When I arrived at my daughter's on Christmas Eve, her children ran to the door with shouts and kisses. Then, struggling with my bags, they took me to the guest room. I stopped short at the door, staring at the sign that hung there. In red and green crayon it read "The Christmas Room." My throat ached for a moment, as I remembered...
OUR daughter Barbara was only 9 when she began to realize that we were quite poor. In Barbara's class there was one girl who took special delight in tormenting her. Joan came from the wealthiest family in town, one of the few that hadn't been affected by the Great Depression.
Joan was outgoing, Barbara quiet and shy. Joan was all ups and downs: one minute befriending Barbara, treating her to candy, giving her a toy—the next, bragging extravagantly, teaching Barbara to be ashamed of our house.
We kept hoping Barbara would overcome her shyness and make other friends, but she continued to tag after Joan.
Christmas was coming. I knew ours would be a lean one indeed, unless we used a great deal of imagination. Early in November we started planning. Barbara helped me look for recipes that were inexpensive. We colored Epson salt and put it in pretty bottles as bath salts for her grandmothers. We took scraps of velvet and transformed ordinary boxes into jewel boxes for grandfather' stickpins. We dreamed up pincushions that looked like miniature hats and pot holders in the shape of teapots.
We spent hours in the little spare room laughing at each new touch of imagination. The lumpy old daybed became littered with gay scraps of paper as we cut pictures from last year's Christmas cards to decorate our packages. We had a wonderful time.
One day Barbara went to Joan's house after school and returned looking sad.
"Whats' the trouble?" I asked her.
"Oh, nothing." She hesitated, then said, "Mom, I told a fib today. But that Joan! She's always talking about her guest room and the company that sleeps there. Today she asked, "Where does your company sleep?"
Barbara went on. "I told Joan we don't have much company, and her eyebrow went up. Mom, I just couldn't stand that look again. So I told her, 'We have something you don't. We have a Christmas room.'"
Her feet shuffled. "I didn't mean to fib, but you should have seen how surprised she looked. I never saw Joan stuck before. She really didn't know what to say."
"But, dear," I said. "We do have a Christmas room. But if it will make it more official, we'll make a sign for the door."
She brightened. "Oh, could we?"
"We'll do it today."
The sign was barely dry and hung when Joan arrived. She rarely came to our house, always preferring her house where there were lots of toys. Now she stood at our door asking to see the Christmas room. Barbara looked at me. "May I show her?"
"I guess so," I answered. "If everything is wrapped, it is." Barbara went to check while I explained to Joan. "The room is full of surprises, and we can't let any secrets get out."
Barbara hurried back into the room. "It's okay." Joan would probably see only a small dingy room, a cracked ceiling, and a homemade sign on the door. She would not see the specialness that room held for us.
They were gone so long, I finally went and peered in. Joan was looking at our paper creche figures we had cut out.
"We have China figures," she said. "Imported." I started to speak, but just then Joan moved to the packages that were on the daybed. She touched them one by one, lingering over the one with the paper sled on it. Barbara had done that one from colored paper, filling the sled with miniature packages.
Joan turned to Barbara. "We don't have surprises. I always know everything."
"How?" Barbara asked. "Do you peek?"
Joan shook her head. "They ask what I want, and I get it."
Barbara said impulsively, "I'll give you a surprise."
Joan shrugged. "If you want."
Barbara nodded solemnly, before I could stop her.
During the next week, we tossed ideas about. At last, we settled on giving her one afternoon a week at our house, helping make surprises. I wasn't sure she would think it was a present. She did come however.
The first time, we made cookies and wrapped some for her mother. The next week, it was fancy matchboxes for her father. The week before Christmas, Barbara gave her a box to open. Joan tore at the paper, but when she had the lid off, she didn't know what it was. Barbara looked disappointed. I tried to force gaiety into my words, "It's corn—for popping."
When the corn was popped, Joan remarked, "I could never make this. It's too messy for our house."
I glanced at Barbara, but she was busy showing Joan how the corn could be dyed with food coloring.
"Later, we'll string it for the Christmas tree," she explained. Joan worked at it, occasionally holding up the colorful string.
"They'll never hang this on our tree," she snorted.
"Would you like to come hang it on our tree?" I ventured.
Her sudden tears alarmed me. "Could I?" she asked.
"I can never help trim ours. I might break things." Then, she pushed back her chair. "I'd better go now."
She got her coat and hat quickly. In the Christmas room she hesitated, wondering whether to actually take home the things she'd made for her parents. At last she picked them up. We watched her leave, clutching her small surprises.
Barbara turned big eyes toward me and whispered, "I used to be jealous of her."
THAT was long ago. It had been important at the time, but I'd thought it was long forgotten. Now once again I stood facing the Christmas room.
I stepped inside a pleasant room, not at all like our homely old spare room. On the window seat were packages wrapped with special touches of childish imagination. The children ran to them.
"I made this!" Ronnie cried proudly.
"You're going to love mine, Grandma," Paula shouted.
There was no financial need for Barbara to do with her children what we had done—but I was glad she had. She'd been young that year of the Christmas room, yet she must have known that a Christmas room is room for people, a room in the heart. ■
From Christmas in My Heart #8 (published by Tyndale House/Focus on the Family). Reprinted by permission of Joe Wheeler and Christian Herald, Inc.