I hesitate to admit how old I was when I discovered the Santa Claus reality. After all, he had visited our ward in Vale, Oregon for years and seemed pretty genuine to me! During the evening of our ward party we received “authentic” reports about how close Santa was getting to our town until we children were whipped into a frenzy of anticipation. As my mother energetically played “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” everyone fairly shouted the song out, knowing from years past that he was about to burst through the door shaking his sleigh bells enthusiastically! The routine never varied and was a favorite part of our Christmas celebration. Santa was indeed jolly, and had his ho-ho-ho down to perfection as he led us in singing several upbeat Christmas songs, called many of us by name, and presented us with a little bag of treats. Truly it was magical!
On one of these nights when I was about eleven, I was sitting on the front row as Santa danced and sang and enchanted us children. As I watched his feet I noticed that he wore shoes exactly like my father’s shoes, right down to the scuff mark on the toe. I turned to tell Daddy about this coincidence but he was not sitting behind me as he had been earlier. I felt an unmistakable pang of doubt in my heart, but refused to give place to it. Later at home, I noticed that Daddy’s cheeks were much rosier than usual. . . I didn’t tell my parents that I knew because I wasn’t even ready to admit it to myself yet.
Mother’s Enthusiasm for Christmas
Every year during the month of December my mother’s excitement was palpable. She loved this season! We children knew our parents had little money—farmers struggled to make a living back then—so we asked for little. But Mother always managed to discover our heart’s desires, and find a way to provide special Christmas gifts for us. Looking back now, as an adult, I don’t know how she managed.
It would be hard to pick a favorite Christmas memory since they were all so nice, but one Christmas definitely stays strong in my memory. Mother loved dolls, sewing doll clothes, and fixing their hair, etc. Each year my sister Ann and I received dolls with very nice clothes that Mother had sewn herself. Ann loved hers! I thought they were nice but never spent much time playing with them. One December when I was nine, Mother said, “Jani, what would you really like for Christmas? I don’t think it is dolls, is it?” I looked at her tentatively, not wanting to hurt her feelings, and said nothing. She said, “I really want to know, please tell me.” I didn’t want her to be disappointed that she had a tomboy for a daughter, but eventually I blurted out the answer: “I would like a cowgirl outfit with a holster and gun and a football!” She laughed and hugged me. I still love to look at a picture we took that Christmas Day which shows me in my full cowgirl outfit, beaming, with a football tucked under my arm.
A BYU Christmas
The Christmases of my teenage years passed very happily and I found myself studying music at Brigham Young University. The fall quarter of my sophomore year had ended, and I was most anxious to return home to Oregon to be with my family at Christmas time. I had been dating a man who knew of my love for poetry, and he gave me a present of a huge anthology of the kind of poetry he knew I loved. He was upstairs in my dorm giving me the present when my roommate Delma whispered in my ear that Douglas Perry was downstairs wanting to say goodbye as he was leaving for Chicago for the holidays. I convinced Delma to entertain Don, and excused myself for a few minutes.
Doug and I had only been dating for a short time, but we both had felt a healthy spark of romance developing! He had a little present for me—a tiny book called The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. In the front he had written, “Jani, May the careful, thoughtful perusal of these pages ever deepen your love of beauty and your understanding of life. May your eyes ever see the glow of the after-light on the autumn leaves when the sun returns home. May you ever enjoy the colt frisking in the tall grass. May you know the love and happiness of true friends. May I be one, Doug.” Oh, I thought that was so poetic, beautiful and romantic! We hugged and said goodbye and neither one of us felt quite so excited about leaving for Oregon and Illinois for Christmas!
Later that night in my dorm bedroom, Delma said, “Well, it’s not hard to see which one you love—you threw the big anthology of poetry book on your bed and haven’t looked at it since. You’ve been carrying around that tiny book all day, reading little parts of it and sighing!” I have read and reread that little book during the fifty plus years Doug and I have been married, still recalling the feelings of the day when I first received it.
Christmas with Our Own Family
We have enjoyed so many wonderful Christmases with our own children. They all blend together into one happy whole for me when I remember the Christmases when they were little children. Later, a favorite Christmas tradition for me was placing a picture of our current missionary atop the Christmas tree as Steve served in Belgium, Robb in Korea, Lynne in Washington D.C. and John in Argentina. The tradition was generally accompanied by a few tears for missing them but abundant joy that they were willing and able to serve.
Christmas feelings and festivities were in full swing all around us as we returned home the next day. Friends came to offer sympathy and support. But I felt as if I were observing things from a distance. Perhaps for the first time I experienced Christmas as I’m sure it was meant to be, caring nothing for the commercial aspects of the season, but feeling a deep and abiding appreciation for my children, my husband, and the gifts of the Spirit. I wanted only to bask in the new insights this event had stirred in me. Just as one baby’s coming had changed the course of the world, our baby’s coming had changed us in a very real way.