Mail-Order Christmas
by Alice Stratton

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Mail-Order Christmas" was originally published in Friend, December 1981, p. 4.

The article is also available online at:

The article is reprinted here with permission.

When I was almost eleven, Papa was badly hurt in a mowing machine accident. He had been hurrying to put up his last cutting of hay so he could take a bricklaying job on the new library building. Papa was pleased when they offered him the job. He knew the extra money would come in handy, especially around Christmastime.

Now here he was in traction, one leg suspended from a pulley. But at least he was alive. Whenever he started feeling sad about losing the library job, we’d remind him of how glad we were to have him home.

“Harry, Francis!” he said to Mama. (Harry was papa’s favorite word for emphasis) “I had such wonderful plans on what I was going to do with that extra money.”

“Now, George, there’s no need to worry,” Mama consoled. “You’re alive and getting well, and we’re mighty glad for that. We got along without anything extra last year and the year before that and all those other years. Things are going to be all right.”

“But, Francis, I’d planned to put in those new kitchen cupboards you’ve been wanting for so long. This will put a crimp in Christmas.”

Mama silently regarded Papa’s leg hanging from that ridiculous contraption above his bed. He was a real Christmasy man, and he and Mama always went shopping together. When Mama realized that he wouldn’t be able to go this year, she said, “I’ll tell you what, George. This year we’ll do our Christmas buying right here in this room.”

“Harry, Francis!” Papa shouted. “Have you taken leave of your senses?”

Mama went to the book cupboard and got out the mail-order catalog. “This will be a mail-order Christmas, and you, George, will be the shopping supervisor.”

We weren’t the kind of folks who got lots of presents, but what we did get, we really enjoyed. After supper that night, we drew names for gifts, and Mama told us how much each one of us could spend.

Teena, who was only four, held up her slip of paper and asked, “Whose name did I get, Mama?”

Mama looked at the paper and then whispered something in Teena’s ear. Teena giggled.

This was in mid-November. For the next week or so the mail-order catalog was pored over every minute that we were out of school. When our minds were finally made up, we went, one at a time, to the chair beside Papa’s bed. With a clipboard propped up in front of him, he made out the order, then told Mama the total amount so that she could make out a check. Only Papa knew what the order contained.

The envelope was sealed and mailed just before Thanksgiving. When nothing arrived within two weeks, we became anxious. Days came and went, but still no package.

The week before Christmas Papa had his cast removed, and he was able to hobble about on crutches. Uncle Ed brought us a tree, and we decorated it. The day before Christmas we received a notice from the mail-order company saying that our letter had been missent and that they had just received it. They were sorry about the delay but assured us our order would arrive within a few days.

What a disappointment! My sisters and I felt like sitting down and bawling. We knew now that there would be no presents on Christmas morning. Mama and Papa felt just as bad as we did, so there was no use making a scene. Instead of just moping around, we decided to decorate the house extra special with evergreen boughs sprinkled with glitter.

As we prepared to leave the house to climb the hill after the boughs, Teena begged to go with us.

“You’re too little,” I said.

Her face crumpled like she was going to cry, so Francene said, “Ah, let her come. She’ll be all right.”

Later as we were returning down the steep trail with our arms full of boughs, Teena skidded on a pebble. She couldn’t stop, and fell over the embankment onto a pile of rocks. Francene, Mary Ellen, Doris, and I scrambled down to where she lay, limp and lifeless. Blood from a small cut was already matting the curls on her forehead.

“Oh, Teena! Teena!” Francene sobbed as she pressed her mitten against the cut. Tenderly she lifted her into her arms.

Mary Ellen tied her scarf around Teena’s forehead, and we sorrowfully picked our way down the last little pitch of the hill to the house. None of us spoke, because we were all silently praying.

Mama met us at the door. As Francene laid Teena on the bed, Papa and Mama bent over her.

“Her breathing is shallow,” Papa said.

“We’d better call the doctor,” Mama’s voice quavered.

The doctor said to bring Teena to the emergency room at the hospital. Papa stayed with us, and Mama and Francene took Teena to the hospital. After what seemed hours, Francene came home alone. Mama and Teena would be staying at the hospital overnight.

What a Christmas Eve! I sat in front of the fireplace with my chin cupped in my hands and a lump in my throat. I was certain that in all the world no one had so many things go wrong as we did. Then Papa sat down in his reclining chair, and Mary Ellen, Doris, and Francene pulled their chairs up beside mine. Quietly, Papa began to tell us again about a Christmas Eve almost two thousand years ago when a little baby was born in a stable, because there was no room at the inn.

As Papa talked, I thought about how differently we lived. We had never had to sleep in a stable. The lump in my throat began to go away, and as Papa told about the wicked king who wanted to destroy Baby Jesus, our troubles grew smaller and smaller. A peaceful feeling filled the room. Then Mary Ellen played the organ and we sang until bedtime. After kissing Papa goodnight, we snuggled down in our beds to sleep.

Christmas morning, Francene and I went after Mama and Teena, while Mary Ellen and Doris fixed dinner. Never could there have been a more uncluttered Christmas day—no wrappings and no litter. It was just a beautiful, relaxed, and happy time because all of us were together. Teena was a bit woozy, but the doctor said she would be just fine. And we discovered that day that the very greatest gift of all was love. Oh, how much we enjoyed each other! Papa even clowned around on his crutches to make Teena laugh. We felt more than ever before the love of our Savior and gratitude for His gift of everlasting life.

The mail-order package? It arrived four days after Christmas. But even the excitement of opening those long-awaited gifts couldn’t compare with the memory of our unforgettable Christmas just a few days before.