Christmas Stories, 2015: Your Turn
We set up our Christmas story hotline this year and asked for your favorite stories. The prompt was simple:
Hi, this is Tom Ashbrook from On Point.
Thank you for calling with your Christmas story. We’re happy to hear one of your Christmas memories, whether disastrous, hilarious, or moving. You can give it right here, after the tone. Keep it true. Keep it under two minutes. Leave your story and your name, number and where you’re calling from – city and state. We’ll share a bunch, on air and online. And Happy Holidays!
And plenty of you called in, both before and during our Christmas Eve broadcast. Here are a few of your stories — recorded and transcribed — for your reading and listening pleasure. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and thanks for sharing your stories with us!
Jane H. from Berrington, IA
If you were a little girl that lived on a farm in Northern Iowa in the winter of 1920, your Christmas might look like this: A real tree cut from a forest nearby with homemade decorations and candle sticks to branches, lit for only minutes and then snuffed out. Kerosene lamps were used to light the home. And for Christmas dinner a duck would be roasting. You would ride to Christmas Eve midnight mass in a sled drawn by horses on the farm. In the bottom of the sleigh there would be large flat stones that had been warming in the kitchen’s wood burning stove. The stones were covered with blankets and they would keep your feet warm as you rode across the cold snowy Iowa field. Your father knew how to guide the horses in the sled to a special aunt’s house where you snacked on molasses cookies and the adults ate oyster stew. Then it was off to St. Bridget’s for midnight mass. You would see the stain glass windows lit by candles welcoming all from the country side, then after mass your family would hop back into the sled you would fall asleep in your mother’s arms and the sleigh rode across the field covered with snow and glistening ice, the horses would carry you safely to the farmhouse and then your mom would wake you up and you enter the house to find that Santa came while you were at St. Bridget’s. There under the tree sits your only Christmas gift. A beautiful doll, with a shiny China glass head and eyes that opened and shut. Also you would find a large bowl of oranges and apples sitting nearby, a real big treat in Northern Iowa in the gray of winter in 1920. Mother would take the kerosene lamp and guide you up the steps with your new doll tucked under your arm, she would put you to bed with your Christmas doll on this Christmas Eve night. And she would say, Merry Christmas Gertrude, sleep well. Thanks for giving me this time and sharing my mother’s story and my grandmother’s story.
Meg M. from Boulder, CA
A la recherché du temps perdu with apologies to Marcel Proust
a remembrance of holiday past,
while I can still remember
I’ll try to get through this fast
my look back on the 24th of December.
When I was a kid Christmas Eve meant squid along with clams and pasta.
The food kept coming through the night until we all yelled, “basta.“
Chestnuts, eggplant, provolone,
escargot, chickpeas, Mascarpone,
spinach stuffed in raviolis,
chocolate sprinkled on cannolis.
North siders, South siders, Chicagoans all.
Squeezed around the tables and spilled into the hall.
Aunts, uncles and cousin galore.
Rosie, Tessie, Millie, Rocco, Gustav, Salvador.
From Italy we came with allegiances to Rome. Although never to the max.
About religion the Tufo clan was rigorously lax.
But on the 24th church was simply not to be missed.
No matter that many were seriously blitzed.
Inevitably now came confusion and shouting when to commence our most holy outing.
On this question all went round and round
and the damn church bulletin was nowhere to be found.
Finally someone picks up the phone
and makes the dreaded call to Monsignor Malone,
Father forgive me for sounding like an ass
but when exactly will you start midnight mass.
And now another holiday party is about to begin,
with food, wine and laughter, but no next of kin
they are no longer around or dispersed far and wide
but gratefully others are here at my side.
Old friends and new, all hail and hearty,
So happy to have you at my Christmas Eve party.
Peggy G. from Lewiston, ID
My Christmas memory that has stuck with me. When I was about 12, I was homeless and getting ready to be put in foster care. My brother’s then girlfriend, now wife’s, family took me into their home for Christmas. And they didn’t have to. They didn’t really know me. But they provided me with Christmas gifts and a warm family Christmas. It was the last one I had until I had my own children. It just has always stuck with me and meant so much to me and made Christmas a better time of year because of that memory. Both of her parents are now gone. I just want her to know that their, that year with them meant more to me than anyone will ever know.
Susan S. from Brookline, MA
I’m Jewish and we raised our three sons to be Jews, but my husband’s family is Christian. Every Christmas we drive up to New Hampshire to celebrate with them. My oldest son Nat has fairly severe autism and although when he was little traveling was not easy exactly, Grandpa Batch’s Christmas has something Nat looks forward to. The year that Nat turned 13 was a big one for us because we gave him a bar mitzvah. Even though he has challenging behaviors, the bar mitzvah went well because of his great affinity for the prayers. Without knowing Hebrew and with many communication issues Nat managed to memorize everything he was required to say. His best prayer was his blessing over the candles and he breezed through it in Hebrew and then in English. On that particular Christmas as we gathered eagerly around Grandpa Batch’s Christmas table waiting for roast beef, and Yorkshire pudding. My father-in-law lit the long red tapers. Suddenly I heard a whisper next to me. It was Nat reciting the prayer for the Sabbath lights but instead of saying the Hebrew words for Sabbath “Shabbat” he said “sha-Christmas”. Best Christmas ever.
Diana from Santa Cruz, CA
For many years as a kid I went to my grandparents’ house for Christmas. We had a tradition that before the meal could be served my grandma would bake a cake and she would put candles on it and we would all have to sit around the table and sing happy birthday to Jesus before we could eat. And my cousin and I took turns blowing out the candles in Jesus’ honor. It was a great tradition because my grandparents loved honoring Jesus in this way and I loved an excuse to eat cake! So that’s a big part of my Christmas memories and why family means so much to me at this time.
John M. from Savannah, GA
We lost our mother 33 years ago to Leukemia. She was only 62 and young at heart and an avid sailor and a brilliant cook with a large library of cookbooks. The best of which was her own handwritten collection of recipes collected in the 40s and 50s. When momma got sick, our father became the cook at home. Several years after she died he married Laila a much younger women. Their prenuptial agreement was basically that he would shop and cook and she would clean. When they moved aboard their book I inherited momma’s cookbooks except for those few gems that my father kept for himself, the best of which was that old college notebook. Invariably my siblings and I would call daddy at Christmas desperate for a cookie recipe. For while momma was an exceptional cook she never really taught us how. When handling the boat became more work than fun, daddy and Laila bought a simple house on a canal in Florida. That landlocked Christmas my father at 72 bought himself a computer taught himself to type and painstakingly copied the fragile pages of momma’s manuscript, recipe by recipe, page by page. By then he had been the cook at home for over 10 years. While daddy transcribed momma’s notes, Laila baked. For Christmas that year each of us four kids that year received not only a copy of the marvelous recipes but also tins of cookies a dozen each of a dozen varieties, each labeled with a recipe title and a page number in the book. It was the most thoughtful gift that I had ever received and I continue to find wonderful ideas among the recipes. The notebook also contains her lengthy and precise directions for making Danish pastry for scratch which we always had first thing on Christmas morning before we went outside for oysters and champagne. Before the ham biscuits. The quail. The ambrosia, the cookies and the eggnog. Now that I’ve got the recipes I still don’t see how she managed it all.
Jennifer S. from Seattle, WA
It was my first Christmas home from college after my parents got divorced and I was staying with my mom who recently moved to a new house. Things weren’t quite settled there yet so to cheer the place up she handed me a 50 dollars to buy a nice wreath for the front door. Something to impress the curious neighbors. That seemed like an awful lot of cash for some pine needles, I was more than happy to run the errand knowing I would be able to pocket the change and spend it on rounds of candy cane jello shots later that evening while partying with my friends. The nursery I stopped at had stunning wreaths with all the bells and whistles but as it turns out 50 dollars really was the going rate for one of those beauties. I wasn’t feeling very merry as I approached the checkout but then something caught my eye. It was an extra-large wreath for only 10 dollars. It didn’t have any decorations on it but I was certain that I could find the perfect red velvet bow in one of the 200 moving boxes back at the house. What a bargain I thought. I went to pay, and the clerk asked me if I needed stakes to go with it. Stakes? I wasn’t sure what he meant by that so I said, “no thank you, happy holidays.” I shoved the enormous wreath in my car and proudly drove home. 40 extra dollars to burn and the biggest wreath in town. It was a Christmas miracle. Except when I got home I wasn’t able to attach it to the door. Why would they sell wreaths that don’t have hooks to hang them? Anxious to go meet up with my friends, I nailed it to the front of the house without the perfect red velvet bow because of course, I couldn’t find the perfect red velvet bow. The next morning my mother woke me up and was furiously asking me why I bought a grave blanket and hung it on the house. What? My foggy head could not comprehend her question. She screamed, it’s a grave blanket. It belongs on a cemetery, you jackass. Oh it made sense now. That’s why the sales guy asked me if I needed stakes. I told her I would take it down, but she said to leave it there was no more money for another one. I felt incredibly guilty but then I bursted out into uncontrollable laughter. The kind of laughter that sends you to your knees crying. It was an Adam’s family Christmas but at least we were all alive to celebrate it. Thanks for listening, Merry Christmas.
Rob S. from Bethel, CT
We were at my grandmother’s and my parents had gotten me a pogo stick for Christmas. And my father being the ever rambunctious man that he was decided that he would try to use it in the house and he was successfully pogoing through the living room and he decided to continue through the living room to the dining room. And he landed on the cast iron air return grate to the furnace. The grate broke. He went down to his shoulders. Fortunately, no injuries. But it was long before the days of video cameras. It would have been a hit.
Rick P. from Hinesburg, VT
Oh it started out easy enough. With a simple idea. My wife wanted sweatpants for her Christmas gift. I called my sister for some advice. My sister said oh you must go to Victoria’s Secret because they have the most gorgeous sweatpants. She will just love them. I left for the mall and fought for a parking spot. When I walked into the entrance the first thing I came across was a booth for the local flannel company. They had some really nice sweatpants with side pockets. The salesman cheerfully said, we have a size that will fit your wife. I told him I would be back, not wanting to buy the first thing I saw I went through the maze of shops to find the Victoria’s Secret shop and follow my sister’s advice. As I walked into the door I realized that I had just left our planet and was now in some kind of strange new world where everything was painted in shades of bright pink and you were surrounded by lacy undergarments. Now feeling truly out of my element, like a bear living with furniture, I started madly searching for something I could relate to. But there was no hope for there in the distance were other lost souls, frightened men who were sheepishly walking around holding lady’s underwear and looking like they were saying, it’s for my wife honest, I’d rather be watching football. At once I woke from my nightmare to find this pretty young girl asking me, can I help you? I replied My wife would like some sweatpants. Oh, she said, you mean our yoga pants. And directed me to a corner in the store. I noticed that these yoga pants didn’t have any pockets, so I asked her do you have some with pockets. Pockets! Why in the world would anyone want pockets on yoga pants. Well I said my wife likes pockets. Guess she’s just a pocket kind of girl. As I stood lost in a haze of pink and lace I came back to my senses and ran for the door. So now I knew just want to do. I went back to the flannel booth, the salesman smiled and handed me the sweatpants. “They’ll fit her just fine. Made here in good ole’ Vermont. Stitched by hand with nice roomy pockets. Pockets I say. He replies well everyone loves pockets. He smiled wishing me a merry Christmas and said, she’s gonna love them. Yea I replied. She’s gonna love them.
Alexandra R. from Milwaukee, WI
When my son Xavier was 4 years old, he came up to me and whispered, Mom, I’m going to find out if Santa is real or not. And I said, how. He said, I told Santa at the mall one secret gift I wanted and if its not under the tree then I know he’s not real. So I said oh what did you ask Santa for. And he told me a battery operated Dinosaur. It was December 23, I had not bought the battery operated dinosaur. But I ran out, bought the battery operated dinosaur that he wanted, wrapped it, made sure it was under the tree, put it under there, To Xavier From Santa. He opened it up and said I knew he was real, I knew he was real. That’s how we kept Santa alive until the kids at school told him he wasn’t real when he was 7 years old. Thank you and Merry Christmas.
Cherry A. from Richmond, VT
I grew up on a small farm in Vermont and Christmas and life in general were pretty lean in the early years for my family. It was my mom and dad, my three brothers and I. One of my most memorable Christmas which began years of memorable Christmases was the year that the post office called and said there was a box from us. I still remember my dad squeezing through the door with this huge box that said from Santa and his elves. It was filled with wrapped gifts for my parents, gifts that were clearly chosen for us kids, Christmas decorations, nuts, chocolate, all sorts of goodies. We analyzed the handwriting on the card. But the only attribution was to Santa and his elves. And none of our family seemed to know who it was. Beginning that year, this happened every year. The Post office would call, and the first year it was one box, ultimately we reached an all-time high of 11 boxes that we received from an anonymous giver. Family and friends didn’t know who it was. One year we hung a big sign “Thank you Santa” on our porch because we wanted to thank whoever it was hoping they would drive by. Eventually we did find out. My parents kept it from us, but we could write thank you letters. I still remember up in my room crying because of thankfulness writing my first thank you letter to our real life Santa. That’s my Christmas memory. We were so grateful for that family who spent their Christmas season shopping for us to bless us.
Dave E. from Buffalo, NY
Years ago I lived in upstate or northern NY and my brother is a log home contractor up there. He was hired to build a log cabin. Up the road a ways one of the neighbors was also building a house. I was doing finish work, dry wall and varnish and so forth, so the neighbor up the street hired me to do her drywall work in this new construction thing. She wanted to move in around the 1st of the year. So I’m super busy and I ended up working all New Year’s eve to try to get a jump on so she could have her floors installed and get moved in around New Year’s. I was working and working and the phone rings – this is before cell phones – the phone rings and it’s the folks in the log cabin right down the street and they recognized my vehicle and the called me up and Christmas morning about 6:30 am I went across the road and shared Christmas morning with the young couple and their two kids. And we had breakfast and I watched them open their presents and I felt like part of the family, while I was exhausted. I just had a wonderful time. It was the most surprising and delightful Christmas thing that has ever happened to me. And I think about that almost every year.
Bob H. from Pleasantville, NY
When I was a young boy I was walking home from Elementary school one day shortly before Christmas and I saw a beautiful conch shell in a pile of refuse that someone had put in the front of their yard to be picked up for garbage collection. When I picked up the shell to examine it and listen to the sound of the ocean I decided it would make a nice Christmas gift for my mother. She was so delighted with it on Christmas day that I decided to rewrap it and give it to her again for the next Christmas. And once again she was delighted when she opened it. By the next Christmas, I was a little older and wiser, so I gave her something else for Christmas. As she was about to open her new gift I said, it’s not the shell this time mom. I think she gave a bigger kick out of this announcement then the new gift itself because she told that story for years afterwards.