Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Child Finds Christmas in "Arizona Christmas"

Christmas is only a few days away.  Peter and I are in Cleveland, Ohio, with our son and his family.  It's cold, but I'm enjoying the white landscape, as I grew up with white Christmases and always love to see snow this time of year.  With that in mind, I'm sharing this children's Christmas story that I wrote many years ago.  It was published in a church magazine and later in an anthology of Christmas stories for children. 

"Arizona Christmas" was inspired by my love of white Christmases, my first visit to Tucson, Arizona, and the beautiful white mission church there—the Mission San Xavier del Bac.  Maybe you can share my story with your own child or grandchild.



     Kristi’s brown eyes glared at the blue sky outside. The radio announcer had just given the temperature: 80 degrees. Now he continued, “While we enjoy beautiful weather this Christmas Eve here in Desert Springs, Arizona, the East is preparing for a big snowstorm.  At least eight inches are expected by midnight in most of New England and . . .”
     Kristi didn’t wait to hear the rest. Eyes filled with tears, she turned off the radio and flung herself on her bed. How she hated it here! It was bad enough they had to move, but to do it right before Christmas just wasn’t fair.
     She closed her eyes and pretended she was in the white colonial house near Boston where she had spent the eleven years of her life. Maybe when I open my eyes, this will all be a bad dream, she thought. But when her younger brother Jeff burst into the room, she opened her eyes to sunshine instead of snow, Arizona instead of New England.
     “Come on outside,” Jeff said. “Dad’s bought some lights to put on the house. He says this is the first year he doesn’t have to worry about freezing his hands off. Then we’re going to string some around the big saguaro cactus on the front lawn.”
     “What lawn?” Kristi asked. “There’s no grass around here. Just brown earth with a few clumps of cactus. Big deal!”
     Jeff looked disgusted. “You know what I mean,” he said. “Besides, I think the cactus garden is nice. Dad says a lot of them flower in the spring. You can stay here if you want to. I just came in because Dad suggested it.”
     On his way out, he flung over his shoulder, “I don’t know why he cares about you anyway. All you’re doing is ruining everybody’s Christmas.”
     No, I’m not, thought Kristi. Mom and dad ruined it when they decided to move. Still, Jeff’s worlds hung in the air, and Kristi wondered if maybe she was being unfair.
     Her parents had tried to explain the move to her, tried to make her understand. Dad had been very unhappy with his selling job. Here he was in research, something he had always wanted to do.
     “Of course, it’s going to be hard on all of us for a while,” her mother had said. “But the important thing is that we’ll all be together.”
     The smell of molasses cookies and the sound of Christmas carols drifted through the doorway. For as long as Kristi could remember, she and Jeff and mom had always baked molasses cookies the afternoon before Christmas, just as mom had always done with grandma and Aunt Betty when she was a girl. She felt bad leaving mom to do it alone. Maybe she would help. Then the radio in the kitchen began playing “Winter Wonderland.” Kristi was reminded of the snow at home and the desert outside. Instead of joining her mother, she shut the bedroom door.
     Through the open window, she saw Jeff and her father putting the last of the lights on the saguaro cactus. Its thick, prickly arms were laced with wires.
     “Turn on the lights, dad,” yelled Jeff. The sun was shining so brightly Kristi couldn’t see that it made any difference whether they were on or not.
    “How does it look?” her father called, seeing her face at the window. 
    “It looks dumb,” Kristi answered, “just like everything else around here.”
     No one came near her until it was time for supper. Then, while she ate in stony silence, her parents and Jeff talked about the Christmas Eve service they were going to in a little while.
     “This is the only night of the year when the church is lit entirely with candles,” her mother said. 
     “The Michaelsons next door told us that people come from all over, even if they don’t belong to the church,” added her father.
     Dusk was slowly approaching when they left the house. By the time they reached the church, its white stone wall glowed pink in the sun’s last rays.
     Inside, it was almost dark. A few men were quietly lighting candles in the wrought-iron chandeliers hanging over the altar. They threw light on a simple wooden crèche in a garden of red poinsettias.
     Kristi’s parents stood uncertainly in the back of the church. Then they saw the Michaelsons waving them over. “Merry Christmas,” all the adults said to each other, shaking hands. Jeff and the two Michaelson boys nodded shyly at each other. Kristi pretended she was invisible.
     Suddenly, a hush came over the congregation as a white-robed children’s choir started up the center aisle. They were singing “Silent Night,” their faces lit by the single candle each one carried. The singing swelled as the congregation joined in.
     Kristi remained silent, but soon the familiar words of peace and love and joy began to work their magic. A few minutes later she was singing her favorite carol, “Joy to the World,” along with everyone else. When she reached, “let e-e-v’ry-y hea-a-rt, pre-pa-are-hi-im-ro-o-om,” the words stuck in her throat like a piece of hard candy.
     Why, she hadn’t been preparing room for Him at all. Her heart was so full of resentment, there wasn’t room for anything else—not her parents, not Jeff, not Jesus. The door was shut, just as her bedroom door had been shut all afternoon.
     Feeling ashamed, she squeezed her mother’s arm and looked up at her. “I’m sorry I didn’t help you with the cookies this afternoon.”
     Her mother smiled. “I know,” she answered, putting her arm around Kristi’s shoulder. “I left a few for you to decorate, just in case.”
     Kristi’s father leaned over to give her a kiss. “Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” he said. “Welcome home.”
     Kristi kissed him back. Home. New England would always be a part of her. She knew that, but maybe Arizona could be home, too, if she gave it a chance.
     She looked at the Christ child lying in the candlelit crib. “Merry Christmas,” she whispered. There was room for Him now.





  1. Just to let you know I love the AZ story and hope there's time while the grandchildren are here to sit and read it to them. Has a timeless message of the Christ Child who finds us wherever we happen to be. God bless. Merry Christmas.

  2. I really enjoyed your story. It had me remembering the time I moved [during summer vacation] from Buffalo, NY to a much smaller village. Also, I remembered an ugly artificial tree mom bought. I called it the silver bottle brush tree. Not only that, but she hung pink ornaments on it. Ugh. Today I can laugh at the tree memory. Have a blessed Christmas Eve and Day. Trish Wentling

    1. Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. We all have wonderful Christmas stories!

  3. What a lovely Christmas story! I can relate to it. We were displaced from our home by a fire many years ago, and Christmas just didn't feel right in a strange place.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the story—and thanks for commenting.