Pennsylvania received record snowfall during the winter of ‘66. The drifts nearly buried me when I jumped off my front porch. But despite all the white around me, my Christmas that year was black.
We had one of those fake looking artificial trees my mother rescued from a Woolworth’s basement sale. Paper chains recycled from kindergarten thru sixth grade drooped from the branches, along with candy cane baskets my sisters and I each received when we were too young to eat them. The peppermint candies had permanently fused together from the scorching attic heat. I wedged mine into the branches on the left side of the tree - my side - the side where I planned to pile my gifts.
I was hoping for a big haul that year since my mother worked at the finance company. We were officially a two income family since she decided she needed more than the few dollars my father doled out every Friday. My wish list made up almost the entire Sears catalogue.
“You can’t ask for the same things I did.” My older sister grabbed the book. She crossed off my name by the roller skates. “One big gift only.” Somehow she had decided she was the keeper of the book that year. Santa’s helpers must have been desperate.
I already knew I’d get a stuffed animal and pajamas. We always did. But our parents told us we could also ask for one big gift. With double salaries – I figured it prudent to ask for more.
My Prancing Pony.
The two foot high battery operated horse filled my dreams. Instead of dancing with sugar plum fairies, I envisioned galloping across the living room chasing bandits. Forget that I was probably too big to even sit on it. The picture in the catalogue promised this toy would fulfill my fantasies of being Jane West. A real horse had already been vetoed even though I’d offered to clean my bedroom.
“We live in town. Wait until you grow up.” My mother turned back to her ironing.
Her words meant little to me. I was convinced Prancer would be mine. After our Christmas Eve eggnog, I slipped under the tree to make enough room for my gifts.
I didn’t sleep that night – or the next morning. My little sister always peeked on Christmas hoping to earn bragging rights. That year was no exception. “Get back in your room. I don’t want to know what I got.” I covered my ears when she whispered about a huge pile.
“Come on down now, girls.” My father always turned on the Christmas lights before we tumbled down the stairs. We shivered in the early morning hours as we grabbed for our presents.
Prancer was eating Christmas oats in someone else’s living room.
I searched under the tree hoping I’d missed one last package. Nothing. My sisters were surrounded with their pile of toys. My mother was preening in her new bathrobe. My father waited by the doorway ready to trash the discarded wrapping paper. I sat eye level with my gray-haired stuffed poodle.
“I wanted My Prancer Pony.” Tears rolled down my cheek. If Santa himself had been there I doubt I would have held back my words. It wasn’t a matter of wanting more presents- although my pile was smaller than both my sisters’ combined - I counted. My eleven year old brain reasoned that my parents should have known what mattered to me.
“I guess you would call this a Black Christmas, huh?” My father touched my mother’s shoulder. The hurt on his face did not escape me. It was too late to call back my words. Christmas became blacker than the coal we had been threatened with all year.
My sisters immediately chimed in on the bandwagon. “Black Christmas – Sister’s having a Black Christmas.” I wanted to crawl under the empty tree.
I don’t know how I got through that holiday. I think when you are eleven; God gifts you with the ability to shrug off the awful times easier than as an adult. It would have been nice if my sisters could have too.
The following Easter, my Sunday school teacher led me to the Lord. When December 25th rolled around, I had a much smaller wish list - one page to be precise. I didn’t even cringe when my sisters teased if I was going to have another black Christmas.
My heavenly father had already taken care of that.
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