FEATURE — Almost every night in our home, my three kids are given instructions for the same bedtime ritual – brush your teeth, put on your jammies and go into your room for a bedtime story. We love stories, and reading before bed has become a cherished part of our day.
This part of the routine started when my children were very young with books like “Goodnight Moon” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” As they grew up, we progressed to the beloved rhyming tales of Dr. Seuss, and we took delight in a rascally pigeon who wanted a puppy but wasn’t necessarily keen on sharing his hot dog.
My two boys have moved on to chapter books, and we have voraciously read through the likes of Roald Dahl –”The Twits” and “The BFG” among our favorites – and now R.L Stine’s “Goosebumps” series and Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.”
In December we pull out our Christmas stories and visit Whoville with the nasty Grinch or take an exciting journey on “The Polar Express.” During Christmas it is always my hope to send my children to sleep as the children in “A Night Before Christmas” go to bed, with “visions of sugarplums” dancing in their heads.
And sometimes my children will say to me, “Mommy, read us a story that you make up.”
And so I do. As you might expect, my children are always the heroes. In my made-up stories, my kids have won obstacle races and built amazing buildings, they have ridden on the backs of magical unicorns and befriended a T-Rex.
In December my stories often go something like this:
Once upon a time, there were three children who lived at the edge of a beautiful and colorful desert. The children loved the desert with its many shades of red and orange cliffs and its bright blue sky. But it was December and almost Christmas and still their home had no white snow.
One day while the children were playing on some sand dunes, an elf appeared to them and told them he urgently needed their help. All over the world the Christmas spirit was fading fast, and Santa was getting sick. If the three children couldn’t help, not only would there be no snow but there would be no Christmas at all … the children just had to save Christmas.
Of course, it is just a story. Or is it?
It is no secret that 2016 has been a tough year for many. The world lost several of its most iconic music and film artists, the global political landscape was rife with fear and hatred … and my dog died. The latter isn’t world-altering, but it happened on Dec. 31, 2015, just as we were about to ring in the new year.
In hindsight, the loss of our sweet dog seemed to be foreshadowing of the difficulties that would plague the world this year. And now it is Christmas, and the Christmas spirit is fading.
Or at least it can feel that way at times. But I have another story to tell. It is actually many stories. These stories don’t begin with “Once upon a time,” they begin with “Once upon a place.”
Once upon a place called Southern Utah, I found myself standing outside the Bloomington Wal-Mart watching as several students from throughout Washington County gathered to await the arrival of United States Armed Forces veterans who had long ago served our country and who now resided in the Southern Utah Veterans Home in Ivins.
The two unlikely groups – young students and older veterans – had united in the common cause of providing Christmas to families who were in need.
It was a joyous scene to witness, and I kid you not, just like in all the greatest holiday stories, my “Christmas spirit” meter went up a notch.
Later in December, I was present at a ceremony that honored veterans who have passed away. A large group of supporters stood in the bitter cold wind at Tonaquint Cemetery to pay tribute to our service men and women by placing Christmas wreaths on their graves, not as a decoration but as a remembrance of their sacrifices.
Spirit meter rising.
And throughout the season the stories kept pouring in.
In the Pine Valley community, residents collected boxes full of warm coats and other clothing, as well as needed personal hygiene items, snacks and winter accessories. These donations will fill stockings for people living at the Switchpoint Community Resource Center in St. George on Christmas.
All across Southern Utah people donated new and unwrapped toys for Toys for Tots and loose change for Kony Coins for Kids. Thousands of presents were wrapped and delivered. Hundreds of families were the recipients of a community’s love.
And in both Iron and Washington counties early morning silences were broken by the sound of police sirens as excited kids participated in Shop With a Cop.
What Southern Utah residents couldn’t hear, however, was my Christmas spirit meter going off the charts. Just as it did in early December when I asked the amazing ladies in my book club to bring children’s books to donate toward helping with literacy right here in Southern Utah – and they did, they showed up with stacks full of stories.
These stories will go beyond my children’s bedrooms and into this community that I love, the community that saved Christmas.
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