmas was always the best part of the year. As was the habit of many families in the 1970s, we never put up our family tree until Christmas eve, but we girls had our own special tree that we could put up Thanksgiving weekend and leave up all season long. We had our own colored lights, and our own ornaments – some of them even store bought! Every year we set the little tree up and decorated it by ourselves at the top of the stairs in a little alcove of the hallway between my sisters’ rooms and mine. Our favorite thing to do was sit under the little tree, bathed in the glow of the mini-lights, and reminisce about good times. Sometimes at night, we would just gather at the tree and sit quietly, looking at all the ornaments and small wrapped gifts, just enjoying this thing that belonged only to us.
Like many families, we were not allowed to open any “real” presents until Christmas morning, but that rule was down at the “big” tree. We girls started our own tradition of sharing one gift with each other on Christmas eve, just before going to bed. I can’t express how much magic there was in that moment, year after year. No matter what might be brewing downstairs, we girls existed on our own Christmas island – misfit toys and all! We’d turn off all the lights except the tree and share the special gifts we’d gotten or made for each other. Sometimes we might play Christmas music quietly on an old tape player or even sing a carol together. And then we’d sneak off to bed before our parents discovered we weren’t already in them, and await Santa. Today, even though we are all on the other side of fifty and live hours apart, we still get each other one special Christmas Eve gift in honor of those fiercely independent little girls who refused to let the world break our Christmas magic.
Today, the memory of those three little girls, sitting under their special tree, brings to mind Christ’s words to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27). That magical respite came each year because Jesus shared himself with the world. The peace we found sitting under our magical little tree, was the peace of Christ – even if we were too young to understand it at the time. I am grateful for the love and acceptance and joy that was renewed year after year in our radical little act of sharing one gift with each other. For me, that will always be the truth of Christmas: You are loved. You are accepted. You are welcomed in the circle of Christ’s light. And in that truth, I will always find joy.
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