Ardeth Greene Kapp is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She recently returned from the Canada Vancouver Mission, where her husband, Heber, presided from 1992 to 1995. Before their mission, Sister Kapp served as general president of the Young Women organization of the Church. A popular author and speaker, she has written several books, including My Neighbor, My Sister, My Friend; The Joy of the Journey; and What Stripling Warriors Learned from Their Mothers.
A Christmas Story: Christmas Traditions
Since I grew up in Alberta, Canada, I never had to dream of a white Christmas. There was always plenty of snow and cold at Christmas time. At least that’s how I remember it.
I also remember, besides the cold temperatures, the feeling of warmth, that happy feeling of being together as our parents, four aunts, uncles, and many cousins of all ages gathered at our grandparents’ big three-story house, where we remained from Christmas Eve clear through New Year’s Day.
This tradition must have seemed strange to the folks in our small town of Glenwood, since all of our aunts and uncles and cousins lived within walking distance of each other all year long, only a few blocks away from each other. It was not inconvenient for our dads and brothers to return home night and morning to milk the cows, do the chores, and be back in time for our large and happy family breakfast and evening supper. During the morning we played games and listened to favorite stories told and retold by our grandmother as we gathered around the large grate in the floor that let the heat pour out from the furnace below. In the afternoon we practiced for the evening’s talent show while our mothers made pies and cakes. I don’t remember what our dads did during the day, but they joined us as we all gathered for supper; and after the evening meal we presented a talent show to a very responsive audience, who all sang together. We had a family orchestra and it was agreed, especially by our grandpa, that we were a very musical family.
One of the family secrets we kept and seldom discussed except at Christmas time was the unusual accommodations that were available for the older boys in the family. In the attic of Grandpa and Grandma Leavitt’s house, the elders quorum had arranged to store the long wooden boxes they had made for coffins; these would be used as the need arose, at which time the Relief Society would finish the inside of the box with padding and with beautiful white satin. Sleeping in the box-like coffins was a ritual our brothers quite enjoyed until one year when Uncle Ted, unbeknown to the boys, took a resting place in one of the boxes in the corner of the upstairs attic. Of course, light sleeping the night before Christmas was to be expected—the slightest sound would awaken you to the possibility that Christmas morning had finally arrived. This particular Christmas night, around midnight, Uncle Ted made a sound, then raised up from his sleeping position covered with a white sheet.Christmas morning came very early that year, at least for the boys in the attic.
Our Christmas morning tradition required everyone to wait at the top of the stairs until we could all go down together and gather around the big Christmas tree in the parlor. We had decorated our tree with strings of popcorn and cranberries. At the bottom of the stairs we waited for what seemed an awfully long time while Grandpa gave the family prayer. I remember wondering if the reason he prayed for so long was that all together we made such a big family. It seemed to me that each year, as our family grew bigger, his prayers got longer.
After the presents were opened and the wrappings were put away, we, as many as possible, climbed on the sleigh with big runners. The horses would pull us through the snow, leaving deep tracks behind us as we made our way to the river where old Brother and Sister Opstal lived. I could never understand their broken English, and when I gave Mrs. Opstal Grandma’s raisin pie, I wondered why she cried.
All these things occurred many years ago, but the memory of being together as a family for Christmas burns as brightly in my mind today as the flames in the fireplace that kept us warm.
A Christmas Story: Home for Christmas
I have a little pillow that hangs from our fireplace all year long. The message reads, in cross-stitch, “All Hearts Return Home for Christmas.” The quiet yearning to be home for Christmas does not diminish after childhood or after marriage. Since my husband’s parents were not living, it seemed essential that we travel from Utah to Glenwood, Alberta, Canada, every Christmas. It didn’t really matter that our car was old and the tires were smooth, that there was no money in our pockets, that the tuna fish sandwiches became very soggy by the second day, and that the radio announced that due to hazardous road conditions people should not travel except in emergencies. There was no question in my mind that being home for Christmas was an emergency.
Over the years we learned that a benevolent and loving Father in Heaven must have appointed angels to be round about us and over us as we traveled the treacherous highways that would take us home. One night, off the road in freezing temperatures and a blizzard that made visibility impossible and life-threatening, we waited long enough to be very cold and realize our total dependency on the Lord. After fervent prayers, in the distance the lights from a big truck approached us. The driver rolled down his window and shouted through the storm, his words revealing his disgust that we were out on a night like that; he even complained about his own foolishness to be on the highway. I’m sure he didn’t recognize himself as an angel sent from heaven in answer to our urgent plea for safety, despite what may have been poor judgment on our part. But, poor judgment or no, we had to respond to the urgency we felt about being home for Christmas. Each year, so long as my parents lived in Canada, we went home for Christmas. Finally, eventually, I learned that you can be home for Christmas in Utah even though Christmases aren’t always white.
continued…. A Christmas Story Part II: Mormon Missionaries
Learn more about the real Christmas story at the official site for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called by friends of other faiths as the “Mormon Church”)