Tell Me A Story: Finding the True Spirit of Christmas

The Christmas season conjures up many memories of holidays past, some warm and pleasurable, many bittersweet. In the weeks ahead, I’ll be sharing a few of my own Christmas memories, as well as those offered by a few friends.

Melissa Haag

Melissa Haag

Today, a fellow blogger I met online through The Nester’s 31 Days of Writing has agreed to share a memory. Melissa Haag is a wife, mom, and entrepreneur. She lives in a small city in Iowa that is equal parts cornfield and city skyline. She is a self-employed hairstylist, blogger, photographer, and owns her own direct sales business. She spends plenty of time in her home office, but is easily lured out by her daughter, step-sons, and two fuzzy dogs. You can read some of her ramblings on life at her blog The World According to Plaidfuzz (

Here is Melissa’s offering:

I don’t have a lot of fond memories of the holidays when I was growing up. In fact, there are large portions of my childhood I don’t remember at all. But there was that one Christmas. I remember the details so vividly. It was the night that I got to experience magic and wonder, and make memories that sustained me through a lot of Christmases since.

Christmas Memories buttonIt was a cold, snowy Christmas Eve in Iowa in the mid 1980’s. My twin sister and I were maybe 5 years old, and didn’t realize the significance of the day because holidays weren’t often celebrated in our home. I remember my mom telling us to get ready, we were going to town. And not just to the small town that was closest to our isolated farm, but to the “big town” where we did our grocery shopping. I slid on my white stocking cap with the orange pom pom and away we went.

We drove around from Christmas tree lot to Christmas tree lot. We were getting a tree! But as the afternoon wore on, we didn’t get a tree because they were all too expensive. Finally we pulled into a small lot by a gas station. We watched my mom hand the man $1 and the next thing we knew he was loading a tree into our back seat!Charlie Brown tree

Once we got the tree home it looked more like Charlie Brown’s than anything out of a typical family Christmas scene, but we declared it beautiful anyway.

That night we wriggled into our white tights, put on our hand-me-down Christmas dresses, and attended the Christmas Eve service at my grandma’s Lutheran church. The church seemed so big to me then, with the maple woodwork covering the sanctuary, in stark contrast to the red carpet. As soon as you walk through the doors you can smell the old hymnals that are neatly tucked into the backs of the wooden pews. We go through the side door because my grandma is singing in the choir. I am excited because I love the way the soles of my saddle shoes click on the tile.

I spent most of the service trying to crane my neck around and see my grandma perched in the balcony above us. All I could see were the shiny pipes of the organ towering above me. At one point in the service the pastor, who was dressed in a funny robe, called the children to the front for their own message. My sister and I were shy so we were given a little shove down the red carpet of the aisle, and carefully chose to sit at the edge of the steps leading to the platform so we could make a quick escape when it was done. After the message the pastor gave us each a piece of candy.

Once the service was over I was anxious to go find my grandma, but you don’t just get up and go in Lutheran churches. We had to wait for two men to walk down the middle aisle, silently nodding their head at each row, giving them permission to dismiss in an orderly fashion.

As we walked out of the sanctuary my sister and I were handed brown paper bags filled with peanuts in the shell, one apple, one orange, and fun-sized candy bars. Those bags could have been filled with gold bars and I wouldn’t have been more excited. It was a battle between wanting to eat up all the candy in the car, and trying to force ourselves to save some for later.

We went to my grandma’s house and were joined by cousins, aunts, and uncles. We unwrapped presents. I got a blue sled. My cousin counted to make sure no one got more presents than she did. Then we made the somber drive home.

When we walked into the house there was a surprise. My mom pulled two black garbage bags out from behind the tree and handed them to us. Presents! I tore back into the garbage bag to reveal a handmade Raggedy Andy doll (my sister got Raggedy Ann). My mother had sewn them from scraps of material, glued on some google eyes, and given them yarn hair. They each had a hand-sewn outfit on.

Many Christmases came and went after that one, without a mention or observation in our house. There would be no more black garbage bags stowed behind the spindly tree, or family traditions, or even bags of fruit, nuts and candy. Over the years a hole formed in Andy’s thin, linen face, and I patched it up with a band aid. But the memories of that particular Christmas are some of the best ones of my childhood, and they remind me that even in the darkest night there are stars and points of light.

Now I have my own traditions with my children, and plenty of brightly-wrapped gifts under a fat tree. It warms my heart to know I can give them what I did not have. But sometimes I wonder if the true spirit of the season was more present in the $1 Christmas tree and garbage bag wrapping paper. Maybe I could relate to the teenagers forced to stay in the barn because there was no room in the inn, and lay their newborn baby in the hay meant for the animals. Out of the darkness sparked the hope that would sustain Christmases to come, and save the world.






  1. Tara

    What a beautiful story. I think you are right that the true spirit of this season was found in that $1 tree and garbage bag wrapping bag. I think of my mom who can’t afford a lot but tries really hard to get my sis and I something special.


      It’s a good reminder that the little things matter most sometimes. Melissa’s story touched my heart.

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