Carefully unwrapping cherished ornaments, I uncover Baby’s First Christmas 1979. The phrase suggests the family’s newest addition, who may be aged anywhere from infant-in-arms, like my firstborn son Kyle, a month old that year, to toddler-batting-Christmas-balls.
But some of us come to Christmas much later. For me, Baby’s First Christmas occurred my thirteenth year.
My family’s unusual religious heritage included a Jewish mother and a father who was a Jehovah’s Witness, not a recipe for a merry Christmas. After Christmas vacation, my schoolteacher allowed time for each child to tell a gift he or she had received. Already suffering the daily embarrassment of not saluting the American flag—Witnesses don’t—I just couldn’t announce, “We don’t celebrate Christmas.” Instead I lamely lied, “A doll.”
Around my eighth birthday, my family moved, we stopped attending the Kingdom Hall, and Daddy began to soften. Already a softie, Mommy would use any excuse to shower her five children with gifts.
They first flirted with Christmas by taking us the day after to a huge discount store and allowing us to choose toys. The next year we opened presents on Christmas Day. Before long we added a tree, then outside lights and a huge wreath in our picture window. Finally, our friends stood wide-eyed in our huge living room, absorbing the spectacle of packages spreading out from the tree to the walls.
Years of fasting had made us Yuletide gluttons.
In my eleventh year, Mom ironed and neatly packed all of Dad’s shirts, then suggested he go live with his current girlfriend. As divorce negotiations proceeded, money was scarce, and Mom looked for a source of income that wouldn’t involve leaving my five-year-old brother with a sitter. She began working in the nursery of a little church, taking Timmy with her.
After the Baptists learned about her family, they persistently asked, “When are we going to meet your other children, Doris?” She finally succumbed, and one wintry Sunday evening my siblings and I attended our first pot-luck supper, followed by a missionary slide show.
Mr. Roberts had visited Nicaragua with a work team, and now he bribed the skinny seventh-grade visitor, “If you come to my Sunday School class, I’ll give you a Nicaraguan quarter.” By the time he remembered to bring my quarter, I faithfully attended his class on Sunday mornings and Baptist Youth Fellowship on Sunday evenings.
That Easter Mr. Roberts arrived before dawn to transport the Tucker kids to their first sunrise service, followed by breakfast at the pancake house. Driving us to church and youth activities added many miles to the odometer of his green Plymouth, while snacks on the way home subtracted from his wallet.
Later that spring the Plymouth took us to see The Restless Ones, a film produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. After the film, Taffy, David, and I responded to the invitation. Counselors helped us find the words to pray as we asked Jesus to be our Savior and forgive our sins. A few weeks later Brett could no longer stand being left out, and also prayed to receive Jesus.
The following December, for the first time I looked beyond the holiday and saw the Holy One born in Bethlehem.
On Christmas Eve, Mom and my siblings gathered around the Gulbransen spinet organ (Model G) and sang carols, which I played from my Pointer System book. We read from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, then listened attentively while seventeen-year-old David preached his first sermon to his small congregation of younger brothers and sisters.
More than four decades have passed. Our parents are both gone, as is Mr. Roberts. My siblings and I share Christmas with our own spouses, kids, and grandkids, in five states from New Jersey to California.
Although there’s no commemorative ornament to hang on the tree, in my heart I cherish the forty-fifth anniversary of Baby’s First Christmas.