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My Turn: Hope and faith were wrapped up in my mother's Christmas wish

To my annual holiday query, my mother’s answer was always unwavering and steadfast. She would respond without hesitation, invariably in the gentlest of whispers.

You see, each year we indulged in a rather concise yuletide colloquy prompted by my question and immediately followed by my mother’s answer. Our dialogue was metaphorically tucked in the eaves of the attic, stored next to the old corrugated box indelibly marked in faded black ink “Christmas Decorations-Fragile.” As we unwrapped and excavated delicate ornaments from crumpled newspaper with bold headlines from the year prior, it was then that I would seize the moment and ask my annual question, “What would you like for Christmas, Mom?”  

Quite predictably, my mother’s response consisted of three words, the same exact three words, year after year. Together we would then proceed to decorate the tree, string the lights along the mantle above the fireplace, assemble the manger with its collection of ceramic Nativity figurines carefully placing it in the bay window of our Cape Cod home. We would unfold the vintage poinsettia tablecloths and the red felt stockings, each embroidered with decorative holly and bearing an inscription in green lettering of the first name of a family member.

My mother’s response to my annual question was clearly tethered to more than the tinsel we haphazardly threw on the Christmas tree on that designated Sunday afternoon in early December. Rather, the threads of our conversation were deeply woven into our family’s Christmas tapestry of tradition and song. In retrospect, I see that the question I posed year after year had ripened at some unknown juncture into a festive, yet deeply meaningful rhetorical tradition.

Only years later would I fully appreciate and comprehend the profundity of my mother’s response, experiencing my very own epiphany, albeit not completely biblical but rather blessed with an awareness that my mother’s three words — carefully chosen and softly spoken year after year — were swaddled in hope and faith.

As a child I had been frustrated, a bit confused, by my mother’s response. It was not tactile, it could not be purchased, wrapped in a box, tied with a red bow and placed under the tree until Christmas morning.

Nevertheless, there was the year many decades ago when I saved my babysitting income and purchased a Christmas gift for my mother that was accompanied by a self-proclaimed conviction that I had finally, successfully stumbled upon a fitting gift, one that embodied my mother’s annual reply. The gift was a snow globe depicting a serene village winter scene. It had a wind-up key on the bottom that played an instrumental version of “Silent Night.” In hindsight, I see the snow globe was an illustrative microcosm of the three words my mother repeated each year.

Today, half a century later, in a world often wrought in uncertainty and turmoil, my mother’s response continues to resonate with me — and certainly bears significance and relevance for mankind. As I hear the chiming of Christmas bells this holiday season, so too I hear the echo of my mother’s response to my inquiry, “What do you want for Christmas, Mom?”

“Peace on Earth” was always her reply.

Patricia Sorrentino,

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for My Turn are original works by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday, 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville, NY 11747. Include name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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