This little story was first published in Midwest Living Magazine in 2001, when it was one of the winners in their Christmas Memories contest. I hope you enjoy it.
In my homeland of Hungary in 1944, World War II played havoc with everyone’s lives, especially during the holidays. My grandparents, who were raising me, and I had traveled by horse and wagon throughout the countryside searching for safer surroundings, along with hundreds of other people.
In December, after settling into a small house in a city , my grandmother, who didn’t want me to be too disappointed, told me we would have to observe Christmas mainly in our hearts that year, without a tree or gifts. But I prayed to God every night, and had much hope in my heart that our Christmas would be special, just like it had been in the past, when things were still good in our country. At age eight, I still believed in the magic of Christmas!
Air-raid sirens sounded frequently at night in that time of fear and strife, often forcing us to sit in the dark, praying, until danger passed.
However, Christmas Eve arrived quietly, with no war-planes buzzing, and no air-raid sirens going off. And somehow, to my great surprise, my grandparents had managed to get a small Christmas tree, and set it up ablaze with candles and a few strands of tinsel and sweets, in our tiny parlor. And wonder of wonders, there were even a few presents, with my name on them, under the tree. The Christmas Angel had come, despite the war, bringing gifts from the Baby Jesus, like on other Christmas Eves in the past.
That night for supper, we ate noodles covered with poppy seed and honey, the traditional Christmas Eve supper, then gathered around our glowing little tree to quietly sing Christmas hymns, and Grandpa read the story of the first Christmas, from the Bible, as he had always done in the past.
Then I opened my presents, and I found a bright red scarf, mittens and a jaunty, upturned hat just waiting to be tried on. (Years later, I learned that my grandmother had unraveled one of her old woolen sweaters, dyed the wool a bright red and crocheted my gifts while I was at school.)
I went to church that Christmas morning with a joyful heart, wearing my bright red woolens, and I thanked God for giving us a very special Christmas, despite the war.
There have been many wonder filled Christmases since that Christmas of 1944, but none have been quite as special as that humble, war-time Christmas!
Peace! Love! and Joy! to everyone this Christmas!
A War-Time Christmas, Copyright 2001 by Renie Burghardt