A Christmas Story from President Harold B. Lee

The first Christmas after I became stake president, our little girls got some dolls and other nice things on Christmas morning, and they immediately dressed and went over to their little friend's home to show her what Santa Claus had brought them. In a few moments they came back, crying. "What in the world is the matter?" we asked. "Donna Mae didn't have any Christmas. Santa Claus didn't come." And then belatedly we realized that the father had been out of work, and there was no money for Christmas. So we brought the little ones of that family in and divided our Christmas with them, but it was too late. We sat down to Christmas dinner with heavy hearts.

I resolved then that before another Christmas came, we would be certain that every family in our stake had the same kind of Christmas and the same kind of Christmas dinner that we would have.

The bishops of our stake, under the direction of the stake presidency, made a survey of the stake membership, and we were startled to discover that 4,800 of our members were either wholly or partially dependent-the heads of families did not have steady employment. There were no government make-work projects in those days. We had only ourselves to whom we could look. We were also told that we couldn't expect much help from the general funds of the Church.

We knew that we had about one thousand children under ten years of age for whom, without someone to help them, there would be no Christmas, so we started to prepare. We found a second floor over an old store on Pierpont Street. We gathered toys, some of which were broken, and for a month or two before Christmas parents came to help us. Many arrived early or stayed late to make something special for their own little ones. That was the spirit of Christmas giving-one had only to step inside the door of that workshop to see and feel it. Our goal was to see that none of the children would be without a Christmas. We would see that there was Christmas dinner in all the homes of the 4,800 who, without help, would otherwise not have Christmas dinner.

At that time I was one of the city commissioners. The night before Christmas Eve, we had had a heavy snowstorm, and I had been out all night with the crews getting the streets cleared, knowing that I would be blamed if any of my men fell down on the job. I had then gone home to change my clothes to go to the office.

As I started back to town, I saw a little boy on the roadside, hitchhiking. He stood in the biting cold with no coat, no gloves, no overshoes. I stopped and asked where he was going.

"I'm going uptown to a free picture show," he said. I told him I was also going uptown and that he could ride with me. "Son," I said, "are you ready for Christmas?"

"Oh, golly, mister," he replied, "we aren't going to have any Christmas at our home. Daddy died three months ago and left Mama and me and a little brother and sister."

Three children, all under twelve! I turned up the heat in my car and said, "Now, son, give me your name and address. Somebody will come to your home, you won't be forgotten. And you have a good time; it's Christmas Eve!"

That night I asked each bishop to go with his delivery men and see that each family was cared for, and to report back to me. While waiting for the last bishop to report, I suddenly, painfully, remembered something. In my haste to see that all my duties at work and my responsibilities in the Church had been taken care of, I had forgotten the little boy and the promise I had made.

When the last bishop reported, I asked, "Bishop, have you enough left to visit one more family?" "Yes, we have," he replied. I told him the story about the little boy and gave him the address. Later he called to say that that family too had received some well- filled baskets. Christmas Eve was over at last, and I went to bed. As I awoke that Christmas morning, I said in my heart, "God grant that I will never let another year pass but that I, as a leader, will truly know my people. I will know their needs. I will be conscious of those who need my leadership most."

My carelessness had meant suffering the first year because I did not know my people, but now I resolved never again to overlook the needs of those around me.

(Ye are the Light of the World, 345-347)