Sitting amidst shreds of Christmas wrapping paper in my parents’ bungalow in 2006, my curly blonde-headed five-year-old daughter looked up at me and asked if there were any more presents. Not that she was disappointed with the dolls and accessories she had received, but she had expected one more thing. “I told Santa I wanted a computer,” she said.

Before I could respond, Grace skipped across the room and plopped down in front of her new Barbie condo where she happily introduced veterinarian Barbie to soccer Barbie. I laughed and settled back into the cozy sofa where I enjoyed watching all the kids still in their PJs inspect their holiday loot and hunt for batteries.

No batteries required

There is so much preparation that goes into the day and then, in the twinkling of an eye, it is over. Garbage and recycling bins are crammed with torn and empty boxes that once held the gifts we had to buy, had to wrap, and had to give as we waited for delighted expressions to appear on the faces of those who opened their contents.

The very best gift I received, however, did not come in a box. It came in the living room of my parents’ Oklahoma home in 2006 where my siblings and our children had convened from across the country. On Christmas Eve morning most of the adults went to worship at a little church down the street. I elected to stay back with all of the children and lead our own special Sunday school class.

Granted, the oldest children were not thrilled with the idea, but I convinced them that they were needed to help with the younger ones. As I glanced around the room at my own four children and three of my nieces and a nephew, I felt incredibly blessed to be there. We turned to the nativity story in Luke and began planning how we could act it out.

A cast of cousins

As the youngest cousin, Grace won the role of Baby Jesus; Emmali, 12, played Mary; Olivia, 12, was Joseph; and Alex, 13, was the shepherd watching over the sheep, who was to be played by Baxter, my parents’ Benji-looking rescue dog. Madeline, 8, wearing a halo made out of Reynolds Wrap, played the angel. Her brother Connor, 6, announced there was no room at the inn, and furthermore, his hotel did not accept credit cards. Austin, 15, agreed to narrate the story and Riles, 17, served as the usher.

Our audience arrived shortly before noon and were escorted to their reserved seating on the sofa and chairs we’d borrowed from the dining room. Their faces brightened as the children entered the room wearing capes and blankets for costumes. Everyone giggled as Baxter ran off to the kitchen before his cue was given to follow Alex to the manger, which was the rocking chair next to the Christmas tree.

A smile forever captured

After the final verse was read, the audience clapped and cheered while the cast of cousins proudly bowed. We all stood and joined in singing “Silent Night.” Oh, how I wanted time to stand still. I wanted to forever capture the smile on my mother’s face as she watched eight of her 11 grandchildren perform especially for her. We were all sadly aware that an illness would make it her last Christmas. I took an extra-long look at her cheerful face and then wrapped up the memory and put it in my heart.

All these years later, that once-in-a-lifetime performance continues to comfort me when I’m missing Mom. I also find solace in knowing that the child actors, though grown and rarely able to get together because of college and careers, will always have this shared moment in time.

Grace finally did get a computer for Christmas. As happy as she was about that though, it didn’t compare to her radiant face the morning she and her cousins took their final bow. No box can hold that joy.