Growing up, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas was make something special. One year I folded white paper and carefully cut shapes that were then taped to the windows to look like lacy, happy, irregular snowflakes. Another year I made “bird seed balls” and hung them with red ribbons from the trees; and a favorite year with teachers and neighbors (or so I thought) was when I washed out jelly jars and filled them with my own concoction of powered milk, cocoa, sugar and marshmallows, and tied the jar lids with gold rickrack.
The year that really taught me about “making things” at Christmas, though, was the year a neighbor tried to break a difficult habit by staying very, very busy. She spent hours and hours and hours making a sequin/ribbon/mock-pearl and lace Christmas tree skirt. Every stitch was by hand, painstakingly perfect. A few days before Christmas, she was down to the finishing touches on the gold satin star–attached with lots of glittery beads–in the center of the the green felt. She worked on it late into the night, then fell asleep on the floor next to the tree. She awoke the next morning, shocked to realize she’d attached the star to the green felt with hundreds of beads and sequins, but without realizing it she’d also sewn the star’s stitches all the way through to the skirt of her nightgown.
She called for help, and you responded. Very creatively, I realize now: you helped her cut a star-shape out of the hem of her long nightgown. Then while she dressed in the bathroom and cried, you carefully trimmed away all the excess nightgown fabric from the underside, smoothed the ornate skirt around the base of the Christmas tree, and arranged the wrapped presents to cover the bumpy places. When you told me in confidence what had happened, I don’t remember you being critical. The neighbor was doing the best she could to get through a hard time, you said, and she just needed a little help.
Through the years, Mom, you made place mats, table cloths, “O, Come Let Us Adore Him” wall hangings (one is pictured above, with every letter, bead and ribbon sewn by hand), and, later, you made Nativity scenes (a full set for each grandchild). These things you created with love, in the spirit of Christmas. But the real message you conveyed during the holidays–and every day–came from the way you always willingly helped others…and believed the best about their efforts.
Thank you for that message, Mom.