Each of us who celebrates Christmas finds her individual path to the season’s joy. For some, the trail begins with the headiness of a pine tree’s perfume. For others, it happens when the family manger is unpacked and set up. Still others, it’s when a treasured cookie recipe is unfolded and baked again.
I discovered my path as a very young girl and it has remained so into my adulthood, decades later. My holiday trail begins every year in Pine Ridge, Kentucky, even though I’ve never set foot there. It begins with a young girl I never met, yet whose soft Southern voice is embroidered in my heart. She is my Christmas herald.
Imagine a time when radio was still the great communicator, when Bing Crosby drew large audiences to his CBS radio show. Bing personified Christmas then. And in 1955, his 9:00pm Christmas Eve broadcast was heard by hundreds of thousands of people all over the globe. For that show, Bing had invited children to enter a letter writing contest describing what Christmas meant to them. The prize? The contest winner would read her letter to the listening world.
Recorded on the 1958 record release of that broadcast, A Christmas Sing with Bing Around the World (DECCA Records®), Delores Short’s letter to Bing is my Christmas signpost. Before an Advent calendar gets hung, before a decoration even comes out of its box, I travel to the Dessie Scott Children’s Home for a rendezvous with Delores:
Dear Bing Crosby:
I’m a girl of eleven years. I’ve lived in a children’s home since I was a baby and I just love it. Christmas has always meant a lot to us. What does Christmas mean to me? Days of excitement. Secrets. Making gifts. Hiding gifts. Baking cookies. Going to the woods for holly, mistletoe and Christmas trees. . . The hanging of stockings. . .
Every year when I listen to Delores, her excitement about the holiday is still as vivid to me as it was when I was a child. Then her letter opened my eyes to the world outside my family’s embrace. It was she who first made me grasp that not everyone had a family like mine with a mom and dad.
Growing up in a Navy family, by the time I was eleven I had lived in more places than I could count on one hand. As I grew older, I came to realize that Delores had something I did not—a sense of place. I envied her the roots she did have.
. . .What does Christmas really mean to me? It means the birthday of a tiny baby come to Earth to bring joy, peace and salvation to men. Even though there wasn’t room for him in Bethlehem and he had to sleep in a manger, there’s room for him today in children’s hearts.
Over the years, there have been times when I haven’t made room in my own heart, especially now that I have left childhood behind. When in a moment of pettiness, or in an act of selfishness, I have isolated myself or hurt someone I love. When in a moment of frenzy, I have been swept up in the holiday’s flurry of to do’s. Then I become still. I realize I have lost sight of what Delores’ message speaks to my heart.
Family — no matter what shape it takes — is measured not by blood, but by love and shared experience. Cherish it.
Joy is being present in the moment with those we love, baking a cookie, retelling a story, or giving someone our undivided attention. Share it.
Grace is replenished when we extend it in welcome to everyone. Bestow it.
Peace is found within, for without its presence in our own hearts, how can we expect it of the world? Live it.
By now, Delores would be in her mid-60s. Every year, I wonder about her. What has her life been like? Does she still experience that joy with a renewed spirit at Christmas time? I hope so. I want her to know that, because of her, I do every single year.
Delores Short, wherever you are, Merry Christmas.
What or Who heralds Christmas for you?
Your Next Quest