Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Traditions

We started doing something for Christmas 28 years ago that has become somewhat of a tradition for us.

Ann and I were married in 1979 and we quickly added two children to our home so she quit her job teaching high school at Bingham High which meant the steady income and great health insurance stopped for us. I was finishing my MBA at the University of Utah and had started two businesses not knowing which one would pay off in the end. The carpet cleaning business had a steady cash flow but it would never make a lot of money and it required a lot of labor, lots of hassles with equipment breakdowns, picky customers and also employee issues, like one employer, my younger brother, Jr. Mr. Utah, who could not find addresses well. The mortgage business was extremely difficult then because home mortgage rates were 12-15%. Anyone with an assumable loan of 10% counted their blessings. The housing and stock markets were far worse than they are today so it was hard to sell homes or anything for that matter. It was a time of financial distress for many worse than what we face today.

In addition to the fledgling businesses, in order to pay the bills I was a relief driver for Metz Baking Co. (Old Home bread) during the summers and I started work at 4 AM and got done at about 11 AM. From that job I went to work at the mortgage business and at 5 or 6 PM I would go off to MBA school or study.

Ann taught piano lessons to bring in a little extra income. We lived on a strict budget of $1,100 per month. Our house payment was $656 of that. We shopped the sales and seldom splurged on any extravagant extras like butter, fancy breads or name brand cereals. Prized possessions in those days were cereals like Captain Crunch which had no generic version and cost twice as much as the Toasted Oats.

Ann tried to make as many things as possible for Christmas in order to stretch our budget. Homemade pajamas, dresses or pants were a large part of Christmas. Homemade candies were our typical gifts to friends and family. Our total budget for Christmas was $600 and we felt blessed to have that because many of our friends and neighbors were out of work and had nothing for Christmas.

We decided that we needed to help those around us who would not have anything for Christmas and so we took one half of our Christmas money and used it for those less fortunate than we were. We got three $100 bills and put each one in a Christmas card and an envelope and took care in how we wrote the names on the envelope or any special message inside because we did not want anyone to know who their anonymous benefactors were. We would leave the Christmas card with the money in it on the doorstep or in the door of the recipient so that they would easily find it when they came to the door. Then we would ring the doorbell and run for cover so that we would not be detected in our act of kindness.

Although Christmas was short on gifts at our home it was a time of great joy and love for us and our children. We were blessed with the true spirit of Christmas. In time, we were blessed with more money and we included a box of food so that the family could have a complete Christmas dinner with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pie and all the trimmings. Often our list would double to six families rather than three.

Sometimes these people would share with us the tender story of their special Christmas miracle of receiving an anonymous box of food and money on their doorstep. We rejoiced with them at the tender mercies they received from the Lord without ever letting them know that we had done it.