Unity poet laureate James Dillet Freeman wrote about the childlike bewilderment of Christmas in Unity Magazine®. In his article, “My Prayer for You This Christmas,” Freeman encouraged us to remember the excitement and awe of being a child during Christmastime.
He remarked, “Christmas has power to quicken our sense of wonder because it turns us into children. Children have a wonderful sense of wonder. … So tonight, before you fall asleep, lie still for a moment, shut your eyes, and think back to the Christmas of your childhood. Or better yet, feel for the wonder in your heart.”
As I read and reread his words, the memory of me anxiously jumping up and down in front of our family’s Christmas tree at age 9 immediately came to mind. I was clad in my pink-striped cotton pajamas, hair awry as I clapped and looked down excitedly at the mountain of wrapped gifts for my two brothers and I. And the smells—freshly baked cinnamon rolls laced with traces of scented pine from the real tree we’d handpicked with my father just weeks before.
That particular Christmas, I was waiting for one special gift that my eyes had yet to distinguish amid the colorful bows, ribbons, and shiny boxes. I knew I was going to receive this gift because I had left a tall glass of milk and a plate of chocolate chip cookies for Santa the night before. Yes, I still believed in Santa Claus. I was still filled with wonder.
Finally, it came time to rip open our gifts. While my brothers oohed and ahhed over their new Tonka trucks and stretchable action figures, I feigned excitement over clothes, dolls, and an Easy-Bake Oven. It wasn’t there. The one toy I desperately wanted.
As we began to clean up our wrapping paper and gift boxes, my father headed upstairs. This can’t be it, I thought. Then I heard my father fumbling back downstairs with what sounded like a herd of cattle behind him. I looked up and smiled. There it was: three huge blue plastic sleds with bright red bows. One for each of us! I knew being a fairly good girl would pay off! I jumped into my father’s arms and onto the sled with all of the giddiness only a little girl could muster.
It was no coincidence that the sleds were blue and large. Back then, winters were fierce in Kansas City, with snow that sometimes came all the way up to my waistline. However, instead of grumbling or complaining, I relished the snow. That Christmas, there was a lot of it.
We had snow days and Christmas vacation, but we also had Big Blue. Big Blue was named after our neighborhood, Blue Ridge Village, years before. Big Blue was two gigantic hills in the center of our community where we sledded every winter. It was important to have the perfect sled when riding down Big Blue so that races could be won, and bragging rights earned, and most important, so the other kids wouldn’t make fun of your sledding skills.
Those that dared, rode down Big Blue in simple cardboard boxes that would fall apart after the second or third attempt. The bravest children would build a huge ramp between the two hills to make the slide down extra daring. I was determined to go down a ramp that day.
After a few bites of our cinnamon rolls and a quick sip of orange juice, my brothers and I dressed in layers—two pairs of pants and shirts, hats, scarves, gloves, and coats—and grabbed our sleds. My father had another surprise. “I’m going to join you guys today,” he said, as he slipped on his coat. We screamed with even more excitement and headed up Big Blue.
The rest of the day remains permanently etched in my mind: Riding down Big Blue with my father pushing the sled behind me, or riding with me; my brothers and I racing down with the other neighborhood children while my father shouted “Ready. Set. Go!” and waved his imaginary flag. He was the only parent I remember being out there that day, and he stayed with us until our fingers and toes were numb from the cold. Afterward, he marched us all inside to warm up and drink hot cocoa that my mother had prepared.
That Christmas marked the last time I would sled down Big Blue. The last time I would live in that neighborhood. The last time we would all live together as a family. The last time I would see or speak to my father until my high school graduation some 13 years later.
The meaning of that Christmas memory has changed for me throughout the years. It was not the present that mattered, but the presence of having my father in my life at the time. Having him there was my gift. He was the wonder and excitement. And although we would mend our relationship and become close later in my adulthood, I now make it a point to always have a lasting holiday tradition with my children.
Even as my children leave the nest, I want them to always have the awareness that our being together is the true gift.
Here’s to Big Blue …