From a window, Celia watched, as snow fell like dew drops on her battered pickup. Shivering, she pulled a blanket over her head, as the wind banged against the tiny clap-board house.
Inside the one bedroom shack, three children wrapped in blankets lay on a bed covered with debris. Darla, the youngest of the three rubbed her eyes and reached for her doll.
Looking around the room, she watched as her mother continued to stare out the window. "Are you looking for Santa Claus mommy?" The voice seemed far away, then it grew louder. Had someone spoken? Then she heard it again. "Are you looking for Santa, mommy?"
Celia turned in the direction of the voice, and saw Darla, holding Miss Muffett, her doll. With so much on her mind, Celia had forgotten about Christmas. Besides, she didn't have any reason to celebrate. She lost her job, her husband of fourteen years divorced her, and there was a grand total of $3.50 in her checking account.
Stifling a sob, Celia turned to her daughter. "No honey, mommy's not looking for Santa Claus. Are you?" Nodding her head, the girl began rattling off a list of toys she wanted. Knowing she could not afford them, Celia asked the girl to choose one gift. But Darla was persistent, and said she wanted everything or nothing at all.
Although she was only six, Darla knew exactly how to manipulate her mother. "I bet if daddy was here he'd buy me all the toys I wanted." Bursting into tears, Celia turned and looked at her daughter. She wanted to take the girl in her arms, and tell her how sorry she was that she couldn’t afford presents this year. But she knew it was a no-win situation.
The girls had always chosen her ex-husband Eddie over her. No matter how hard she tried, Celia never measured up to their father, who in the girls’ eyes was a saint. But realistically, Eddie Cantrell was a scumbag. Handsome with extravagant taste, his weakness were women and money, in that order. And it was those obsessions that caused him to divorce Celia ten months ago. Now she was left to raise her daughters alone.
Although she received $700 a month in alimony, in addition to child support, without a regular paycheck she could not keep the girls in the lifestyle they had become accustomed to.
When she married Eddie, she had no idea she was marrying into one of the wealthiest families in Banton Grove. Raised by parents who were dirt poor, Celia reveled in her role as an aristocratic housewife. She drove a Lexus, wore designer clothes and lived in a luxurious home with six bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. Now as her eyes scanned each crumbling particle in the tiny room, it was apparent she had hit rock bottom.
It was two days before Christmas, and moments ago she received word from her former in-laws, that a bad investment had wiped out Eddie's savings. So the checks would be delayed, temporarily.
Wringing her hands, Celia stepped away from the window. She had taken three steps when she looked at the bed and lovingly peered at her daughters. They were the love of her life. Chebre, thirteen, was the oldest. Feisty and independent, she was the replica of her father. Sarafina, nine, was the quietest. Diagnosed with sickle cell at four, she was the spitting image of Celia. Then there was Darla, the chubby little girl whom her parents nicknamed "Boo, Boo." At nine and thirteen, Sarafina and Chebre knew the truth about Santa, but Darla waited in anticipation for the Big Guy's arrival.
Celia didn't have any money so she couldn't afford to buy presents. The girls were already angry at her for divorcing their dad. Now she had to tell them Christmas would be less than merry this year. Refusing to put it off any longer, she walked over to the bed. All three girls appeared to be sleeping. "Darla," she cried, instantly awakening the little girl.
The sound of Celia’s voice awakened the other children. "Darla, Chebre, Sarafina, sit up. I want to talk to you." Before going on, she reached over and tickled Chebre's toes. Regaining her composure Celia spoke again. "Your dad's checks are going to be a little late. So, instead of getting your presents on Christmas, you will get them the day after New Year's." Darla stared at Celia. What was she talking about? Moreover, what did her dad have to do with Christmas?
After telling the girls the bad news, Celia sat back and waited for the fireworks to begin. "If you had stayed married to daddy none of this would have happened," muttered Chebre. "Now we have to spend Christmas in this run-down shack with no food and no presents." "We've got each other honey," said Celia. "Chebre, Christmas is not about gifts and food. When you were little do you remember me telling you the story of baby Jesus?" "So what does that have to do with Christmas?” asked Chebre matter-of-factly. "All I know is that we'll probably end up going to the homeless shelter down the street and eating turkey with a bunch of strangers."
Staring at Darla and Sarafina, Celia noticed the anger etched on their faces. Celia tried to reason with the girls. But the more she talked, the angrier they became. With tears in her eyes, Celia wondered what she could do to alleviate the hostility in her daughters’ hearts. The more she thought about it, she knew what she had to do. But was it too late?
Christmas was just two days away. Thinking aloud, it occurred to Celia to check her jewelry box. Maybe that was a sign or something. Opening the gold-plated box, she checked the compartments. They were bare. She felt foolish. What was she expecting to find--money?
Walking into the tiny room, Celia looked at her daughters who were now watching TV. "I'm hungry mommy," exclaimed Darla. Finally, one of the girls spoke. Celia was so happy to hear her daughter's voice; she quickly asked the girl what she wanted to eat. "Cheeseburgers," shouted Darla. "Yeah, mommy cheeseburgers" they all chimed. "Okay, cheeseburgers it is," said Celia. Gone was the three angry children she saw moments earlier; her precious angels had returned.
Opening the refrigerator, Celia saw that there was just enough beef to make three burgers. And since she wanted the girls to be happy, she reasoned that, instead of a cheeseburger, she would eat the moth-eaten apples in the pantry.
After making the cheeseburgers, and watching the girls wolf them down, she felt bad that she didn't have money to buy presents.
Leaving the kitchen, Celia plopped down on the couch and began watching TV. The news was on. Staring at the screen, the distraught woman listened attentively as a representative from the local blood bank told a reporter that due to the increase in accidents based on holiday travel, people were encouraged to donate blood. "That's it," Celia declared. "That's the answer to my problem." Quickly, Celia wrote down the number to the Blood Bank. In the morning she would call and get more details. Now if things went as she expected them to, the girls would have a great Christmas.
The next morning Celia phoned the Blood Bank. The woman at the other end of the line gave her all the details. She then asked about the cost for donating blood. "That much," said Celia when the woman told her the amount. Feeling a brainstorm coming on, Celia proposed that if she went to both of Banton Grove's blood banks, she would have enough money to buy presents. Celia knew she was jeopardizing her health by donating so much blood. But her kids needed presents, and by God, she was going to give it to them, even if it caused her, her life.
Realizing what she had to do would take at least three hours, she took the girls over to her sister Maxie's house. At the first blood bank, she was asked to fill out an application. With the application completed, finally her name was called. Afterward, her weight was taken, along with other details, and then it was time to give blood. She had expected the procedure to be physically exhausting, but when Celia left the blood bank she felt great.
At the second blood bank, she went through the same routine as the first. By now, Celia was feeling light headed, but insisted on going through with the procedure. Hours later with money in her purse, Celia stopped by a chic boutique that specialized in clothes for kids and teens. She found several bargains at La Revitale, where items were being discounted as much as 75%.
As Celia left the store she was so happy, she decided to spend the rest of the money on food. So she purchased a small duck, a liter of Coca-Cola, 1 fruit cake and 2 pumpkin pies. Thinking that was not enough, she remembered she had sugar, eggs, butter, frosting and assorted cake mixes at home.
After picking up her daughters from Maxie’s, the girls spotted the packages in the back seat of the car and let out a squeal. Seeing their reaction, Celia knew that donating blood was worth it. But if she was so happy, why did she feel so sick?
That night Celia baked the cakes and went to bed. She had been in bed for 20 minutes when her head began hurting. At first the pain was like a gnawing tooth ache, and then it became more severe. She went into the bathroom and took two aspirin from the medicine chest, but the pain didn't stop. The pain then became so severe, she screamed in agony. The blood-curdling shriek awakened the kids. However, by the time they reached Celia, she was lying motionless on the floor. The girls, overcome with fear, tried to wake her up. Semi-conscious, Celia told Chebre to dial 911.
The girl did as she was told. When the dispatcher asked the frightened teen, what was the problem, Chebre told the woman her mother was lying on the floor, unable to move.
Within minutes an ambulance was enroute to 1376 Vista Boulevard. The girls were told one of them could accompany Celia to the hospital. And since Chebre was the oldest, it was decided she would go.
As the ambulance raced to the hospital, Chebre prayed for Celia's recovery. Although she had treated her mother badly, she loved her, and couldn't bear the thought of living without her.
At the hospital, the doctors and nurses rushed to Celia's side. After examining her, she was whisked away, where she went Chebre didn't know. Visibly upset, Chebre stood in the hospital, feeling alone and helpless. Since there was nothing she could do, she decided to sit and wait. Looking up, she spotted her Aunt Maxie, along with Darla and Sarafina.
After Celia was rushed to the hospital, Sarafina phoned Maxie, told her what happened and the three of them rushed to the hospital. Maxie inquired about her sister's health. A nurse casually informed her she was "holding her own." After twenty minutes the doctor came out.
"Are you related to Ms. Cantrell?" They all nodded. "She's lost a lot of blood, but with rest and proper medication she's going to be just fine." "Lost a lot of blood? How did that happen?" asked a stunned Maxie. "Well, in talking with her, it seems she donated a lot of blood yesterday," said the doctor. "So much that it almost killed her. Did you know Ms. Cantrell's blood pressure is extremely low?" "No, I didn't," said Maxie. "Doctor wouldn't that have been detected during the pre-examination or when she filled out the questionnaire?" "Yes, but apparently it wasn't since she went to two blood banks, and no one noticed the condition of her blood pressure." "What would possess her to do something that irresponsible?" asked a startled Maxie. "She said she did it so she could buy her daughters Christmas presents," the doctor said.
Maxie looked at her nieces. Celia had already clued her in on her financial situation. "Didn't your mother tell you she couldn't afford to buy presents this year?" "Yes," the girls said in unison. "So what did you do when she told you?" "We got mad and said mean things to her," blurted Darla. "And made her cry."
"Don't you know what Christmas is all about?" asked Maxie, disgusted by her nieces’ greed. "Mommy tried to tell me, but I guess I had to find out for myself," explained Chebre. "Now I know, and I want to tell her personally."
Seeing how upset Chebre was, Maxie asked the doctor if the girl could see her mother. "She's still weak, but this being Christmas Eve, yes she can see her."
Entering the room, Chebre saw her mother . She looked old and frail. Chebre now realized how much she loved her, and how much Celia had sacrificed for her and her two sisters. She really was a great mom, and Chebre wanted to let her know it.
Celia awakened briefly, and looked into her daughter's red eyes. "Hi, honey. How's my baby? "I'm all right," whispered Chebre, choking back tears. “How do you feel mommy?" "I'm feeling a little woozy right now, but I'll be okay," said Celia, trying her best to smile. "I know the true meaning of Christmas now mommy," said Chebre. "It's about a father who gave his greatest gift to the world...his only son. And that's what you did mommy, you were willing to do anything so we could have presents."
"Yes," said Celia. "That is what Christmas is really about. It's about giving love unselfishly, not all the trappings associated with the holiday like food and expensive gifts. But most of all it's about a miracle that took place upon a midnight clear thousands of years ago."
Shaking her head the teenager smiled at her mother. “Mommy, this year we’ve got the greatest gift of all.” Thinking Chebre was referring to the packages she saw the day earlier, Celia muttered, “Well, those gifts are for you and your sisters.” “No mommy,” said Chebre, casting a loving glance at the woman on the bed. “The greatest gift we have is that you’re okay, and we love you. With her voice cracking, the girl continued, ”You were willing to sacrifice your life to buy us presents, and that’s worth more than anything in those packages.” Choking back tears Celia touched her daughter’s face. “Merry Christmas honey, and Merry Christmas to the world."