Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. She is the author of One Year Alone with God: 366 Devotions on the Names of God (Revell), and co-author of Do You Love Me More? and Will I See You Today? (Standard Publishing). Ava has also published stories in twenty anthologies, including fifteen books in the inspirational Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Her articles have appeared in Focus on the Family’s ClubHouse, The LOOKOUT, Light & Life, and other magazines. Ava is a passionate speaker and teacher, and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com
“I’m sorry, Mom. I’ll miss you all, too.” Carlotta hoped it would be enough, but her mom wouldn’t let it go.
“You’ve flown back home every year since you moved to Nashville. Surely Tamas would understand if you explain it to him.”
Carlotta wiped a tear as it escaped down her cheek. “Mom, I don’t like it any more than you do, but—”
“If you have to be with them on Christmas Eve, you can still spend Christmas Day with us. It’s only fair.”
“Mom, we’ve talked about this. They’re in Chicago and you’re in New York. It’s impossible for us to combine trips. We spent Thanksgiving with you. I promise, next year we’ll be with you for Christmas, and we’ll spend Thanksgiving with them. It just can’t be helped...I love you, too…Bye.”
Well, that did it. Her favorite time of year ruined. Peace on earth? Not for her. Not this year.
Her engagement ring caught the light as she pushed her chair back from the table. Tamas couldn’t wait for his parents to meet her, but why did it have to be on Christmas Eve? Carlotta sighed. It wasn’t fair. Heavenly Father, you gave me a wonderful family. Why can’t I spend Your Son’s birthday with them? I don’t want to celebrate Christmas with strangers. I don’t even speak Danish. I want to celebrate Christmas with my family.
The chair leg hit several rolls of wrapping paper leaning against the table. They clattered to the floor. Christmas was a week away and she still hadn’t wrapped her family’s presents. She would have to finish tonight if she was going to mail them in time for Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve. Her thoughts wandered to past Christmases. After her mother’s traditional seafood dinner, the entire family would congregate in front of the Christmas tree—her parents, both sets of grandparents, and her two older brothers and their wives. They’d talk, laugh, and make room for Nonna’s homemade cannolis. Conversations in English and Italian would overlap and fill the air as Christmas carols played softly in the background. Babbo would read the birth of the Christ child from the family Bible. Carlotta always placed the angel atop the tree. Then they would light the tree and everyone would scramble to open the cascade of presents flowing from beneath its branches.
Everyone but her this year…
The phone rang as she grabbed the errant rolls of wrapping paper. Carlotta cringed. Not again, please! A quick glance at the caller ID smoothed her frown. “Hi, Tamas. Where are you?”
“Just finishing up at the office. I should be at your place in half an hour. Ready for dinner at Antonio’s?”
An hour later, they were ensconced in a cozy booth in Antonio’s and had placed their orders.
Tamas reached for her hand. “Min elskede, you’re quiet tonight.”
“It’s nothing.” Carlotta smiled at him. “Just the stress of the Christmas season, I guess.”
He brushed her ring finger. “Don’t let it get to you. The important thing is that in one more week, my whole family will finally meet you. They have been eager for this moment ever since I told them about you.”
“I’m eager to meet them, too.” She tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. “It’s just that this will be my first Christmas away from my own family.” She rattled the ice in her water glass, and spoke more to herself than to Tamas. “Someone else will have to put the angel on top of the tree this year.”
“I’m sorry, min skat. But this is the only time my family will be together before the wedding. Soon they will be your family, too. When you walk down the aisle, I want them to love you as much as I do.”
“Of course, you’re right.” She played with her water glass again. “It will be okay. Different. But okay.”
“Different” was an understatement. Christmas Eve dinner consisted of roast goose with potatoes, gravy, and red cabbage, followed by rice pudding. No fish and no cannolis. Of course, they tried their best to make her feel like family, but…
After dinner, Tamas’s father disappeared into the living room.
Carlotta tilted her head at Tamas.
He grinned at her. “It’s time for the lighting of the tree. This has always been my favorite part of the evening.”
Heavenly Father, I don’t want to go in there. They’re not my family. Not yet, anyway. I want to be with my own family, to be there when they light our tree.
His father called them from the other room, and the family followed his voice in hushed anticipation.
“Carlotta!” Tamas’s mother beckoned to her from the kitchen door. “Would you help me carry these dishes?”
Their hands laden with plates of klejner, honey cakes, and marzipan, Carlotta and her future mother-in-law hurried to join the rest of the family.
When they were all together, Tamas’s father cleared his throat. “Tonight, we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, we have been adopted into God’s family.” He cleared his throat again. “It has always been my privilege to place the star on top of our Christmas tree before lighting it each year. This year is different.” He nodded to Tamas, standing next to Carlotta. “Tamas has brought a precious new addition to our family this year.” He picked up a shimmering gold star and held it out to Carlotta.
Tamas nudged her forward.
“Welcome to our family, Carlotta. Would you do the honors?”
Tamas lifted her by her waist so she could reach the top of the tree. With the star firmly in place, they stepped back. A flick of a switch, and the tree lights bathed the dimly lit room in a soft glow as everyone clapped.
Carlotta wrapped her arm around Tamas as the warmth of his family’s love enveloped her.
Christmas certainly was different this year. Different—but good.