THE TRUE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS


by Joy Corey

I glanced at my watch and suddenly realized they would be here any moment. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I did know whatever the outcome, it would be worth it.

The hands of my kitchen clock now struck 1:00 p.m., the hour I told everyone to be at my house, but there was no evidence of anyone as yet. As I leaned into my refrigerator, I counted . . . 8, 9, 10 — there should be enough I thought. Finally, upon my closing the fridge door, I could hear the sounds of little angels emanating from outside, exclaiming, “Hi Joy” as they peered at me through my floor-to-ceiling kitchen window, and I knew the hour I’d been waiting for had finally arrived.

As I opened the front door to my house, in their exuberant, free-spirited manner they, all, with arms outstretched, reached to bring me down to their level in order that they might plant a kiss on my waiting cheek. I loved every minute of it.

So far, Libby, Andrea, Lisa, Paula and Christina had arrived soon to be followed by Melanie who arrived minutes before Gina and Lisa (their sister Lila was at a birthday party, but she did manage to join us later). I was so excited and it was obvious I had never given much thought to what I was in for or I’d probably have thought twice about doing it. To tell you the truth, I’d do it over and over again — nothing could match the rewards of the day.

They were playfully jumping about and greeting each other when I interrupted their exchange of little amenities, the measure of which was determinable by their own littleness, and asked them all to wash their hands and come back to the kitchen table.

With freshly washed hands they did as I had asked and I placed before each one a piece of waxpaper onto which I set individual balls of dough displaying the assorted shaped cookie cutters, rolling pins and flour in the center of the table. Of course, the intention was to keep the flour on the table and the pins on the dough, but as nothing is guaranteed with children, in their inimitable fashion, the flour found its way to the floor and the rolling pins managed to contact a few heads under the guidance of a couple of small hands allowing the flour thereon to turn their otherwise dark hair to grey (a little premature).

No way were we, the Pre-school, Kindergarten and First Grade class of St. Michael Church’s Sunday School going to embark on such a program without a little help. So with hands clasped, and heads bowed, my little angels turned to the Father in prayer, “Dear God, please watch over us as we make cookies for those less fortunate than us — please make our cookies good so they will like them. Thank you Father for making this day possible. Amen.”

And so we set about the business of making sugar cookies, butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. You never in your life saw such a variety of shapes and sizes, but the recipients of our Christmas goodies would only come to know that these cookies were made and delivered by angels whose special ingredient of T.L.C. (tender loving care) would make these cookies something far beyond the norm.

Naturally, with ten girls and three sets of cookie cutters (Christmas bells and trees, santa clauses, stars, etc.) all ten wanted the Christmas tree at the same time or the Christmas bell — they weren’t particular — they’d just naturally ask for whatever the other asked for. I’m now convinced the Diplomatic Corps would be best advised to hire me for I mastered the art of diplomacy that day.

As the first batch of cookies came out of the oven, their beautiful, awesome eyes lit up like Christmas trees upon viewing the “first fruits of their labor.” Tears found their way gently down my cheeks as I observed the pleasure in their faces. The silver balls, the green and red glitter — all the decorating equipment came out and my little angels produced the most beautiful goodies imaginable.

As the hands on the clock made their way towards the 4:30 p.m. mark, the girls realized they would not have time to package them all with red and green ribbons as we intended since their parents or rides would be arriving momentarily.

On their own initiative, realizing their prayers had been answered, they stopped and again bowed in a prayer of thanks to God for it was apparent He had been with them.

“Goodbye Aunt Joy.” “Remember”, I told them, “tomorrow is a big day for us — tomorrow we deliver our Christmas packages to the sick and suffering. God bless you — goodbye — I love you and remember who loves you.” “We know, Jesus loves us.’’

As I stood in my driveway, again my eyes welled up with tears for the beauty of this day I knew could not be matched, but what I didn’t know then, was that its full beauty was yet to culminate.

The sun shone radiantly that December 16th, significant for the Glory of God which radiated in brilliance that day. As I approached the freeway entrance, I could see Carrie Skaff and her carload of Sunday School kids pass me by — we waved and the kids continued singing the Christmas carols we were practicing on our way. Miles later I passed Andy and Jackie Nassir with their carload and, Oh my, there’s John Gantus and his Sunday School kids — honk, honk!! and look who’s behind me, Ted and Isabel Turk and their precious cargo. Oh wow, this was fun!! I was so excited, but my excitement was not self-limited; my gang shared similar feelings.

After much winding and turning, the sign I’d been anxiously awaiting came plainly within my path of vision and I carefully read, “Sun Air Home for Asthmatic Children.” We’d finally arrived at our first stop; we disembarked and gathered in the parking lot. Everyone began to unload the Christmas stockings filled with goodies that John Gantus had gotten and the packages of comics which my sons had wrapped in red and green ribbons the night before and, of course, our prize possession — the homemade cookies which all the Sunday School children had made. Meanwhile, I went to see the head nurse to tell her we were here. She was happy to see us and assured us we were expected.

Finally, upon assembling ourselves on the stage in their mess hall, I could see how strange it all seemed to the children. The asthmatic children were quite wild, a direct result of the heavy medication of which they all were victim. Restlessness was prevalent and rampant. Their overall appearance was tantamount to arrogance.

John began the program along with Carrie, our Superintendent, and our voices burst into song. Sunday School teacher Isabel Turk intermingled with the kids in an effort to get them to participate. The skeptical looks melted into looks of pleasure as we won them over. Upon completion of our Christmas exalting, our Sunday School children passed out Christmas stockings, the comics and cookies and wished one and all a “Merry Christmas.” Now it was time to gather ourselves together to sojourn to our next and final destination. It was clearly visible on the faces of our St. Michael’s youth that they were proud of what they were doing.

Most of the kids that we sang to were now loaded on a bus readying to go off somewhere and a handful had climbed the stairs to enter the main building when they suddenly turned around and yelled back to us as we stood in the parking lot, “Merry Christmas and Thank You.” The other asthmatics waved from the departing bus as their counsellor who had been talking with a few of us Sunday School teachers exclaimed in awe, “That’s unbelievable! Do you know these kids are so drugged up all the time and so hyper, it’s been at least four years since I’ve heard them say “Thank You”. I can’t believe they took the time to stop and wave to you all, let alone to thank you and wish you a Merry Christmas.” Those words were synonymous with the comprehensiveness of our overt embassy of love.

My Sunday School class continued to talk about the experience in the car on the way to the Tarzana Convalescent Hospital, the experience to be deeply engraved in the pallets of their lives. They had just left the near beginnings of life and were now journeying to a vision of the near end.

Before too long, we were unloading the cars once more and gathering ourselves at the entrance to the hospital. As the door opened, a whole new world unfolded to most of the children — a world of old, sick, dying people. Most had never been exposed to this element before and for some it held a fright; for others a curiosity, and yet for others the realization of the facts of life.

Again, our conductor John commanded our voices to leap out in exaltation and our feet abandoned their stationary stance and we began to walk slowly down the corridors with Carrie pushing a cart, the resting place for our bags of cookies, and the children as they sang, delivered their prize cookie packages of red and green with a greeting of “Merry Christmas.” In passing one of the rooms, my eyes got a glimpse of one of our young boys leaning over an old, sick, bedridden gentleman and as the little elf placed his package of cookies on this sickly elder’s nightstand, I heard him say, in a whispering fashion into the peaked ear of the pathetic figure, “Merry Christmas and God Bless You. I left you some cookies on your nightstand.” This vision lingered with me for a long, long time . . . I was witnessing the TRUE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS.

As we strolled along the hallways, my heart filled with great joy, my eyes filled with tears, I heard a familiar sound from behind, “Mom, Mom! !“ I turned, “Mom, there was an old lady in that room over there and her hands were so shakey she couldn’t button her gown so I helped her, Mom. She thanked me. I then gave her some cookies, she smiled and seemed so happy.” “Son, I’m sure she was — your thoughtfulness brought her that happiness.” The lesson of the experience far outweighed any Christmas celebration he could have been party to.

As we turned corridor after corridor, the anticipation of what the next turn held remained a mystery until its realization. Our voices were strong — our sense of pride was evident.

My spirit-filled brother in Christ, John, put his arm around me as we stopped by this “little old lady’s” room and we harmoniously sang out, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” . . . To John’s invitation that she join us, she motioned to her throat whereupon we simultaneously discovered she did not have a voice with which to sing — our hearts bled and I knew John shared the same anguish as he indicated to her, “It’s alright, we’ll sing for you” and so we did — John, myself and The Spirit.

Upon turning what was to be the second to last corridor, my eyes lifted in the direction of the loud­speaker as the words of the speaking man’s voice caught my attention, “We would like to thank the Sunday School of St. Michael Orthodox Church of Van Nuys for coming out here today to be with us in spreading some Christmas Cheer.” It was apparent from the smiles on their faces and the glow in their eyes that observing the children was as important to these hospitalized souls as it was to the children themselves being there. We found many having the nurses shift them around in their wheel chairs and beds to position them within their eyes range of viewing the children. That voice over the loudspeaker made an overwhelming impact on me — I could not help but think we brought honor to our Patron Saint that day.

What best sums up the day for me was when one of the young boys (about 9 years) turned to me upon exiting the hospital and said, “I feel like a saint for what I’ve done today.” Christmas has a spirit all its own and so it was that it walked with us that December 16.