The Christmas I Regret

Posted by: Shel 22 Comments

We were in the forbidden territory of my parent’s room. Where else would we be on a Friday night – bowling night – so close to Christmas? My brother was standing on a chair, rooting around the shelf in my father’s closet. He found another Christmas present with my name on it! He handed it down to me and I was disappointed by how small it was. Clearly not a game. I carefully untaped one end – no way Mom wouldn’t notice ripped paper. Unfolding the opened end, I slid two fingers in to separate the paper enough to peek in. I gasped! The silver rosary case! I could tell by the weight that the beloved silver rosary was still tucked into its round metal box.

Silver rosaryFor years the miniature case with the raised Lady of Fatima, arms outstretched, lay idle in the top drawer of Mom’s dresser. Every once in a while, when given permission, I’d be in that room talking to my mother and she would let me look at it. I would carefully open the hinged lid and slowly lift out the dulled silver rosary, admiring the beads, the cross, the medal. I was awed by its holiness. When our chat was over, so was my precious visit with the rosary. And back into the drawer it went.

And now it was mine! At least it would be as soon as Christmas morning got here. My brother was urging me to give it back so we could finish. Regretfully, I refolded the paper, making sure to secure the tape in the exact spot it had been. I handed it up to him, ignoring his ramblings about whatever he had just discovered in a package with his name on it. I didn’t even care that there was another package for me that looked like it was the Mystery Date Game I’d been hoping for. That was anti-climatic after after receiving – well, almost receiving – the fabulous silver rosary.  I danced out of the room in my red-plaid flannel gown. This would be the best Christmas ever!

Except it wasn’t. Soon after the snoop, I started feeling guilty. I had ruined my mother’s surprise. I had cheated her out of seeing the delight I expressed the moment I discovered the special gift. I had cheated myself out of having that moment with her. Suddenly, I understood Christmas. The love, the relationships, the authentic giving. Shame made my cheeks feel hot.

With a heavy feeling and churning stomach, I waited my turn to open a gift on Christmas morning. The little package was on top of my pile. All eyes were on me. I mustered up some fake enthusiasm and ripped the paper off. I think I did a good job pulling off the right amount of zeal to let my mom know how special it was to receive it. But I felt like a hypocrite before I had the vocabulary to describe the feeling. And I had a lot of trouble meeting my mother’s eyes  – she was pretty good about spotting lies.

That is the first memory that comes to mind when asked about my childhood Christmases – in spite of many years of wonderful memories. Decades later I feel the warmth of shame at the remembrance. I would love to have a do-over on that. But then I would  not have learned that valuable Christmas lesson.



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  • This makes my heart hurt that you still feel guilty after all these years!

    • Shel Harrington

      Don’t waste sad on me – it’s the kind of guilt that reminds one of all the amazing blessings – including a timely wake-up call! Merry Christmas, Brandi!

  • Cindy

    In the fall of 1955 my mother started sewing after the kids went to bed…no sign of her work the next day. I searched at every opportunity and found a beautiful Madame Alexander doll with a wardrobe that grew every time I checked the hiding place. I looked in on her on her as often as I could and knew she was for Christmas. Still the sight of her in her satin and pearls wedding dress under the tree almost took my breath away, and I did not have to do much to fake the surprise although I worried that Mother “knew”. However, it was my mother that gave me the last surprise even after her death. I used part of my inheritance from her to take the doll and her extensive wardrobe (now loved and played with by three generations) to Houston to a Madame Alexander doll hospital and spa to be restored. The “doll lady” kept looking for labels in her clothes. I explained to her that my mother had made the clothes not purchased them. Then she explained to me that that doll had a line of clothing by a famous Paris designer commissioned by the company for sale at a VERY expensive price. My mother had obviously gotten the catalogue and copied every outfit…down to even the fur coat and delicate undergarments. The clothing had fooled even the expert who commented that the workmanship was better on my set than on the ones from Paris. More than a half century after the fact, my mother was still able to surprise me with a Christmas gift. Moral of the story: don’t regret what you did as an innocent child…Mothers’ love always molds the the final outcome.

    • I have enjoyed everyone’s story in response to your Christmas regret. My only memory of “snooping” before Christmas was the year that i searched the house while my parents were out to discover if they were really Santa Claus-. I was looking for the red suit and boots. When I didn’t find the outfit I rested easier knowing that Santa was real.

      • Shel Harrington

        Too funny, Lisa! I don’t know about you, but even when we figured out the whole Santa/parent connection, we kept our mouths shut lest lack-of-belief translated to lack-of-Santa-goodies!

    • Shel Harrington

      Great story AND great moral, Cindy! One of the neatest things about the amazing gift you received is that two more generations got use it and obviously treated it with the same love you had for it. I can only imagine how expensive doll clothes would be for a doll that had its own hospital and spa!!

  • haven’t we all done that? lol…

    • Shel Harrington

      I figured the peeking was pretty common, Lin, but do I have company with the actual unwrapping and re-wrap bit?

  • My sisters and I did something similar one year and then there was no surprise on Christmas. It took all the fun out of it, but we learned never to snoop again!

    • Shel Harrington

      Same here, Peggy – never peeked again. I don’t even take the bait when someone’s trying to give me a hint of surprise for me – I just don’t want to know prior the the giver’s chosen timing.

  • Laura Bentley

    Well said again……..I enjoy knowing you more each time you write. This reminds me of other situations in life where people want something before it is theirs to have and it is fun for the moment, but it could have been so much better if they had only waited.

    • Shel Harrington

      I agree, Laura – my Christmas would have been magical that year had I waited as I was intended to do instead of being guilt-wracked!

  • Have to admit I was party to some of the forays Shel describes here, but I didn’t know this particular story of hers. My mom was pretty savvy about the gifts. It wasn’t unusual for her to swap names on our packages until the big reveal. There was more than one occasion when we told each other about a gift we’d found for the other — and it turned out to be ours! 🙂

    Good share, Shel. Powerful lesson.

    • Shel Harrington

      And then, of course, because our frugal mother reused wrapping paper, a gift could have innocently been mislabeled with the name of the recipient who received something wrapped in it last year!

  • Thanks for sharing this Christmas memory, Shel. Did your mother ever find out? Do you still have the rosary?

    • Shel Harrington

      I don’t know if my mother found out because she probably wouldn’t have let on if she did – she’d just get more crafty about hiding things! I thoughtI still had it – until I looked for it to take a picture for this post. I didn’t find it, but I found a lot of other cool stuff in the cubbyholes I checked – things I hadn’t seen in years. It felt like a mini-Christmas! I don’t remember giving the rosary set away, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out (be reminded) that I had passed it on to a special niece or family friend for her First Communion or Confirmation.

  • Kristel

    Great story Shel. Christmas has just gotten so crazy that we forget what really matters. Thanks for sharing. I did something similar, but I was not near a sly as you guys. I got caught and my mom almost didn’t let me have my UNO card game. I learned my lesson though and never did that again! Lol As a parent I realize that I was ruining my parents enjoyment on Christmas morning. What we don’t know as kids is that our parents work so hard to give us a nice Christmas and just want to see our eyes light up on Christmas when presents are opened.

    • Shel Harrington

      I so agree, Kristel – as a kid sometimes the focus is more on what we didn’t get than what we did. And it takes years to really appreciate the efforts our parents made. I guess that’s why we sometimes hear the expression “Youth is wasted on the young.” I hope you have a wonderful Christmas – full of UNO games and love!

  • Last year, 2 days before Christmas, my husband walked out of our bedroom, carrying a suitcase and told me he was moving out. We had been struggling for a couple of years, and floundering since June, but I didn’t see this coming. My heart shattered and I wondered if I would survive the pain! Suddenly none of the stuff, decorations, foods, sweets, and gifts, none of it mattered. The only thing I wanted for Christmas was my family, my marriage, back! He hadn’t anticipated the depth of hurt that his action would cause and he came home before New Years. We’re still working on us … One day at a time. But that was the Christmas when I fully understood that the best gifts are not the ones under the tree!

    • Shel Harrington

      Oh, Beth – what a terrible way to learn! You and your family will be in my prayers during this special season. Thank you so much for sharing your personal story – I can only imagine how difficult it may be to do so. May your holidays be especially blessed this year!

  • Hard lessons are often humiliating and shameful and remembered the rest of our lives. From my ripe old age I can say those difficult times taught me imperative lessons I would have learned no other way. Thank you for your transparency.


    • Shel Harrington

      You’re so right, DiAne – we like to think we’re smart enough to get it by hearing about other’s humiliation and making better choices than they did – but those lessons don’t stick with us nearly as long as our own through-the-fire walks!

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