Your Christmas Stories: 2016

A final scene in "It's A Wonderful Life." (Wikimedia)
A final scene in "It's A Wonderful Life." (Wikimedia)

We asked for your Christmas stories, and you delivered — in numbers big and small. Here are transcripts of your best holiday stories from our Christmas story special, 2016.

It was before the ease of communication we have today. I was on my junior year abroad at the University of St Andrews, had traveled through Europe with a couple of friends. For the first time in my life, was not going to be home for Christmas. We ended up in Salzburg at Christmas, went to a cathedral there that was beautiful but there was nothing familiar about the music, and Christmas morning we ate some bread and cheese and went to the Post Office where one of my friends was going to place a call home and I had decided not to because of the expense. And the difficulty, we got there and there was a three hour wait for calls to go through, we hadn’t anticipated that so we didn’t have anything to read so we bought a copy of the International Tribune and very carefully read the entire thing. And here I’ll pick up from a letter to my parents where I described our day and I said “Betsy and I went downstairs and bought a three day old International Tribune, We split it into three sections. I spent an hour reading about the hostages, Dusty the kangaroo who is promoting a cleaner Britain, and the NY stock exchange. I started to read a couple of articles on the back page but I felt depressed and uninterested. I then turned to the classified on the back and there was your message. You don’t know what it meant to see it there. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry and now I can’t stop. I was saddened, very sad, not to be home for Christmas, but the tears only came at the joy of seeing the message which I had thought to look for but never thought I would see. I’d been hoping for a Christmas surprise and had almost given up. I had decided there would be no Christmas this year, but I was wrong. I had realized that Christmas comes from within but with no visible contact with home I was beginning to have a lot of trouble with finding the spirit of it. So that was my little Christmas miracle on the floor of the post office in Salzburg, Austria in 1979. --Beth In Portland, ME

This was Christmas in the early 80s and our two children were 11 and 14. We decided to drive from Bloomington, Illinois to Crested Butte Colorado where our Aunt lived. We sat out on a snowy Thursday and the normally 70 minute drive to Springfield took nearly three hours. We stayed overnight and woke up to a sunny day on Friday. We got off at interstate 70 at Limon, Colorado thinking we’d reach Colorado Springs in about an hour. We barely got outta Limon, Colorado because by dusk the snow began falling. After all, we were flatlanders. But we were used to snow. As snowfall arrived we found a roadway inn on US 24 and we said, let’s stay the night. The next morning we woke up and it was quiet. Our 11 year old son tried to open the motel door but he couldn’t. It was stuck shut. We talked, the proprietor said you’ll be here for Christmas because then the storm will stop. Ha. Ha. The next day was Christmas Eve and we were going nowhere. The motel office had a few little things to eat: cereal, small containers of milk, tuna fish, hot dogs, and that’s about all we had. The motel owners, now this is before the days of restaurants in motels or free breakfast or snacks, oh and our Christmas dinner by the way was bologna sandwiches, potato tots, green beans cooked in the little oven in the motel desk. The day after Christmas we borrowed a snowshovel from the desk and shoveled out our little station wagon while watching a pick-up truck with a big snow plow clear the motel parking lot. One more night and we were on our way. We arrived at our Aunt’s house at 4 pm. The dinner was navy bean soup, ham and beans. And the best that we ever had. Our son proclaimed this was the Christmas that never was. Merry Christmas, Tom!Judy in Bloomington, IN

It was a very cold snowy Christmas Eve, 1944, Syracuse NY, I was 14 years old. The star on the flag in the window of our front window of our house was a star for my brother, seventeen- years-old, and my brother in law. My sister who was married and three months pregnant was living with us and her husband was flying B-25s in England. My brother enlisted in the Navy at age 17 and was on an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic. We had not heard from them – either boy – for a while, and we were very concerned. We came home from Mass and it was very, very late. Snow had fallen outside in Syracuse. Mom and Dad had gone to bed and I sat alone in the living room with our tree wishing so much that my brother were there with me like old times. As I climbed the stairs for bed for a minute I thought I heard his sharp whistle. I waited and said it must just be my wish to hear it again. I walked into my bedroom, up the stairs into my bedroom over to the window, the street light was on and as I looked out I heard the whistle again, and there under the street light was my brother in his Navy pea coat and white sailor hat looking up at the house. I screamed, "It's Bud, he's home!" He had come in on the train and then got a cab up to the end of the street, and he wanted to walk a short distance and surprise us. And he sure did, and it turned out to be my very best Christmas. — Helen in Palm Harbor, FL

My dad did 30 years in the military. Thanks to the Lord above I did ten. I’m now medically retired. Married with kids. My lovely wife and my beautiful ten-year-old and all that. I used to live in Richmond, Virginia before my dad went off to the Vietnam War – sixty eight, sixty nine – and my grandparents were there, they were in Richmond, Virginia on Maggie Walker Avenue, which is subsequently where other cousins were on that same street. Anyway, my Christmas story is that I always believed the story about the flying reindeer. And so in our little house in Richmond, Virginia way back in the day probably when I was in grade school, I probably was like six, seven, eight, somewhere around there, and this was probably in the last 60s early 70s. I looked out my window because I wanted to see if I could see Santa Claus and the reindeer. And so all night long before Christmas on Christmas Eve I kept looking out the window. Finally, I saw what I thought looked like maybe Santa Claus sleigh, maybe the reindeer walking around. Well next day when I woke up the house was full of Christmas presents. Ya know our proverbial Christmas tree with the light that reflected the different colors. I figured Santa Claus must have come there, the reindeer must have been walking around in my yard and all that, and so I got all them wonderful presents. Of course I know now as my daughter would say you should be believing in Santa clause, and whether you believe in Santa Claus or not it’s not that that much matters in all that. Christmas is from the heart, on the birth of our dear Lord and savior Jesus. God bless you all, happy new year, happy Hanukkah, happy kwanza, and happy boxing day! I got that from Great Britain. Cheers.  -- Sheldon in Columbia, SC

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 vast library of cookbooks. The best of which was her own handwritten collection of recipes recorded 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. -- John in Savannah, GA

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 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 j******. 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 Adams' Family Christmas but at least we were all alive to celebrate it. — Jennifer in Seattle, WA

When my son Xavier was four 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, told my husband to watch the kids. 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  seven years-old.  -- Alexandra in Milwaukee, WI

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." -- Rick in Hinseburg, VT

Since, my childhood, I’ve learned to hate Christmas, and I’ll be 60 next month. Even after a lot of therapy, I still have no love of Christmas or any holidays. This can be traced back to my abusive, alcoholic father. My mom called my father’s behavior shell shock--from World War II--today we call it PTSD. My earliest memories are of his anger, paranoia, and drunken rages. It came out of nowhere, but each Christmas, I braced in anticipation of those holiday explosions. My father would knock down the Christmas tree or have angry rants about it, demanding it gone. One year, a three-tiered metal planter was tossed over the upstairs railing to the first floor from their temporary holiday move, and Christmas was chaos. It was hard to ever feel joy or trust things would be nice, like on TV or at other people’s houses. Christmas was fear, it was tiptoeing, whispering, all to avoid setting my father off. Company rarely came over. On a good Christmas, you’d hear records playing, loudly. Country music, mostly—Patsy Cline, Eddie Arnold, Clint Anderson, or even the big bands. It was music or angry rants, lasting into the night depending on the binge, for Christmas. In my own adult life, I tried to do Christmas, but it just felt forced and weird. And don’t get me started on Secret Santa. To tell me it’s a great day, well, that’s wonderful for you, but to me it’s just another day, but so are all holidays. Alcohol or any substance can destroy what’s supposed to be special. But, you know, I’m happy for all those who enjoy it with no resentment. As an observer, it’s a lot of work, pressure, and expense. So I hope all who hear my message will have the kind of Christmas that they hope for.  -- Dan in Buffalo, NY

I have a night before Christmas story to tell, a mysterious one that happened now more than 35 years ago. Maybe you can help solve the mystery. Every year while they were growing up, my son and daughter made gingerbread boy and gingerbread girl cookies. For friends and neighbors and to leave a plate of them under the tree for Santa. This particular year there was an abundance of cookies, so my daughter suggested we decorate the tree with some of those that were left. So with the height a four-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter could reach, the gingerbread cookies were tied to the trees with red bows. The next morning, Christmas morning, as hoped, Santa’s cookies were eaten and gone. However, mysteriously, so were all the gingerbread cookies tied to the tree. Only the ribbons and bows were still there, and the bows were still perfectly tied. The only thing we could figure out was that our dog Sophie had jumped up and gotten the cookies and eaten them, every one. Well in defense of his dog, which I took to be a sign of his protective nature and budding noble character, my son, the four-year-old suggested maybe it wasn’t Sophie at all, maybe it was Rudolph who ate the cookies. Only we couldn’t figure out why the tree hadn’t been turned over, and why none of the packages disturbed with the reindeer all around. Flash forward to yesterday, some 35 years later, my granddaughters in Rhode Island were making cookies for Santa so I told my daughter-in-law about this unsolved mystery. She said, "I thought you were going to say you figured out it was Franklin after all who ate the cookies." Well that thought had never occurred to me, on account of his noble character and all, so I asked my son if he would like to now come clean and confess to this cookie eating. There was a long pause and like George Washington, he said, "I cannot tell a lie." That’s that noble character again. Then there was an even longer pause and in his best voice four-year-old and self-protective voice he said, "My sister did it." Happy holidays. And happy cookies.Diane in Western NC

So one year when I was in high school I noticed that when I opened my gifts – of course starting with the card, love Mom and Dad – and my dad looked equally surprised to discover what was inside those boxes. I said to him, "Hey Dad, maybe next year you should go out and get your own gifts for us so that you know what we’re getting." My mother shot me a look, one of those looks that only a mother can give you. And then she said to me, "Be careful what you wish for." Dad embraced this challenge and the next year he handed us boxes and he said, "I picked these out myself." We opened them and well, maybe mom was right. Inside were these brooches. I’m talking about the kinds of things Madeline Albright wears, but kind of on steroids. Huge. Hideous. Garish. Broaches. Dad beamed. "I knew you’d love them," he said, as we all gasped in horror. Then mom said, “Oh, you girls are going to wear these. You girls are going to put them on your coat. This is what you said you wanted.” And so we did. For the next two or three months I put this big brooch on my coat, and when people asked me about it, I said “Yeah, my dad picked this out for me!”Karen Shiffman, On Point Executive Producer 

The senior year of high school I was in a very difficult French class with Madame Beatrix Fuzet-Prezkop, and at the end of the first semester she had the opportunity for us to get extra credit by making a traditional French dessert. Two of my friends and I signed up to make desserts, and we thought we would go all-out and make a traditional bûche de noël, a French Yule log. If you’ve never seen a French bûche, it’s essentially sponge cake wrapped up on itself with a bunch of frosting and a bunch of sugared tchotchkes like mushrooms and chipmunks and squirrels. It’s really complicated, and I was really committed to making the whole thing, but my friend Emmy decided that that wasn’t worth our time, and she drove us to the gourmet grocery store, we bought a gourmet bûche de noël stripped it of all the decorative items, and covered it in Duncan Hines so it looked like we had made our own bûche. And in class, I was nervous, because we trained ourselves how to say all the different ingredients in the buche, so that when Madame Fuzet asked us what was in it we could say reasonably “Oh, it’s de la farine, le chocolat,” et cetera. But when she chopped into it she opened it up she noticed that there was raspberry jam inside--and we had no idea that there was raspberry jam inside—and so she said “Oh, la confiture de framboises! Quelle surprise!” and Emmy turned and said “Oh, oui. Quelle surprise.” And I lost it, and I just started shaking and laughing and also crying (because I knew that the jig was up), but she never noticed that we were losing it, and if she realized that we had not made this beautiful bûche de noël—because it was really quite delicious and beautiful—I got 15  points extra credit, so I guess I’m confessing it now. I didn’t make that bûche, Madame Fuzet, and I’m sorry if you thought I did. — Nick Andersen, On Point Associate Producer 


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