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.
For 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.
HAVE YOU LEARNED ANY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS LESSONS?