Cynthia breathed in deeply the sweet smell of wood smoke and pine needles before she opened the mailbox. It was stuffed full of letters, and she pulled them out with a smile. Christmas cards were one of her favorite things about the season. Not the most important, she reminded herself, but enjoyable all the same.
Papa Richland was a pastor so they knew a lot of people and hardly a day went by with an empty mailbox. Just a week ago, they had stuffed it full themselves sending out invitations to the church Christmas party.
Huge windows lined the front of the house, and she could see a little of the cheery work going on inside. Pushing open the front door, she stepped into the cozy dining room, and stamped the snow off her boots. Everyone was singing different snatches of Christmas carols, and no one minded at all.
The dining room looked absolutely lovely, or would, when Esther had finished arranging the decorations on the long serving table, and Francis had finished hanging garlands above the windows. Cynthia felt as if she would burst with it all.
“Francis, where is Papa?” she asked looking up at him as she unwound her scarf.
“In his study working on his sermon, and you know only mother can break into his thoughts,” Francis replied over his hammering.
“Oh, well, I’ll take the mail to Mama; if it’s important she’ll tell him. That’s how they met, you know: when he was thinking very hard.” She wound her way past the blazing fireplace whose mantel had already been decorated, and found herself in the kitchen.
“Here’s the mail, Mama. Anything I can do to help?” she said laying the mail as far as possible from the floury kitchen table, but still near enough for Mama to reach.
“Yes, dear, thank you. You can roll out this dough, I’ll take the opportunity to see how Matt and Abby are doing at their assignment,” Mama said wiping her hands on her apron and taking it off.
Cynthia imagined the cookies tasted just as wonderful as they looked. Aunt Bessie was decorating them with selections from a huge bowl of candy on the counter beside her, and little Leigh was watching her fascinated.
The afternoon soon passed, and the family found the hour for the party very near at hand. Mama was everywhere at once, helping Papa with his tie, straightening hair bows, and making sure everything was in perfect order. Matthew was posted at one of the large windows to alert them when the first sleigh arrived. It came sooner than anyone had expected, and Papa rushed to open the door with a welcoming smile. Francis carried the newcomers’ coats to Mama and Papa’s bedroom, and Esther showed everyone first to the snack table, then to the living room.
Another sleigh arrived, then another. Cynthia found herself holding Leigh, and surrounded by laughing and talking friends.
“Cindy! How good to see you!” a voice called out, and she was hugged by a girl about her own age.
“Hello Mary!” she said with a pleased smile.
It seemed as if every family from church was there, even the Bartons. Their two little girls hung back from the rest of the crowd and stuck together. Their dresses were definitely from last Christmas, as they were beginning to be small-fitting and quite shabby. Cynthia’s conscience told her to welcome them, but she was so caught up in the joy and excitement that she ignored this message. After all, what could she do for them when all they really needed was a job for their father for Christmas?
The group gathered in the living room, and Francis was called upon to bring more chairs, but still some people had to sit on the floor. They started with the Christmas carols that Papa had chosen, and Mama accompanied on the piano. Cynthia shared a hymnal with Esther, and their alto and soprano voices blended together in beautiful harmony. Snow had begun to fall again outside, and the light was beginning to fade in the sky.
Then everyone was quiet, and Papa stood up to preach. He was a captivating preacher, clear and moving, and even his family sat as if spellbound listening to his sermon.
He was talking about blessing people, and Cynthia felt her conscience speak again.
“So this Christmas, think of how you have been blessed and strive to bless others as well. Let the love of God in your heart pour forth into the hearts of others. It doesn’t take huge, important endeavors to bless people. Sometimes it only takes a prayer, a smile, or a kind word to brighten someone’s life,” Papa explained.
The bright sincerity in his eyes spoke to the hearts of those listening, and Cynthia’s thoughts raced on. Papa had wanted to be a missionary, and when that couldn’t be he became pastor of a small town. She looked around the room and remembered just how many people he had blessed. As soon as his closing prayer had been said and everyone began to drift back into the dining room, Cynthia turned to Esther. “Esther, do you remember those rag dolls we made?”
“Are you thinking what I am?” Esther asked.
They disappeared together into their bedroom, and found the rag dolls stowed in a drawer dressed in clothes made from scraps leftover from their own Christmas dresses.
“We were planning on using this calico to make them everyday dresses. How about wrapping them in it so the girls can themselves?” Cynthia asked.
Moments later, they rejoined the crowd, each with a small package in their pocket.
“There they are,” Esther told her sister nodding towards the two little girls who were studying the dazzling Christmas tree complete with Matthew and Abby’s paper chains.
“Hello,” Cynthia said for the both of them.
The little girls didn’t answer but smiled back shyly.
“We wanted to give you these. Merry Christmas,” she added, and the sisters placed their packages in the girls’ hands.
The girls smiled, and the oldest said, “Thank you. My name is Jessie.”
“Well, Jessie, would you and sister like to join us in the dining room?” Esther invited.
The girls smiled again, and Cynthia and Esther felt smiles in their hearts.