The Merriest Christmas

She wasn't really feeling the holiday spirit, but a simple ornament hung on the tree made all the difference.

By Lori Durham, Brunswick, Georgia

As appeared in

I hung another ornament on the tree while “Deck the Halls” blared in the background. My husband, John, gave me a peck on the cheek on his way to get another box of decorations down from the attic.

I’d never been crazy about Christmas. John and the kids had always done their best to infuse me with the holiday spirit, but this Christmas their efforts would be especially hopeless.

My teacher’s salary had shrunk due to budget cuts. John’s government salary was frozen. There wasn’t much money to go around, and presents just weren’t a priority. John was putting on a brave face as usual, and the kids acted like it was no big deal. 

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But for me our financial hardship brought back memories of my childhood, when I’d first developed a chilly relationship with the winter holiday. I’d never forget how embarrassed I’d felt when we returned from Christmas break back in elementary school.

“I got a Make and Bake set for Christmas!” one of my friends shouted in the lunchroom.

“I got this outfit!” another girl said, standing up to model her green blouse, matching plaid skirt and shiny new Buster Brown shoes. Everyone oohed and aahed.

I looked down at the cafeteria table, pretending to be absorbed in my orange slices. “And what did you get, Lori?” someone asked.

“So much stuff, I can’t remember!” I lied. My parents gave us plenty of love, but love was the only thing we had in abundance. Mom and Dad always had a hard time making ends meet.

Christmas presents were practical: a book, maybe some new underwear, or a board game for the whole family to share. I was ashamed of myself for lying to my friends, but I didn’t know how to tell them the truth. What if they felt sorry for me? I couldn’t bear it.

By the time I started dating John, I’d long since decided Christmas just wasn’t for me. John had never heard of such a thing. “How can you not like Christmas?” he wanted to know.

“Too much pressure, too many expectations, too big a disappointment,” I said. And I felt exactly the same way now. Only worse, if that was possible.

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I looked down at the tree skirt. Empty, just like Christmas when I was growing up.

John elbowed me playfully, his arms holding a box overflowing with green and red. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I said. I was lying to him just like I’d lied to my friends in the elementary school lunchroom. God, help me keep my spirits up for this family I love so much. “Can you pass me another ornament?” I asked John.

“Sure,” he said, digging in the box. “But first let me find a place of honor for my favorite one.”

He searched the tree for just the right branch to hold the delicate red glass bulb with the “Merry Christmas” writing. It was a precious reminder of his childhood, and he took great pleasure in hanging it on our tree every year.

“I’ll never forget all the trouble you went to replacing it when it broke,” John said.

What else could I have done? I had never known anything to upset my husband so much—especially at Christmastime. The tree had fallen over and several ornaments broke, but this one was unique because of the memories it held for him.

It was fine if I didn’t have any Christmas spirit. I was used to that. But John was a different story altogether.

He took a step back to admire the replacement I’d finally found after endless searching on foot and scouring the internet. It was an exact replica of the ornament he loved, and still in its original box!

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I had worked hard to make things right for John. As hard as any of Santa’s elves. And I did it because I loved to see my Christmas-loving husband full of holiday joy, the kind of joy that made the heavenly angels burst into a hallelujah song.

No cutback or salary freeze could take that joy away. No wrapped gift under the tree could rival it. Gold, frankincense and myrrh were not what Joseph and Mary treasured that very first Christmas. They treasured their new baby, God’s gift of love to the whole world.