Gloria moved the crystal ornament up one branch on her Christmas tree and then took a step back to admire her work. Perfect, she declared to herself. She turned to her children, dressed in coordinating red and green velvet.
“Time for caroling, children.”
Gloria ignored the three sets of eyes that rolled disrespectfully into the back of their heads at the mention of caroling. She clapped her hands briskly. “Let’s go.” She looked up the curving staircase. “TOM!” she screamed in her familiar, yet piercing voice. “Time to go!”
Tom trudged down the steps with heavy feet. “Why?” he sighed in an icy tone as he brushed past his wife and headed out the front door.
Gloria, with her hands on her children’s heads, pushed them out of the house after her husband. “Because, we’re a beautiful family with beautiful voices and it’s nice and neighborly. It’s tradition.”
“Whatever,” he said as he leaned against a porch column and waited for her instructions.
“Now, just like we’ve been practicing, we’ll sing three songs at each house. We’ll open with ‘Jingle Bells.’ She turned to the youngest child. “Do you have the bells?”
The small child obediently raised her bells with a shake.
“Good. Then we’ll sing the religious song, ‘Silent Night.’ We’ll finish with ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ as we walk away. Remember, if they invite us in, we graciously decline.”
Gloria adjusted her daughters’ curls and straightened her son’s tie. She nodded approvingly at her family. “Remember to smile.”
The four marched down the sidewalk behind Gloria.
At 102 Holly Lane, Bertha Jones sat in her late husband’s faded recliner and silently stared at the empty spot where her Christmas tree usually went. Since Charlie had died, she didn’t feel like decorating. A tear ran down her cheek as she imagined Charlie scolding her from Heaven. “Good grief, old lady. Get off your duff and put up the tree. Do it for the grandkids.” She chuckled at his pretend words. “Sorry, Charlie. I didn’t listen to you when you were living. I’m not going to start now.” I miss that old coot. Bertha’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of singing. “It’s the Stephensons!” She wiped her face and plastered on a fake smile as she headed to the door.
Her heart melted at the sight and sound of the precious family. As they sang, she felt a familiar stirring in her heart. I love Christmas, she remembered. Okay, Charlie, you win. The tree goes up!
Inside 127 Holly Lane, Julie Canion was overwhelmed. She couldn’t make the baby understand he couldn’t unwrap the gifts under the tree. Tiffany had just spilled fingernail polish on Julie’s favorite Christmas tablecloth. Trevor was shooting rubber bands at the Christmas balls on the tree and the dog had just knocked over a poinsettia. “Christmas is more trouble than it’s worth!” she was thinking when she heard the singing.
“Kids, it’s carolers!” She shouted joyfully. The motley group hurried to the door and, to Gloria’s horror, sang along with the Stephensons in loud, off-key voices, even breaking into spontaneous dance. When they shut the door, the entire family was laughing and celebrating. Julie looked at her happy family and said a prayer. “Thank you, Jesus, for leaving Heaven and coming to this imperfect world. Help me always remember YOU as we celebrate this season.”
At 129 Holly Lane, Dave and Brenda were arguing over their Christmas budget. According to Dave, they just couldn’t afford the lavish gifts they normally sent to family and friends. The couple stopped bickering when they heard the jingling bells and melodic voices. As they listened to the Stephenson family sing, Brenda realized that the Stephenson’s caroling didn’t cost anything, yet was lovely and meaningful. After the Stephensons left, Brenda turned to Dave. “You’re right, Dave. Christmas isn’t about how much money we spend. I’ll do my part to be creative this year.” Dave hugged his wife appreciatively.
The Stephensons continued to make their way down the street. When they finally arrived back home, the children were exhausted and Tom was even grumpier than usual.
“How’d we do, Mom?”
“When you’re weren’t squirming, you did okay. Next year we’ll do better.”
“I don’t know if there will be a next year. I’m tired of this charade.” Tom pulled off his Christmas tie and tossed it onto the sofa.
Each family that heard the Stephensons sing were blessed. Sadly, the Stephensons missed out on the blessing.
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