Friday, October 30, 2009

A Different Christmas

by Ava Pennington

“I’m sorry, Mom, I’ll miss you all, too.” Carlotta sighed when her mother interrupted.
“But you’ve flown back home every year since you moved to Nashville. Surely Tamas would understand if you explain it to him.”
Tears welled in Carlotta’s eyes. “Mom, I don’t like it anymore than you do”
“If you have to be with them on Christmas Eve, you can still spend Christmas Day with us.”
“Mom, we’ve talked about this. They’re in Chicago and you’re in New York. It’s impossible for us to combine trips. We were together for Thanksgiving. I promise, next year we’ll be with you for Christmas, and we’ll spend Thanksgiving with them. It just can’t be helped…I love you, too… Bye.” Carlotta flipped her cell phone shut. Well, that did it. Her favorite time of year ruined. Peace on earth? Not for her. Not this year.
Her engagement ring caught the light as she pushed her chair back from the table. Tamas couldn’t wait for his parents to meet her, but why did it have to be on Christmas Eve? Carlotta sighed again. It wasn’t fair. Heavenly Father, you gave me a wonderful family. Why can’t I spend Your Son’s birthday with them? I don’t want to celebrate Christmas with strangers. I don’t even speak Danish. I want to celebrate Christmas with my family.
The chair leg hit several rolls of wrapping paper leaning against the table and they clattered to the floor. Christmas was a week away and she still hadn’t wrapped her family’s presents. She would have to finish tonight if she was going to mail them in time for Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve. Her thoughts wandered to past Christmases. After her mother’s traditional seafood dinner, the entire family would congregate in front of the Christmas tree—her parents, both sets of grandparents, and her two older brothers and their wives. They’d talk, laugh, and make room for Nonna’s homemade cannolis. Conversations in English and Italian would fill the air as Christmas carols played softly in the background. Babbo would read the birth of the Christ child from the family Bible. Carlotta was always the one who placed the angel atop the tree. Then the tree would be lit and everyone would scramble to open the cascade of presents flowing from beneath its branches.
Everyone but her…
She quickly gathered the wrapping paper. The phone rang and she cringed. Not again, please! A quick glance wiped away her frown. “Hi, Tamas. Where are you?”
“Just finishing up at the office. I should be at your place in half an hour. Ready for dinner at Antonio’s?”
An hour later, they were ensconced in a cozy booth in Antonio’s and had placed their orders.
Tamas reached for her hand. “Min elskede, you’re quiet tonight.”
“It’s nothing.” Carlotta smiled at him. “Just the stress of the Christmas season, I guess.”
He brushed her ring finger. “Don’t let it get to you. The important thing is that, in one more week, my whole family will finally meet you. They have been eager for this moment ever since I told them about you.”
“I’m eager to meet them, too.” She pushed a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. “It’s just that this will be my first Christmas away from my own family.” She rattled the ice in her water glass, and spoke more to herself than to Tamas. “Someone else will have to put the angel on top of the tree this year.”
“I’m sorry, min skat. But this is the only time my family will be together before the wedding. Soon they will be your family, too. When you walk down the aisle, I want them to love you as much as I do.”
“Of course, you’re right.” She played with her water glass again. “It will be fine. Different. But fine.”

“Different” was an understatement. Christmas Eve dinner consisted of roast goose with potatoes, gravy, and red cabbage, followed by rice pudding. No fish and no cannolis. Of course, they tried their best to make her feel like family, but…
After dinner, Tamas’ father disappeared into the living room.
Carlotta tilted her head at Tamas.
He grinned at her. “It’s time for the lighting of the tree. This has always been my favorite part of the evening.”
Heavenly Father, I don’t want to go in there. They’re not my family. Not yet, anyway. I want to be with my own family, to be there when they light our tree.
His father called them from the other room, and the family followed his voice in hushed anticipation.
“Carlotta!” Tamas’ mother beckoned to her from the kitchen door. “Would you help me carry these dishes?”
Their hands laden with plates of klejner, honey cakes, and marzipan, Carlotta and her future mother-in-law hurried to join the rest of the family.
When they were all together, Tamas’ father cleared his throat. “Tonight, we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, we have been adopted into God’s family.” He cleared his throat again. “It has always been my privilege to place the star on top of our Christmas tree before lighting it each year. This year is different.” He nodded to Tamas, standing next to Carlotta. “Tamas has brought a precious new addition to our family this year.” He picked up a shimmering gold star and held it out to Carlotta.
Tamas nudged her forward.
“Welcome to our family, Carlotta. Would you do the honors?”
Tamas lifted her by her waist so she could reach the top of the tree. With the star firmly in place, they stepped back. A flick of a switch, and the tree lights bathed the dimly lit room in a soft glow as everyone clapped.
Carlotta wrapped her arm around Tamas, as the warmth of his family’s love enveloped her.
Christmas certainly was different this year. Different—but good.

Ava Pennington is an author and teacher. Her book One Year Alone with God: 366 Devotions on the Names of God(Revell) will be available Fall 2010 where Christian books are sold. You can visit her at