When I was 10 years old, I was young enough to wish Santa Claus would come to our house, but old enough to know he wouldn't. On Christmas Eve, as I burrowed under thick comforters and placed my feet on a towel-wrapped brick hot from the oven, my mind was fixed on the next morning.
I knew Christmas wasn't about Santa, but the celebration of God's gift, the Savior. Unlike Santa, Jesus is real. A few months earlier, I had given my heart to Him. If Baby Jesus had been born in our barn that winter night, I'd have given Him my bed and my brick to warm His tiny feet.
I didn't have money to buy Christmas gifts for Mother and Daddy. If only Santa had been real, I would have asked him to bring some wonderful gifts for my parents.
I had been begging for a doll I had seen in the Sears catalog, but I knew my parents couldn't afford it. This was during the Great Depression, and they could hardly afford food, shoes and school supplies for us children.
At dawn, we girls dressed by the potbellied stove. After breakfast and the chores were done, we hurried to where our stockings were hung. Each stocking was full of candy and nuts - and even an orange.
There were also packages - including one with my name on it. I tore open the wrapping and uncovered a small wooden suitcase with a hinged lid and fastener. I opened the lid and gasped. There in the box lay a beautiful doll with hair, movable arms and legs, and a lovely painted face. I never dared to dream I would own such a doll. I danced for joy.
Seventy years later, that moment is still precious because I know I gave my parents a gift as well - my delight and speechless gratitude for their gift of love.
During my lifetime, I have received many wonderful and precious gifts - both tangible and spiritual.
Early in my life, I somehow knew I would marry a preacher and go to Africa. God must have planted that desire deep in my mind and heart. Eventually, I married a preacher, and we went to Africa as missionaries. I thank God for giving me a godly, loving husband and such a fulfilling and exciting life. This is the greatest gift I've ever received - and it was from God.
In 1988, we were home on furlough for Christmas. I was surprised by the gift my mother gave me: a doll with dark, curly hair that looked like me. She had dressed it in a wedding gown just like the one I'd worn. In fact, it was made from my gown, and that, too, was a wonderful gift.
During the Great Depression, a lot of families didn't have much. The Christmas I was 12 years old, I knew of a very poor family who wouldn't have a very good Christmas. The father was sick and out of a job. They had two children - an 8-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy.
I asked my mother if I could have a quarter to buy them a Christmas present. That was lot of money then. You could get a dozen eggs for 10 cents, and a loaf of bread was a nickel. Wages were a dollar a day.
I bought a book of cut-out dolls for the girl and a book of cut-out soldiers for the boy. Each cost 10 cents.
We made fudge and popcorn balls, and Mom made a fresh loaf of bread. I went to the root cellar and got a jar of apple butter and peaches. We took the gifts to the family, and they were very happy and grateful.
It brightened our Christmas to know we had made a less fortunate family happy.
I was a stay-at-home mom with several children, so I didn't go out shopping often. Catalogs became my means of shopping.
Just before Christmas one year, I noticed my husband looking through a catalog and making some notes. I was curious, so I looked at the item number he had written down. It was for a double stainless steel kitchen sink. I didn't understand. We were always working on our house, but we already had a kitchen sink.
When Christmas came, there was a large box for me. When I opened it, I wasn't disappointed. My husband said a good kitchen sink would be a lasting gift, and he was right.
I'm still in the same house, and I still have the kitchen sink. It shines up as bright as ever with no dents or scratches, as can happens with old sinks. It was an unusual gift, but certainly a lasting one.
Growing up days
How was growing up different for you than it is for children today? Do you think you had more responsibilities than kids do now? Did you show your parents more respect than some children do today? How did the way you raised your kids differ from the way your folks raised you? Do you feel you did a good job raising your kids? Are your children doing a good job of raising their kids? If you could give your children one piece of parenting advice, what would it be?
Tell us what growing up was like for you. Send your letters by Jan. 9, 2008 to CAPPER'S, Kate Marchbanks, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.
Are you throwing a holiday party this year? Invite each of your friends to bring a dozen of their favorite holiday cookies - along with a few more to nibble on during the festivities. Have containers ready so your guests can take an assortment of bar, drop, sandwich and cutout cookies home. Make your cookies stand out by using the secret ingredients favored by both home bakers and chefs: molasses and pure maple syrup, both all-natural sweeteners. For more recipes and information, visit the Web sites www.GrandmasMolasses.com and www.MapleGrove.com.
Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup cocoa powder
8 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons grated fresh or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup molasses
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
6 ounces chocolate chips
½ cup chopped nuts, optional
¼ cup crushed candy canes
Sift flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and cocoa together. Set aside. Cream butter and ginger until light. Stir in molasses and 2 tablespoons sugar. Gradually add flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Wrap dough in plastic; refrigerate for 1 hour.
Heat oven to 325ºF. Mix crushed candy canes and remaining sugar. Roll 1 tablespoon dough into a ball with palms; flatten into a disk. Dip in crushed candy cane and sugar mix. Repeat with remaining dough. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool completely. Yields 2 dozen cookies.
Oatmeal Lace Cookies
8 tablespoons butter
¼ cup milk
¼ cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup sugar
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup quick or old-fashioned oats
1 cup chopped nuts
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Melt butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat; add milk, molasses and vanilla. Sift together sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Blend into milk mixture. Stir in oats and nuts.
Drop by level teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes. Cool. Yields 6 dozen cookies.
Maple Cream Sandwich Cookies
¾ cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
½ cup milk
½ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¼ cups flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Combine sugar, butter and egg. Add milk, maple syrup and vanilla, mixing well. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto lightly greased baking sheets or ungreased parchment paper. Bake for approximately 12 minutes. 'Paste' 2 cookies together with filling or make 'sandwiches' by placing ice cream slices between 2 cookies, and then keeping them in the freezer until serving time. Yields 15 to 20 sandwiches cookies.
To make filling: Mix together ¾ cup pure maple syrup, ¾ cup marshmallow fluff, ¾ cup confectioners' sugar and 2 tablespoons butter.
Maple Almond Bars
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter, softened, divided
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar,divided
1 egg, at room temperature
3 cups unbleached or all-purpose flour
¾ cup maple syrup
¼ cup honey
¼ cup heavy cream
2 cups chopped almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 10-by-15-inch jellyroll pan; set aside. Cream 1 cup butter and ½ cup sugar together until light; beat in egg. Add flour, about ½ cup at a time, working in with a wooden spoon. Divide dough into 4 pieces; place 1 piece in each quadrant of prepared pan.
Push dough into pan with floured hands, forming a seamless crust, working it up the sides to the top of the rim. Cover with plastic; chill for 15 minutes. Then poke dough 3 or 4 times with a fork; bake for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes.
Mix a tiny bit of flour and water together to make a thick paste; rut a little paste into fork holes to close them up.
Melt remaining butter in a saucepan; add syrup, remaining brown sugar and honey; bring to a boil. Add cream; bring to boiling again and boil for 2 minutes. Quickly remove from heat; stir in almonds and vanilla. Pour over crust in pan and bake for 20 minutes. Cool thoroughly on a wire rack; cut into bars. Yields 2 to 3 dozen bars.
Through the years I have received a number of wonderful gifts. Most were the kind of gifts that weren't expensive, but were from the heart. I received such a gift when I was in college. A friend gave me a small ceramic jewelry box that her late grandmother had given to her. I was touched that she would part with something so precious. I cherished that gift for many years.
When my friend had a daughter, I packed the little box away and vowed that someday I would give it to her when she was old enough to appreciate it. Just last summer, I had the opportunity to do that. It gave me great pleasure to give the gift that meant so much to me to someone who will cherish the meaning behind the gift.
My favorite kinds of gifts are the intangible kind: when someone gives of their time, a hug when I need it or a cheery note when I'm feeling down.
This time of year reminds me of my greatest gift - my relationship with Jesus Christ. What a precious and everlasting gift. He has blessed my life immeasurably, and the joy He brings into my life is a gift that compares to no other.
I find myself troubled this Christmas by the amount of anger growing in this world. We all seem so short-tempered from waiting in line, waiting on the phone, hurrying to get somewhere and going nowhere. I have even been toying with the idea of not decorating this year. It seems so repetitive constantly to be pulling out boxes and putting up a tree, only to take it all down and pack it away again.
The children are grown, living in other cities with their own families, and I wonder why bother. I can remember when it was such a joy. The excitement of the season and the pleasure of shopping for gifts used to fill me with peace, and I long to feel that peace again.
I find myself wondering if the magic is gone, and I don't think we can afford to allow that to happen. The magic of Christmas was not the decorations, or the lights, or even the snow. The magic of Christmas is the blessing, and that is what we must pass along to one another so that we can learn to stop the anger. The magic of the blessing is the promise.
On second thought, I think I will pull out those boxes and decorate my small corner of the world, as a symbol of renewing the promise. Those lights across my porch will burn through the dark night with bright hope for each new tomorrow. I love Christmas for the hope it brings.
Father, thank You for this blessed day to be able to express our joy for Your promise and the belief in Your message by decorating our homes and our hearts with Your love. May we find peace in Your light and the joy that once filled our childhood. Protect our soldiers and bring them home safely to their loved ones. Father, this Christmas teach us to replace the anger with love. Amen.
D. Susan Rutz