When I was growing up, Christmas was a magical time of year. Although money wasn’t plentiful, my parents made sure I never did without and, even when times were lean, brightly wrapped presents were always piled beneath the tree on Christmas morning.
However, as an only child herself, and the mother of another only child—me—my mom was mindful that we’re often negatively stereotyped as spoiled, selfish and self-centered. As such, and even if family finances hadn’t been an issue, I’d never have been given all the things I thought I wanted for Christmas and birthdays.
The Christmas I was six was a particularly tough time for my family, and when I was scouring the glossy store catalogues to make my “wish list,” I already knew the season would be more modest than usual.
I’d heard that times were hard at the North Pole too, and even Santa Claus, who had millions of children to give presents to, had to cut back on expenses. So, when I went to a big downtown department store to visit him on the Saturday before Christmas, I was careful to ask for only one Barbie doll.
And then, as we left Santa’s grotto and passed the toy department, it happened.
On a shelf facing the escalator and just at my eye level, sat a perky, white stuffed dog with a jaunty red ribbon tied around its neck. Its amber eyes glowed and seemed to focus on me. I stopped in the middle of the busy store, oblivious to the people diverting around me, and my dad bent down to see what had captured my attention.
From at least fifteen feet away, I knew that dog was mine, and I wanted it for Christmas with every fibre of my six-year-old being.
I pointed and dragged my parents toward the shelf where the dog sat and reached out a tentative hand. Its fur was soft and, when I rubbed my cheek against one of its floppy ears, it was exactly the right size to cuddle—almost like a real dog would be.
I swallowed and my eyes smarted. Without being told, I knew it would be too expensive, at least that year and only a week from Christmas. Besides, I already had lots of stuffed animals. And, as my dad reasonably pointed out, I didn’t “need” another one.
Maybe not, but I certainly wanted one. And as we left the store, and during the days that followed, all I could think about was that dog. In my imagination, I’d already named him “Snowball” and could picture him tucked in beside me in bed each night—friend, protector from the monster I thought lived in the closet, and more.
On Christmas Eve, I set out cookies and milk for Santa as usual and then tried to go to sleep. Why couldn’t I have seen that dog earlier? Maybe if I had, and it was the only present I’d asked for, I could have had it. I knew I couldn’t ask my parents, but Santa had always granted my wishes before. However, this time I hadn’t asked him for what I wanted most.
Although I finally fell asleep, when I woke the next morning, I didn’t have my usual Christmas day excitement.
With my parents’ hovering behind me, I went into the living room to get my stocking where it hung over the fireplace and stopped. Beside the tree and below my stocking sat Snowball, as white and perky as he’d been in the store. His amber eyes glowed, his red bow was still jaunty, and his fur was as soft as I remembered.
I don’t remember what other presents I received that year, but that moment of surprise mixed with childish joy is still as fresh as it was on that long ago Christmas morning.
I never knew what sacrifices my parents made to give me that stuffed dog, but it was a present that had a powerful impact on my life. It made me believe in miracles and that dreams can come true. And throughout the rest of my childhood and adolescence, Snowball sat on my bed as a tangible symbol of how much my parents loved me.
Now as an adult with a family of my own, Snowball is still part of my life. Although these days he’s more gray than white, and his red ribbon is frayed, his amber eyes still gleam brightly from his perch in the bedroom my husband and I share.
And especially now that my parents are gone, each time I look at him, I’m reminded of the love of family, what it means to be a parent and, when December comes around, the true meaning of Christmas.
Happy holidays, and may you find joy in special seasonal memories of your own. I’m taking a break from blogging over the holidays but will be back with a new post for a new year on 5 January 2018.
If you’re following my release tour for my new book, Back Home at Firefly Lake, there are only a few days left to win a giveaway (open internationally) to win an Amazon gift card and paperback copies of my Firefly Lake books. Enter here (the link is at the bottom of the post under “Giveaway”) and also read a guest post from me on Bookish Jottings about having a happy British Christmas in Canada.
And if you missed it on social media, Christmas came early for me this year when Back Home at Firefly Lake was chosen as one of Amazon.com’s best books of December. See “Best books of the month: Romance” here.