Giving Christmas

It was Christmas Eve. I was in a hurry, trying to finish my work early and prepare for the evening with my family and friends, when the phone rang. I answered impatiently, “Yes, hello?”

“Merry Christmas, Lilia!” the voice on the other end cheerfully exclaimed in accented English.

“Cecilia?” I asked. “Merry Christmas! How are you?” After the usual greetings and small talk, Cecilia explained that she was on night duty at the hospital where we’d first met. As the senior midwife and a single woman, the lot had fallen on her to take the night shift this Christmas. Normally, she traveled south to spend Christmas with her family and attend Mass in the small village she comes from, and she sounded dejected and disappointed.

As a natural childbirth coach, I befriended Cecilia while assisting during a delivery. I stayed in touch and visited her at times, and we’d become friends.

Cecilia had never married but had raised the children of her younger brother who had been killed in a car accident about twenty years earlier. When the children moved out, Cecilia was left to live alone.

I felt a tug on my heart to tell her I’d come and see her that night. She sounded pleasantly surprised and even excited, but told me not to worry if I couldn’t make it. After all, it was Christmas Eve and I should spend this special time with my family, she said.

Everyone arrived and I temporarily forgot about Cecilia as we enjoyed each other’s company, sang Christmas carols, sipped hot chocolate, and enjoyed homemade Christmas cookies. It was close to midnight when something jolted my memory about my promise to Cecilia. The Christmas carol we’d just sung, “He Only Left Heaven for Love That Night,” made me feel ashamed for not putting more priority on leaving my little bit of heaven to cheer up a lonely soul.

I quickly filled a thermos with hot chocolate, wrapped some of the cookies in a red Christmas napkin, and prepared a homemade card with a message of love and appreciation for Cecilia’s faithful care of all the women who give birth at her hospital. I grabbed a decorative Christmas candle to give as a gift and a box of matches to light it with and left shortly before midnight.

The hospital was quiet and nearly deserted, the nursing station for the delivery ward dark. No deliveries tonight, I thought. I wonder if she’s already asleep. I quietly knocked on the door.

“Who is it?”

“Cecilia, it’s me, Lilia!” After a few moments of silence, the side door to the nursing station burst open and Cecilia rushed out with open arms, her face beaming. Embracing me, she exclaimed with tears, “I knew you’d come! I knew it!” I fought back my own tears and silently thanked God that I’d heeded His nudge to visit her.

“Cecilia,” I said, “I brought some hot chocolate. Let’s celebrate Christmas together!”

“I’ll get some cups,” she said as she hurried off. When she returned, the look of joy and gratitude on her face was all I needed to confirm how lonely she’d felt that night.

We sat together, sipping hot chocolate and enjoying the Christmas cookies. We talked, laughed, and even attempted to sing a Christmas carol together. Cecilia exclaimed again and again that she would never forget this Christmas, and that it was the best one she’d ever had.

Before leaving, I asked if I could pray for her. I had hardly finished when she in turn poured out her heart in thanks to Him. On and on she prayed, while a tear ran down her cheek. It was clear that this little bit of love and concern had gone a long, long way.

* * *

At Christmas, and every other day of the year, all of us within whom the Spirit of God dwells are in a sense an extension of God in our community—to our friends and neighbors, our coworkers, the people who serve us in shops and restaurants, and strangers He brings across our paths. The love we show through our interactions with others, the words we speak and actions we take, the kindness and generosity we show, the helping hand we offer, reflect the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Others can sense something uncommon and special in us, and when we explain that God is with us and can be with them as well, we help to fulfill the ultimate reason of Christmas.—Peter Amsterdam

Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values.—Thomas Monson (b. 1927)