What was your best Christmas gift ever? Do you still remember it? Was it during the Depression, or World War II, or in a time of plenty?
Do you remember the best Christmas gift that you ever gave to someone? I bet it was a gift to a child. You can still see the little feet jumping with joy, tiny hands hugging the toy, the sweet eyes filled with stars and hear the giggling of delight.
In the winter of 1945 I was a child living in post-war Czechoslovakia. I remember scarce, rationed food, ruins in the street, sad and angry adults wearing black mourning attire.
Christmas was coming and my stepsister Dana was packing rationed sugar cubes in paper to become the highly desired part of our Christmas tree’s decorations. (I knew the chocolate ornament concept then only from fairytales.)
Our industrial city Ostrava was burdened with several thousand German prisoners of war. They had to clear the ruins, shovel Ostrava’s black coal onto wagons, and repair roads and railways. On Saturday afternoon a few of them were permitted to go free for walks.
People hated them. It was never a pleasant outing I guess. But freedom is such a precious thing they would risk some spitting and cursing.
As I played in the corridor of our house, one of them — a child soldier — entered and addressed me. He was perhaps 16 years old.
Taken by his blond handsomeness, I felt in love for the first time in my life. But I did not understand my prince.
I called Mom, and she called Dad, because Dad spoke German.
Hans was offering (though forbidden to do so) to work a few hours for us in exchange for any food. He was very thin. Dad agreed.
I then silently watched him assess our Christmas tree, cutting off some lower branches and implanting them on the empty spaces of the tree trunk, securing the tree in the stand and presenting it to my mom with hope and sadness in his eyes.
I followed him as he brought the week’s supply of coal from our dark, scary cellar. I watched him shoveling snow and finally gulping up the watery soup and dry rye bread.
After that, I silently watched dad lay some money on the table, a brown bag with apples and nuts from our own yard trees, and a small pack with a picture of a camel on it.
The boy’s eyes exploded with joy! He grabbed the package, he almost laughed and almost giggled with delight. I knew what it was — a pack of smelly, yucky cigarettes, purchased on the black market.
Father asked him something. The boy answered: “Nein.” I understood that word; it meant “no.” I guessed dad asked if he smoked.
“Aber meine Kamaraden,” he answered with an anxious voice.
My father’s eyes got wet, as he pushed the pack, the money and the bag forward. I will never forget it. Only later did I realize how scarce cigarettes were in those days.
So the greatest Christmas gift my dad ever gave was a pack of American cigarettes. The boy received it as his greatest Christmas gift just to pass it on to his friends. For them, it was perhaps the only gift that sad Christmas. Oh how fast can a seed, a good deed multiply?
Sitting silently at that table I listened to Dad say to Mom that the boy is the only surviving child of a widowed mother and the authorities promised he would return to her in the spring. Dad invited him to come any time he was able.
My infatuation ended soon. In March Hans was shipped back home to the mourning, guilt-laden, destroyed Germany. But he was alive, his life was spared, his “Mutti” was alive. He was excited, happy.
I remember in that sad winter some adults also speaking with joy words, “alive, life, spared, survived, not terminated.”
How much is everything changed now? We have plenty of food, chocolates on our Christmas trees, heaps of gifts under them. But society does not value children, does not value life; it terminates freely the young ones and now wants to terminate also the old ones.
Yet, life is the most valuable thing on Earth, something that cannot be purchased. Once we have it, we don’t want to lose it, we protect it for ourselves. So why don’t we want to give life, why don’t we care to sustain life? We can always help to spare some lives, to sustain endangered lives, we all can do at least something small.
Almost all Christians consider themselves pro-life. Why then is it that pro-life organizations’ memberships dwindle; why are they starved for funds? Why do we permit the media to silence our pro-life words? Why do we all fear to touch the subject of abortion and our pastors and priests fear to speak against it? Why are our politicians willing to listen only to the loud screaming: “Terminate them! Terminate them!”
This Christmas, please help spare lives, sustain lives, help to give a life to a baby unwanted by our society, perhaps even by one of her or his parents. Please help to restore the sanctity of life in Alberta once more. Become a member of some pro-life organization, make a donation this Christmas in support of life.
I don’t know what happened to Hans after he returned to his mother. You might never know whom or how many people’s pro-life activities prevented aborting babies.
My parents helped to sustain one young life with what little they had of watery soups, potatoes, dark bread and apples. The boy was thankful for this, because he knew, he felt, “Life is good in itself. Life is good and sweet. In spite of pain, in spite of rain, life is good indeed.”
This Christmas, give a gift of life. It is the best gift you can give. Whatever you do to the little ones, you do unto him, the Babe of Bethlehem. Oh, how fast can a seed, a good deed, multiply!
(Astride Wenigerova-Noga lives in Beaverlodge and is a board member of Alberta Pro-Life.)