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When My Christmas Changed. By Aarean Jergensen

By Aarean Jergensen
Jesus with a child on his lap

Huddled together like little squirrels in a tree hole, my four sisters and I would lie squished together on my twin bed. We could hardly contain our excitement for the heavily anticipated Christmas morning. It was like clockwork: my oldest and youngest sisters would always fade first, and then not too far after, the other two would fall into the same trap. But not I. I was determined to stay up to meet Santa, and every year I failed. Sleep was always the victor.

Of course, as my heavy eyes awoke from my winter’s nap, I’d shoot up and bolt down the stairs. I knew I would have to wait for everyone to wake up—it was taboo to start opening anything without everyone present. My parents would always be the last to make it down the stairs. I never could understand why. How were they so tired every Christmas morning? Well, now that I am a mother, I have realized just how tiring the holidays can be. But it’s the greatest kind of tired. It’s the kind that you just prepare yourself for, knowing that excitement and joy will take the place of the late-night prep.

Well, on this particular Christmas morning almost 19 years ago, things were a little different. As I rushed to see what Santa had brought, I found a room full of nothing. No presents. No stockings. No colorful wrapping paper and candy canes. I stopped dead in my tracks, confused and dazed as if perhaps I had mistaken what day it was.

Just then, my parents came down the stairs with smiles on their faces. I was not smiling. I was completely and utterly devastated. How could Santa forget about us? All my sisters slowly made it into the family room, where we normally would be ripping open gifts and screaming for joy. But instead of boxes flying and little girls squealing, there was silence. Our parents sat us down and told us that instead of opening presents that morning, we were going to go help feed the homeless. You can imagine our reaction. Our confusion and sadness was almost tangible.

This was more then my little 11-year-old heart could bear. “How could my parents be so selfish and cruel?” I thought as I looked around at the empty room. In my last moment of desperation, I told them that maybe Santa put our gifts in a different place. Maybe he accidentally put them in the garage or the attic. That is when my dad looked at me and said in a tone so sincere that I remember it to this day, “Today is about more than just gifts, Aarean. It’s about so much more.”

We piled into the car and drove to the shelter. Not a word was said the whole drive down. All five of us children slowly walked into this brown and white cafeteria that smelled just like how you imagine a cafeteria to smell. People were lined up, plates in hand. My job was to stand by the tree and hand out gifts. So I made my way over and awkwardly stood there, not knowing what to do, feeling very uncomfortable and out of place. Children were lined up all the way around the room waiting for their small trinket.

I sat there watching these kids, some of whom were older than me at the time, wondering why they were so happy and excited about this one gift. They didn’t even know what it was. What if it wasn’t something they wanted? Now looking back, I’m embarrassed these thoughts even crossed my naïve, clueless young mind.

At the end of the line there was this little girl, wearing tattered Disney princess tennis shoes with purple socks and an old flannel nightgown that hung heavily on her tiny frame. I smiled at her and handed her a present with a little red bow on it. She moved her hair out of her eyes and reached out to hold it and gasped, “Oh, a red bow! Oh my. Last year they ran out of presents and so I was praying I got one this year with a bow on it! Thank you so much!” She looked up at me with her big brown eyes and wandered off. I felt tears in my eyes. I felt my heart pounding and my body warm.

I looked around and felt so ashamed for the feelings I had had. Those feelings of bitterness, anger, and resentment turned into feelings of complete gratitude and love. And each year after that on Christmas Day, we would help feed those who didn’t have much but the clothes on their back.

It became something we looked forward to and wanted to do. It became the reason for the season—and one that I am so grateful my parents instilled in me. That experience alone helped me grasp the reality of what this life is truly about. How blessed we are to have the opportunity to serve and love those around us, especially during such a special time of year.

I pray that we all find ways to do just this in celebration of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—that we make it a goal to help those around us through simple acts of service. I know how much performing those acts can change a person’s life. It surely changed mine.

Aarean Jergensen blogs at ColorIssue.blogspot.com.