(To be entered into today’s daily giveaway & FREE tour drawing, Comment & Share your thoughts on Facebook or our blog of story below.)
Christmas at Our House
by: EMILY SMITH STEWART, (George Albert Smith’s daughter)
We believe in Christmas. To us, the George Albert Smith family, Christmas is one of the most blessed and precious days the year brings. We strive to make each Christmas as loving and living as our parents made them for us.
The first Christmas I remember was spent in the home of my great-grandfather, where the fireplace was so large that Santa Claus actually stepped out of the fireplace, where the Christmas tree was so tall that it touched the ceiling, and where the long banisters, slick and polished, let us ride two stories without getting off. I shall never forget the great crocks of spicy doughnuts and the shelves of fat mince pies in the pantry, nor the beds made all over the floors throughout the huge house where all of us slept, or tried to sleep, until Christmas morning. Even now I see the doll, with its real hair wig, that was mine this first remembered Christmas!
The next Christmas, I remember, we spent in the new house that Father and Mother had built for their family. This Christmas my best present was a new baby sister who had come since Thanksgiving, in time for Mother to be up and around by Christmas. This sister was my extra special gift and always will be because she is the only sister I have.
Preparations for Christmas at our home were always very special. Our plans were extensive and carefully laid, the money budgeted, the gifts painstakingly chosen. Father and Mother always insisted that whatever means we had to use for Christmas must be spread over a wide territory, for they planned that we should learn for ourselves that it’s always “more blessed to give than to receive.” We began with the wonderful box that Mother always prepared for the Relief Society and into which she put all of the goodies that we planned for ourselves, including mince pies and plum puddings with a wonderful buttery sauce. We assembled the contents of this Relief Society Christmas box for days. After everything was ready, it was loaded on the sled and dragged on top of the crisp, icy snow to the Relief Society room at the 17th Ward. Thus began our custom, one that was always Father’s, of providing Christmas for those persons that others forgot. He always considered the fact that where people were well remembered, they might well do without his remembering them in a substantial way, other than to extend his sincere good wishes, while gifts and fancy holiday foods should be taken to those too frequently overlooked.
Christmas Eve at our house began family festivities. We hung our stockings in front of the fireplace in the dining room. Father always hung a great, huge stocking, because he assured us that Santa never could get all the things he wanted in just a regular sock. And then, to add to the gaiety of the occasion, each year he brought his tall rubber boots up from the basement and stood one at either side of the fireplace in the dining room.
After stockings were hung, we spread a table for Santa Claus’ supper—a bowl of rich milk and bread and a generous wedge of mince pie. We wrote a note to encourage him on his way and then went to bed, but it seemed morning would never come. The length of Christmas Eve night and the shortness of Christmas day was something we could never understand.
No matter how excited we children were, we never were permitted to go downstairs until we were washed, combed, and fully dressed. Then we had morning prayers and sat down to breakfast, the worst breakfast of the year because it took so much time and seemed to hinder our getting to our stockings. Always there was something very unusual and very special down in the toe. First, we laughed and laughed over the things Santa Claus put in Father’s boots—coal and kindling and vegetables; and then we were offended because we thought Santa was not very kind to our father, who is always generous with everyone else. After this first experience with bootsful of jokes on Christmas, we bought something very special for Father the next year to make up for the slight Santa Claus had made.
After we had enjoyed our toys and gifts in the stockings, the folding doors into the parlor were pushed aside and we beheld our twinkling candlelit Christmas tree. Under the colorful, green tree were the packages for friends and the rest of the family. These were distributed and all had a very happy, festive time.
After our own mirth and merriment had partially subsided, Father always took us with him to make the rounds of the forgotten friends that he habitually visited on Christmas. I was a very little girl when I went with Father to see how the other half of the people lived. I remembered going down a long alley in the middle of a city block where there were some very poor houses. We opened the door of one tiny home and there on the bed lay an old woman, very sad and alone. As we came in, tears ran down her cheeks, and she reached over to take hold of Father’s hand as we gave her our little remembrances. “I am grateful to you for coming,” she said, “because if you hadn’t come I would have no Christmas at all. No one else has remembered me.” We thoroughly enjoyed this part of our day.
Christmas dinner was another high spot in our Christmas celebration. We always had very wonderful Christmas dinners, usually turkey dinners served on our beautiful blue-lace plates.
One Christmas that I shall never forget is the one when Father was very seriously ill. Expenses had been extremely high and it seemed that we were not going to be able to afford much of a Christmas. Mother longed to provide our usual happy Christmas, but she knew she could not do so and still pay the tithing due before the end of the year, and which had accumulated as a result of Father’s illness. She felt that her children were entitled, as are all children, to a happy Christmas. If she bought the usual gifts and dinner for them, however, she couldn’t possibly pay her tithing. If she paid her full tithing her children could have no Christmas. It was a difficult decision, but she finally decided that she must pay her tithing before she gave it further thought, as the desire to do something for her children might tempt her too greatly. Hurriedly, she put on her wraps and went to the bishop, where she paid her tithing in full.
On her way home her heart was very heavy. She was convinced that her children could have nothing for Christmas, and she dreaded our disappointment. She was walking through the snow, head down, when Mark Austin, her good neighbor, said, “Just a moment, Sister Smith. I have been thinking that your expenses have been exceedingly heavy during Brother Smith’s long illness, so I should like very much to have you take this little gift and buy yourself something very special for Christmas. I am sure you haven’t had anything for yourself in a long, long time.” Mother, choking with tears, tried to thank him. She took the check, folded it, and went home, her heart fairly pounding with joy and thanksgiving. When she entered the house and turned the light on, she found he had given her one hundred dollars, the exact amount that she had paid in tithing.
When that Christmas morning arrived, Mother said, “This is really your tithing Christmas, children,” and she told us the story as the day progressed. Bit by bit the blessing of tithing was thus deeply impressed upon us.
Since that tithing Christmas, we spent Christmases in many different lands. Some were spent in England, some in the United States, and others in many states within the United States. We had plentiful Christmases and meager Christmases, happy Christmases and Christmases that were not so joyous. Irrespective of what our personal sorrows may have been, Father always saw to it that those who needed Christmas, who were not of our particular family, were not forgotten. All of our holiday celebrations at Christmas time were motivated by the thought impressed upon us in early childhood: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In fact, not only Christmas, but every day of our father’s life stressed this philosophy, the practicing of which made a lifelong impression upon our minds. We believe in Christmas!
Challenge: Think of a new Bootsful of fun tradition to start this year in your family.
Taken from: A Story to Tell (Deseret Book Co., 1971).