In this story from December 1948, the mother of child actress Margaret O’Brien shares how she and her daughter celebrated the Christmas season.
Margaret, like thousands of other children of the world, loves Christmas. Christmas at our home always starts in November. It is then that doors remain closed, mysterious packages arrive, and ingenious hiding places are uncovered. In spite of the fact that our apartment is not a large one, I have yet to find the spot in which Margaret hides her gifts. And she has yet to tell me.
Christmas has always meant a great deal to her. In the first place, she loves surprises. Surprises for someone else, rather than herself, although I wouldn’t be honest if I said that she fails to get a thrill out of receiving gifts as well as giving them.
We have a routine at our house. Weeks before Christmas, Margaret and I get together in her toy room. Here we go over the dolls, games and other playthings, sorting them down to a bare minimum for her own requirements. The others we pack in boxes and distribute among various charities for children who are not as fortunate as she.
This is often a lengthy process. Margaret is no different from any other child. She loves the idea of giving to make someone else happy, but suddenly everything she sees becomes her very most favorite thing in the whole world. In the end, however, disputed items always find their way into the box—willingly and cheerfully. The final selection is left entirely in her hands. I never interfere.
It has only been since the end of the war that Margaret and I have had a chance to spend the holidays at home. During the war, our Christmas days were devoted to visiting children whose fathers were far away fighting in the Armed Forces.
During these years, we celebrated ours on Christmas Eve. In the morning, we would arise early and go to church. Margaret loves to see the manger—which is always beautiful and different each year. After church, we would start on our round of visits to children of the G. I.’s.
We now find this habit hard to break. Christmas at our house is still, for the most part, celebrated the night before. But it is actually the weeks before that hold the greatest thrill.
Some things have become tradition. These include a ride down Hollywood’s famous Santa Claus Lane—one of Margaret’s high spots of the year. Then, listening to a boy choir which during the holidays sing carols at one of the large department stores. This is an every evening “must” during the entire season.
Another big thrill for Margaret is sneaking away with her Aunt Marissa to buy a present for me. I can always count on two gifts, one purchased at the store, and one which she makes. The homemade gift is usually a gem of potholders. I now own an imposing collection—since I am given to understand that these are not to use, but rather, to look at.
This year Margaret has registered a special request to trim her own tree. She got the idea from playing in Little Women. As Beth of the story, she fashioned the tree’s trimmings from bits of paper, cloth and tinsel. This seemed such a good idea that she adopted it for her own use. Every bit of colored paper, lace or shiny ribbon around the house has now been into tree trimming. At last count we had exactly three cartons full to overflowing.
As far as her own presents are concerned, Margaret is easy to please. But it takes her days to choose gifts for her friends. She is particularly fussy about her two dogs, Lad and Maggie, whose Christmas gifts are wrapped with all of the care given any of the others.
This year she has a problem. She not only has to buy for Lad and Maggie, but for a brand new cousin who’ll be almost seven months old when Christmas bells ring.
I hope she will never lose the thrill of giving—or the wonderful lift in spirit that Christmas gives to us all.
For more inspiring stories, subscribe to Guideposts magazine.