I recall the first Christmas we were on our own.
I awoke early on Christmas morning, and quietly left the bedroom before my 9-year-old sister stirred. My mother, my little sis and I had been sleeping in my parents’ king-size bed, still grieving since the divorce a few weeks earlier.
I pulled on my cowboy boots, and tiptoed through our living room where a Christmas tree sparkled. Outside, at 6 a.m., the crisp Oregon air made me shiver.
I had it all planned — I reached into my pocket for the Christmas bells that my father had jingled every December 25th as long as I could remember. I snuck past the bedroom window that Dad had installed for Mom. In years gone by, my parents had loved to awaken to the view of our cows and horses milling around our big red barn.
My sister teetered at the age of hoping that Santa was real — because every Christmas, Santa’s reindeer had pranced on our “roof,” their harnesses tinkling. And, every year, we heard — in a low, muffled voice (it sounded strangely familiar) — Santa’s signature, “Ho, ho, ho!” from somewhere outdoors.
As I stood looking up at the icy eves of our house that morning, I groused, a bit. I was just 13, and determined to preserve the innocent wonder of Christmas morning for my sister, at least one more time.
But I was completely inexperienced at masquerading as Santa Claus. Did Dad jingle the bells before or after the “prancing” hooves? Did he actually climb atop that frosty roof?
I imagined what hooves might sound like, and thumped and knocked with my fists on the side of the house. I shook the jingle bells, feeling hopeless in my attempt to fill my father’s shoes.
Every Christmas, Dad had given us his best imitation of jolly Saint Nick, and I lowered my voice a few octaves to deliver my best imitation — of a father.
It was the last time I jingled for my sister at Christmas.
Over 50 Christmases have passed, and my sister and I have children and grandchildren now. And because we understand the grief a family feels when it is broken, we attempt to be “family” for those who have experienced abandonment or need comfort.
This Christmas, find someone who needs to feel the wonder of God’s love through you and — jingle some bells.