Dec. 25 came early to Boston this year. It came in the form of 250 letters from Monitor readers around the world, responses to our request for descriptions of your special Christmas traditions. They were gifts of love, from mothers, teachers, servicemen; from entire grade-school classes; from the elderly. Today and tomorrow we present a sampling of your letters. If space permitted, we would print every one. Our deepest thanks to all who took time to write, and to all our readers, a joyous Christmas. Every year before Christmas Me and my family go into consecration or you can say a fast. That means praying and thinking and reading about God. And wile doing this we do not eat or drink for three days. Then a few day later we go out and buy one another gift or we draw names. 2 days before Christmas we all to church listen and watch the Christmas program or sometimes we be in the program. On Christmas day we all go to Christmas tree to open gift but before that we have a short prayer. Then we exchange gift and have a great big I mean big dinner.
And that's my family tradition. Elisha Sailor, Seventh Grade, Carter Parramore Middle School, Quincy, Fla.
This Christmas will be very different. I am involved in a countywide program providing shelter to the homeless. I work the 5 a.m.-to-7 a.m. shift. My morning to help falls on Dec. 25.
Santa will have arrived by the time I leave home, and my three children will have awakened by the time I return. The part about my family doesn't bother me. That's easily solved with a little supervision from Dad.
My anxiousness comes from worrying about how to say ``Merry Christmas'' to people who have no place to go.
When the last bed is rolled up and the last table wiped clean, I will return to my husband and children. My three- and six-year-old daughters will dance around like visions of sugarplums, while my one-year-old staggers through the debris. And my husband and I will exchange smiles over their joy.
I find myself praying for a way to bring some of our joy to those whose lives seem without any. Mary Beth Elgass, Woodridge, Ill.
`Candle of the Christ Child'
I know a little how God
loves His world; Come, Baby Brother,
Creation awaits us -
Amen, Amen Billie Thompson, Carthage, Ill.
Several years ago, my wife and I had to sit our three children, then aged 9 to 15, around the dinner table and explain that it would be a lean Christmas, since our finances were particularly tight. The children accepted the news well, but I ached inside, wishing I could do something more to make the season special for them.
The best idea we came up with was the ``Spirit of Christmas Tree.'' We bought a tiny tree and put it on a table in the family room - undecorated. Next to it we put a bowl of ornaments and a sign with this inscription: ``You may put an ornament on my branches when you do a deed of kindness for someone. (Family members deserve kindness, too, but they don't count.)''
We found that children hate to see an undecorated Christmas tree, so this little tree gave the children something to think about in the weeks before Christmas. All of us were alert to opportunities to help others: taking schoolwork to a sick friend, giving a ride to a stranded stranger, helping an elderly lady who fell on the sidewalk. Each new ornament added to this special tree had meaning.
Of course, this Christmas turned out to be one of our best. We started a new tradition, and we all learned that a deed of kindness is one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone else - or to ourselves. Richard B. Frantzreb, Roseville, Calif.
THE shepherds of the Christmas story have always seemed significant to me. Realizing the solemn event of Jesus' birth, they journeyed over the Bethlehem hillsides and positioned themselves forever as part of the Nativity scene.
Three years ago at Christmas, as we bounced along the West Bank road connecting Bethlehem and Jerusalem, a real-life shepherd stepped into our life. Khalid was a young Palestinian riding the Arab bus with us. He looked more like John Travolta, with his dark hair falling over his forehead, than a shepherd from the hills outside Jerusalem. But the bright, brown eyes and the quick, shy smile indicated that this Christmas Eve we were about to be shepherded through the old city by our newfound friend. He helped us get off at the right stop outside the Jaffa Gate and escorted us through the tangled web of street vendors and stalls rich with smells and activity in the Arab quarter of old Jerusalem. Khalid paused often to show us sight and introduce us proudly as his friends from America. That evening he cut my husband's hair in a friend's barbershop, bought dried fruit from another friend's stall, and sang Palestinian folk songs for us. Later, when we parted company so he could meet his curfew in returning to the town of the Nativity, we felt we'd been given a gift of love and brotherhood.
The following day went far beyond our expectations. Khalid's family (a nearly blind grandmother, mother, three unmarried sisters, and a score of little cousins) sat on a cold, stone floor around a tiny fire and shared olives, bread, and tea with us. The simplicity of their life style was overshadowed by the love and richness of their generosity. Only blocks from the Church of the Nativity, the caring and unselfishness of the shepherds of the Christmas story were being played out around Khalid's family fire.
Last summer we found our way back to Khalid's simple home. Down twisted, narrow, stepped streets, we relied on our memories to carry us back to the home of our ``shepherd.'' But this time we were to be the shepherds - caring and protecting. We sat late into the afternoon with the women of the family, waiting for Khalid to return from work. Three years had brought some changes in the one-room family dwelling: There was some furniture; the kitchen now had a partition separating it from the rest of the room; and Khalid had created a ``bedroom'' in the corner of the big room for his new, 16-year-old bride.
But Khalid wasn't home, and in our halting Arabic we conversed with the women of the family. Suddenly, the garden gate was thrown open and the women turned to the door, expecting Khalid's arrival. Instead, three soldiers in green garb and heavy armament of the occupying force burst into the room. Our hearts nearly stopped; my mouth went dry. So this is what it feels like, I thought.
The mama motioned for us to stand up and be seen, away from the corner of the room. Our non-Arab appearance served to send the soldiers scampering out the door. ``Al hamdulillah, al hamdulillah!'' the mama kept exclaiming, throwing her eyes and arms upward in thanks to God. ``Thanks be to God that you were here,'' she said gratefully. Suddenly we realized our presence had saved the women of this family from undue questions or harassment while Khalid was absent. We were the shepherds in that situation - comforting and protecting the sheep of modern-day Bethlehem.
When Khalid did return he was overjoyed to find us waiting for him, and to know that the women of the family had been protected - by the new shepherds in Bethlehem. Sharon Carper, Elsah, Ill.
When my sister and I visited Greece in 1961 we saw an appealing Greek boy who needed special help. After we returned home, we were haunted by the thought of this smiling yound lad, who was trying to earn a living but was obviously handicapped. By contacting the Greek Save the Children office, we learned his name and were given a brief account of his family's poignant history.
We learned that his rehabilitation would cost much more than the two of us could afford. So we asked our family and friends to contribute the amounts they would have spent on Christmas presents for us to the fund we were starting. They also understood that we would use the money we would have spent on presents for them to the child's fund. For several years we were able to meet the needs of the boy in this manner and equip him for earning a living a much better way. Elizabeth Swearingen, Washington
Our family's traditional Christmas began in the second week of December. Our two young boys helped us make cakes and cookies for young men in the Preston School of Industry prison. The Christian Science chaplain and a few Sunday School teachers spent most of the weekend packing shoe boxes with handmade goodies for a very special brightly wrapped Christmas box for the men. Although our children weren't allowed to participate at the prison party, still they felt the real meaning of the holiday season.
I well remember the comment of a young prisoner as my husband walked him back to his quarters. ``You know, this is the first present that I've had in seven years.'' My husband told him that the little box had been packed with much love just for him. Yvonne Black, Mission, Texas
Ports of Paradise Hawaiian Dancers (three of us) present ``Christmas in Hawaii'' to retirement home, convalescent hospitals, senior clubs, and other groups. It is a 45-minute program of holiday hulas in the joyous spirit of aloha.
Mele Kalikimaka - Merry Christmas! Maralee Burdick, Sherman Oaks, Calif.
`Why Christmas is Unique to Me'
It is almost Christmas Eve, A special poem - a story to weave, My Christmas is unique, Because of celebrations from
the Greek: Christmas wishes, holiday dishes,
they are not the same; For all of these things hold
special names. Through the snow, people go, thinking
of a holiday treat, Our family sings, laughs, and talks
at this annual meet. In ancient times there were
these rhymes: From Zeus came the rain, and from
Demeter came the grain. Using wheat we get flour, To bake loaves at this hour. The birth of Christ, rejoice! rejoice! The three wise men heard an
angel's voice. Hristopsomo means ``Christ's bread,'' To honor the child's glowing head. Appetizers called mezethes include
smelt and shrimp, If we keep feasting we will appear
as a blimp! This year we have lots of luck, Ya-ya my grandmother has fixed us
a duck. Dessert is an enjoyment, But without my Grandfather Papu's
rice pudding, It would be a disappointment. I'm proud of my culture as you can see; But now that I have explained it, it's
not ``all Greek to me.'' Tom Balamaci, Fifth Grade, Fairfield Country Day School, Fairfield, Conn.
`The Four Wisemen'
It was the evening of the school play, and this year the pre-kindergarten class was depicting the Christmas story. My son, Jonathan, was one of the three wise men. We had spent many hours draping him with a variety of fabrics and ornate costume jewels. Making his crown was a labor of love. We were thrilled with his ``ensemble.''
When I left him backstage, we both were looking forward to the performance. Thus I was most surprised after a 10-minute delay in curtain time, when the director found me in the audience to ask if I would come backstage to coax Jonathan out of his stage fright.
I found him holding his crown, tears everywhere, cheeks glowing red, and able to respond only with sobbing. His best friend, Dale, volunteered to take his place. The change was made willingly by both boys. Jonathan welcomed his role as spectator with a grateful smile.
On the way home, we spoke of everything concerning the performance, except the unexpected stage fright. Jonathan felt the omission and finally said, ``That sure was nice of me to lend Dale my wise man's costume!'' Kathryn I. O'Connell, Idyllwild, Calif.
When I was very young, my parents decided to leave their comfortable, established way of life to file for homestead rights in northeast Montana. This homestead joined one belonging to an aunt, uncle, and cousin, whom we lived with while our house was being built.
We lived in our new house just three weeks when a tornado came and utterly destroyed it, with most of the contents. Enough lumber was salvaged to build a one-room home for us to move into before winter came.
As Christmas drew near, my cousin and I tried to put on brave faces, knowing there was no money for gifts. But unknown to us, our parents were determined that the spirit of Christmas would not be missing. The mothers made precious rag dolls and clothed them from scraps of materials. The fathers made each of us a sled and a treasure box, which the mothers covered and lined.
That small house was filled with the glory of the kind of love that was brought to the world with the birth of the Christ Child, whose birth we were celebrating. Fairy E. Shepherd, Longview, Wash.
On Christmas Eve my family gathers around an L-shaped table at my great-uncle's home and eats a traditional Slovenian dinner, including sauerkraut soup, homemade Italian sausage, oplatki, and kolach'e cookies for dessert. But the food isn't the highlight for me; it's the short devotion, during which everyone holds hands and sings popular hymns and prays together.
The unity I share with my family at this time of the year fills me with a joy and love that can never be fully explained in words. My prayer at Christmas is always that those who don't know this love will one day experience it. Stacey L. Mott, Shorewood, Ill.
My husband always worked on Christmas Day. He was a policeman. After duty hours, we had a large family gathering with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. But the times I remember most were the moments we shared with people we may not even have known.
There was the year that a son gave up a new G.I. Joe on Christmas Eve for a family who had been burned out. There were the years that Dad and a daughter delivered chocolate eclairs to the men who were working late at the police station.
After 17 years of working on Christmas Day, Dad got Dec. 25 off. We thought it would be so different. That's the year one of the girls worked all day at the local nursing home.
The real meaning of a family Christmas is sharing universal love. Shirley Foxworthy, Kansas City, Mo.
Last Christmas I cut and carried my great tree up the hill from the valley woodland and hung on it no decorations - only tiny twinkling lights and many small three-by-five cards. Each card bore the name and logo of an organization to which I contribute. The family was invited to claim the cards of their choice, and to this card's cause a donation would be made in their name. This was the Christmas gift.
The children were full of questions. ``What does Amnesty International mean? What is Greenpeace?'' I can see the littlest one now jumping and teetering up and down in his eagerness to understand ``What is UNICEF?''
Well, bless me, no one even noticed, least of all the children, that there were no presents under the tree, only a draped old red shawl. Winnifred Cartland Wingate, Canterbury, N.H.