magical time at my house.  My grandparents created traditions that were passed on to my parents, who passed them on to their children. I have now passed them on to my own children, so they may pass them on to my grandchildren one day.  

Cruising for Christmas lights, decorating the tree to Christmas Carols and reading the first Christmas story from the Scriptures are just some of the many traditions that make up our holiday season.  

My sister and I grew up in a very humble home. A lot of chicken legs and hamburger meat suppers blessed our table as the main staple around rice or potatoes.  But, in December our home transformed into this enchanted forest filled with a twinkling tree of multicolored lights and silver tinsel.  An abundance of gifts were placed under the tree ushering in weeks of curiosity. “I wonder what’s in them?” That was the question in the forefront of our little minds.  Holiday foods of roast turkey or ham, creamed potatoes, giblet gravy, fresh rolls, vegetable casseroles, and sweets were spread far and wide across what seemed like an endless table.  Those gifts though – they were the temptation that put me on the naughty list one year.

I was seven, maybe eight, and my sister was 11.  We were latch-key kids as both of our parents worked outside the home.  Daycare was not a financially feasible option for my folks and searching for “outside” help was also outside of mom and dad’s pride circle. Everyday we’d hop off the bus and wait in the house, left to our own devices for a few hours before our parents arrived home.

My sister was a bit on the mischievous side – that’s being kind.  I was the typical little sibling who wanted to be just like my big example leading the way, but I was too young to know she would be leading me down a dark, coal-filled, Christmas path.

“Hey!  Come see what I found!”  She was holding a forbidden present in her hand. We were not allowed to touch or shake the gifts and here my sister stood, holding one. I was obviously uncomfortable, but then she presented the magic she had discovered. It was too tempting to resist.

“Did you know if you really carefully peel the tape back on the side of the present you can open that end and see what’s in it?” she asked.

Of course, I had no idea. I was told not to touch them and I had been obedient. That’s the kind of kid I was – the “goody-goody rule follower”.  

The demonstration that followed piqued my interest and threw all of my innocence out the door.  We spent the next hour or so opening every single gift under the tree.  It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.  After all the packages were resealed, we went about our merry way, sure we had gotten away with the greatest Christmas Caper ever!

We were wrong. We were oh so wrong!  

It turns out two small children aren’t as gifted at matching used tape back up to its original place and the ends were popping up, screaming out our guilt for all to hear.  My mother, was not amused.  

We may laugh about it now, but I was sure Santa would never be allowed to visit our house again after the scolding we received.  All the gifts were removed from under the tree. I was convinced my mother would remain true to her promise that we would only receive coal in our stockings that year. My dad never said anything, not one word about it. I know now it’s because he found it so funny he was afraid he’d burst out laughing while trying to chastise us so he kept quiet.

As Christmas Eve approached, I remember being embarrassed about what I had done, sad I had disappointed my parents, and even more morose over the idea I would not have a thing under the tree to open Christmas Day.  But a Christmas miracle happened! All the gifts had returned and Santa had come. What magic! He filled the stockings, leaving his own surprises for us. A note on the mantle read: “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice and you’ll be on the Naughty list!”  

I can promise you from that day forward I have always been on the nice list.  May your holidays be filled with fun and laughter and may your lists be filled with love and forgiveness.  Merry Christmas!

• Stephanie Bell is Executive Director of Pierce County Family Connection.