Gleaned from the Internet and author unknown, here is a story about Christmas that I think helps illustrate the meaning of the holiday.



*****

He woke up suddenly and completely! It was 4 a.m., the hour at which his father had always called him to get up and help with the milking.

Strange how the habits of his youth clung to him still! Fifty years ago – and his father had been dead for 30 years – and yet he awoke at 4 a.m. He had trained himself to turn over and go to sleep, but this morning it was Christmas, he did not try to sleep.





Why did he feel so awake? He slipped back in time, as he did so easily nowadays. He was 15 years old and still on his father’s farm. He loved his father, but he had not known how much a few days before Christmas that year, when he had overheard what his father was saying to his mother.

“Mary, I hate to call Rob in the mornings. He’s growing so fast and he needs his sleep. If you could just see how he sleeps when I go in to wake him up! I wish I could manage alone,” his father said.

“Well, you can’t, Adam.” His mother’s voice was brisk. “Besides, he isn’t a child anymore. It’s time he took his turn.”

“Yes,” his father said slowly. “But I sure do hate to wake him.”

When he heard these words, something in him woke: His father loved him! He had never thought of it before, taking for granted the tie of their blood. Neither his father nor his mother talked about loving their children – they had no time for such things. There was always so much to do on the farm.

Now that he knew his father felt such empathy and love for him, there would be no loitering in the mornings and having to be called again. He got up after that, stumbling blind with sleep, and pulled on his clothes, his eyes tight shut – but he got up!

And then on the night before Christmas, that year when he was 15, he lay for a few minutes thinking about the next day. They were poor, and most of the excitement was in the turkey they had raised themselves and the mince pies his mother made. His sister sewed presents and his mother and father always bought something he needed, not only a warm jacket, maybe, but something more, such as a book. And he saved and bought them each something simple, too.

He wished, that Christmas he was 15, he could have a better present for his father. As usual he had gone to the ten-cent store and bought a tie. It seemed nice enough until he lay thinking the night before Christmas. He looked out of his attic window, the stars were bright.

“Dad,” he had once asked when he was a little boy, “what is a stable?”

“It’s just a barn,” his father had replied, “like ours.”

Then Jesus had been born in a barn, and to a barn the shepherds had come …

The thought struck him like a silver dagger. Why should he not give his father a special gift too, out there in the barn?

He could get up early, earlier than 4 a.m., and he could creep into the barn and get all the milking done. He’d do it all alone – milk and clean up, and then when his father went in to start the milking he’d see it all done.

What a wonderful surprise! And what a wonderful way to show his love for his father.

Rob laughed to himself as he gazed at the stars. It was what he would do, and he realized he mustn’t sleep too soundly.

The youngster must have awakened 20 times during the night, scratching a match each time to look at his old watch – midnight, 1:30 a.m. and then 2 a.m.

At a quarter to 3 he got up and put on his clothes. He crept downstairs, careful of the creaky boards, and let himself out. The cows looked at him, sleepy and surprised. It was early for them, too.

He had never milked all alone before, but it seemed almost easy. He kept thinking about his father’s surprise. His father would come in and get him, saying that he would get things started while Rob was getting dressed.

His father would go to the barn, open the door, and then he’d go to get the two big empty milk cans. But they wouldn’t be waiting or empty; they’d be standing in the milkhouse filled!

“What the—,” he could hear his father exclaiming.

He smiled and milked steadily, two strong streams rushing into the pail, frothing and fragrant.

The task went more easily than he had ever known it to go before. Milking for once was not a chore. It was something else – a gift to his father who loved him.

He finished. The two milk cans were full He covered them and closed the milkhouse door carefully, making sure of the latch. Back in his room he had only a few minutes to pull off his clothes in the darkness and jump into bed before he heard his father coming up the stairs.

He put the covers over his head to silence his quick breathing. The door opened.

“Rob!” His father called. “We have to get up, son, even if it is Christmas.”

“Aw-right,” he said sleepily.

The door closed and he lay still, laughing to himself. In just a few minutes his father would know. His dancing heart was ready to jump from his body. The minutes were endless – 10, 15, he did not know how many – then he heard his father’s footsteps again. The door opened and he lay still.

“Rob!”

“Yes, Dad?”

He couldn’t tell if his father was laughing or sobbing, but it sounded like something in between.

“Thought you’d fool me, did you?” His father asked as he was standing beside Rob’s bed, feeling for him, pulling away the covers.

“It’s for Christmas, Dad!” Rob said.

Rob found his father and clutched him in a great hug. He felt his father’s arms go around him. It was dark and they could not see each other’s faces, but Rob could feel tears running down his father’s face.

“Son, I thank you. Nobody ever did a nicer thing,” his father said softly.

“Oh, Dad, I want you to know – I do want to be good. I want you to know how much I love you.”

The words broke from Rob of their own will. He did not know what to do because at that moment his heart was bursting with love for his father.

He got up and pulled on his clothes again. Rob and his father went down to the Christmas tree with their arms around each other.

Oh, what a Christmas it was!

Rob’s heart nearly burst again with shyness and pride as his father told his mother and made the younger children listen to the story of how Rob got up all by himself and milked the cows.

“The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I’ll remember it, son, every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live,” his father told Rob in front of the whole family.

They both remembered it every Christmas since, and now that his father had long passed, Rob remembered it alone: that blessed Christmas dawn when alone with the cows in the barn, he had made his first gift of true love.