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Under The Tree

December 20, 2013 Featured Today No Comments

By DEREK BECHER

Christmas this year was going to be very hard for Aaron — this was for certain. Just eight years old, he had lost his parents in a tragic accident, leaving him alone and understandably full of fear and uncertainty as his world had collapsed upon him. Fortunately, his solitude and worry would be short-lived. As he stood with tears on his face, dressed in his best clothes as he offered his last goodbye to his loving parents, Aaron was embraced by his aunt, his mother’s only sister, who immediately, happily, and lovingly adopted her orphaned nephew and welcomed him into her family as one of her own — a new brother for her own two children.
Aaron’s favorite season of Christmas was rapidly approaching. But without his mother and father, it wouldn’t — and couldn’t — be the same. He couldn’t help but remember and daydream of how wonderful their Christmases were together — filled with love, and family, and celebration of the birth of the Savior! After Christmas Eve Mass, they would return to their little home, gather around a special red candle that they lit only at Christmas, kneel on the floor with their hands joined, and pray the rosary. Then they would give thanks for each of their blessings, sing some of their favorite traditional carols, and exchange a gift before bedtime.
Aaron’s favorite gift, and now his only — and most prized — possession, was the gift that he had received just last Christmas. With great detail and precision, his father had carved from wood the characters of the Nativity. There was a robed and bearded Joseph, a smiling, kneeling Mary, and the beautiful little Christ Child, sleeping in His manger. A shepherd, a cow, a donkey, and three sheep were also part of Aaron’s special gift.
“Oh Papa, you must have worked so long on the beautiful figures of this Nativity. Thank you! Thank you,” exclaimed Aaron, as he took turns handling each figure with great care. The Nativity set had been wrapped in a beautiful tan-colored cloth that was tied at the top with a shiny red ribbon. On the cloth, with red thread, Aaron’s mother had stitched the words, “Never forget — this is the real gift of Christmas.”
As Christmas Eve arrived in his aunt’s home, everyone prepared for Christmas Eve Mass at the church. Aaron dressed quickly and hurried into the large parlor room at the front of the house. There, Aaron unwrapped his Nativity characters and set them carefully under the sprawling lower branches of a massive, wonderfully decorated fir tree, topped with a white glowing angel.
The wooden figures were almost hidden underneath the tree, as they were placed right beside the stand, a full three feet from the outer edge of the lower branches. It was the perfect place, as one yellow tree light dangled there loosely from a branch, providing a faint glow that shrouded Aaron’s precious wooden Nativity characters.
Aaron crawled back out from under the tree, stood back, and gazed lovingly upon the wooden Holy Family. His eyes welled with tears as he remembered how joyful he felt when he unwrapped the gift just one year ago. In the silence and darkness of the parlor room, save the lights on the tree, Aaron whispered, “Dear Mama and Papa, thank you so much for this most wonderful gift. I miss you so much and I am so sad without you; but I know that you are now with Jesus in Heaven. What a wonderful place to be on Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas Mama and Papa. I love you.”
Aaron returned from the parlor room and joined his adoptive family as they attended the Christmas Eve Mass. Afterward, they sang carols, and then each child opened one gift. Aaron was very thankful for the picture he was given. It was taken just last summer of him and his parents in front of their little home, and it was the last photograph ever taken of the three of them together. “Thank you, auntie, I love it,” he uttered truthfully, even as it brought a tear rolling down his cheek.
It was now getting late, and the children were ushered off to bed, cautioned that St. Nicholas would be arriving soon. Little Aaron lay in bed with a heavy heart, happy that it was Christmas Eve, but very sad because he would be welcoming Jesus’ birth without his parents. Aaron clutched the tan cloth that was the wrapping for his Nativity set, and held it close to his heart. With a few more hidden tears, Aaron fell asleep on Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas, Jesus!

The morning of Christmas Day arrived with a burst, as Aaron’s stepbrothers ran into his room and shouted, “Get up! Get up! St. Nicholas has come! Jesus is born! Let’s open our presents!”
Aaron put on his slippers and robe and arrived in the parlor just as his aunt and uncle stepped into the room. The other boys were already picking through the presents, finding the ones with their respective names on them, but Aaron sat quietly and watched with reservation, still clutching the tan cloth wrapping of his Nativity figures.
Gifts were opened in turn, and Aaron waited patiently for his aunt to hand him beautifully wrapped presents, which turned out to be a toy Noah’s Ark set, a soccer ball, a toy racecar track, a model airplane, a frame for the picture of Aaron and his parents, and many various articles of clothing. He had never received such a bounty of gifts before on Christmas morning, and he opened each one of them with more than just a little bit of embarrassment.
Aaron watched as his new brothers almost frantically ripped open their gifts with shrieks of joy. The stack of toys and opened gifts grew larger in front of them, and the parlor floor began to overflow with opened gifts, wrapping, and ribbons, until finally, the last present had been opened.
Aaron’s aunt called everyone to the center of the parlor, where hugs and thanks were exchanged. She then said, “This has been a very special Christmas. We are grateful to have you here to share it with us, Aaron, and to share many more with us in the years to come. Now, who wants to come to the kitchen for fresh baked buns, hot chocolate, and a Christmas orange?”
Aaron’s uncle and brothers wholeheartedly accepted the invitation, and were beginning to exit the parlor, when he unraveled the tan cloth and reread the words to himself that had been lovingly stitched by his mother — “Never forget — this is the real gift of Christmas.” Aaron shyly replied to his aunt’s invitation by saying, “But — please wait. There’s still another gift under the tree. It’s the most important gift of Christmas.” Everyone turned and looked back into the parlor, as Aaron continued, “Come. Come. Come and see what has been given to us this morning.”
Aaron led his new family toward the tree, moving presents aside so that they could make their way to the lower branches. “There. Under the tree, next to the stand,” he said, gesturing toward his precious wooden figures. Aaron’s aunt and uncle had to kneel onto the floor to see under the tree, but at the same time with their children, they all noticed the characters of the Nativity, next to the tree stand. Seeing that the others had noticed his carefully placed Nativity scene, Aaron said to them, “The Baby Jesus resting in the manger. He is the gift still under the tree — the most precious gift of Christmas.”
The five of them were kneeling together at the bottom of the tree. Aaron grabbed his aunt’s hand, and soon they all held hands in front of the Nativity characters. Breaking the moment of silence, Aaron humbly and softly sang, “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear Jesus! Happy birthday to you!”
Aaron’s aunt then led the group in singing two of her favorite Christmas carols. They all knew the words, and rejoiced together as they sang Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! followed by Joy to the World. As they finished the latter song, Aaron’s aunt, still kneeling on the floor, looked at him with much love and gratitude, saying, “Oh, thank you, Aaron. Thank you for reminding us of the world’s most precious Christmas gift. Of course, you are right — the Baby Jesus came as a Savior for all, and there is no better gift than this!”
Aaron’s aunt arose and motioned everyone into the kitchen. Aaron stayed kneeling for a moment, smiling as he looked down again at the words his mother had stitched on the cloth, and the beautiful wooden figures his father had carved for him.
He knew that he would never spend another Christmas with his mother and father, but with the special gifts that they lovingly created for him, he knew that they would always be with him. Knowing this, Aaron looked at the Baby Jesus and whispered, “Thank you.” He added, “Merry Christmas, Jesus,” before he arose to join the others for hot chocolate.

+    +    +

(© 2008 Derek Becher)

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