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The Perfect Christmas
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The perfect Christmas was the year that I celebrated the perfect birthday.

My birthday is in December and for many years, my mother said that we would combine the two celebrations and observe them at once. We were very poor and she and my step father did not have the extra money to spend on a birthday occasion. I suspect also that the death of my little sister had taken all the joy out of birthdays and holidays.

I knew that the situation was one of necessity, not choice, and I put the best face on it I could. There was a tree (cut ourselves from our 50 acres of woods and fields), there was decorating with popcorn and cranberries grown locally. There was one gift for me from my parents and two more, one each from my grandparents and great-grandparents.

Then, on my 12th birthday, my mother said I was to have a real birthday party. I could invite seven friends and we were going out to dinner. Without grownups (except for the driving part). We went out to the local diner, had a table with tablecloth and china and a lobster dinner. It was fabulous. They even offered us coffee with our dessert.

It was my first experience as hostess of an evening party and I had a wonderful time. We were treated as adults for the first time in our young lives (I learned later my parents had coached the restaurant staff). The only slip-up was that they gave us each a lollipop (for kids!) as we left to board our waiting cars to be chauffeured home.

The birthday party ahead of Christmas meant that Christmas was its own holiday and I could enjoy it without the tinge of resentment I had always felt. We were doing better financially, too, and there were several presents under a tree decorated with store-bought ornaments as well as the handmade ones. My sister had been gone long enough that she was a sad memory, not a devastating sorrow.

It was a wonderful Christmas, one I'll always remember. It went a long way toward assuaging the pinch of poverty of the early years. I still feel the anxiety of penury, though. It is quite possible, in this land of plenty, in this season of shopping madness and unbridled greed, to be poor, to be hungry, to be filled with grief and loss.

When you sit with family and friends, eating and opening presents, remember the littlest, the loneliest and the lost.

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