|by Lynda Finn|
I grew up in a home where Christmas was a magical time of year. Stockings were hung by the fireplace and a glass of sherry and fruit cake were left out to keep Santa Claus warm through the long night. It was hard to sleep but we kids knew Santa would not visit if we stayed awake.
Nearly three decades later, I thought of all this as I lay, sleepless on Christmas Eve 1989, knowing that Santa Claus would not visit us this year.
My two sons, huddled together on a mattress in the corner of the dingy garage where we lived, expected no gifts and there was barely enough bread left to feed us. Most days I asked for leftovers at the back doors of cafes and shops as they were about to close. But there would be nothing now for the three days of the holiday, as all shops closed on Christmas Eve.
The boys had made glittery cards at school and we'd hung these on a small tree branch along with some bright 'stars' originally foil papers from sweeties given out in class.
Miserably, I brooded on our situation.
When everyone else was tucking into turkey and plum pudding, we'd have the remnants of stale, unsold sandwiches. When they were eagerly opening their presents, we would have nothing.
It was hard not to feel bleak, but I must have drifted off to sleep because suddenly I was roused by daylight and the youngest boy skipping 'round the garage singing "Deck the Halls" with such joy that it almost broke my heart.
"You know Mum," he said, as he ran over and snuggled beside me. "We're lucky. We're just like Jesus, he had to live in a sort of garage, didn't he?" I admitted that if they'd had cars rather than donkeys, the stable could well have been a garage.
He gave me a hug and wished me Happy Christmas and I realized that all over the world, people just like us, would be living through a Christmas where any food at all was a luxury.
Why had I compared our situation to those where money was abundant? What I had around me was opulence when measured against the lot of refugees, war victims, the millions of homeless across the world, the battered wives and frightened children.
My younger son began to sing, "Good Christian men rejoice..." and his brother joined in, clapping and marching 'round the iron shed, "...with heart and soul and voice..."
I got to my feet, laughing.
We three were together and healthy, and that alone was cause for great rejoicing. As I danced, I joined hands with all those people across the world for whom Christmas meant not turkey, pudding and luxury goods -- but the real gifts of gratitude and love.
As we sang our way through all the joyful carols we could remember, the foil stars on the tree winked merrily in the Christmas morning sunlight.
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