If I were to pick one period of our lives that could stand as a symbol of love, sharing, friendship and in fact, the very personification of the teaching and life of that little babe born in Bethlehem so long ago, it would have to be the Christmas of 1979.

It had been a year filled with stressful situations and some major changes in our lives. My husband had made the courageous decision to change careers at mid life and return to school. After much soul searching and prayer, we had decided to move to Missoula, Montana, buy a home, go to graduate school full time and live on our savings.

So in April 1979, when we moved into our home with five daughters, we unpacked our hopes and dreams along with the dishes and bed linen. But as the saying goes, “Life is what happens to you after you have made your plans.” A lot of those plans and strategies that looked so good on paper, in reality were not materializing.

The ensuing months brought us a larger than usual share of disappointments and financial burdens. We were facing Christmas with a rapidly diminishing savings account and far away from families and old friends.

Because we were active in church, school and community groups, we had met many people and were just beginning to feel our roots sink in and take hold. But we had not cemented any special, forever after type of friendships that we felt secure enough in to share our fears, loneliness and frustrations. Trying as hard as we could to remain optimistic, we were beginning to question our decision to move to Missoula.

On December 13, my husband and I had gone shopping and upon returning home found some very excited and wide-eyed children. It seems that the front doorbell had rung and when the girls ran to answer it, they found no one there. Mystified, they decided to check the back door and found a huge, wrapped box. The contents of the box were small gifts for everyone and the biggest surprise of all–a letter from Santa.

I don’t remember the entire poem, but part of it said;

“On the twelve days of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Gifts galore and lots of surprises,
Delivered by Santa in many disguises.
You can look all around, but you’ll never see
Who’s delivering a present to you from me.”

And that is exactly what happened for the next eleven days. We received a gift every day. They gifts were not expensive, but showed real thought and caring. For instance, there was a box covered with contact paper for our 8-year-old to keep barrettes in, or the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies.

The presents were almost incidental to the fun we had trying to catch our phantom Santa. But he/she/they used ingenious methods of delivery. Gifts were left on the front seat of the car, in the mailbox and at the neighbors. One gift was even delivered by a foreign student, who spoke no English (or so he claimed).

The game became an analytical one. Who loved us so much that they would go to all that trouble? Was it this neighbor or that one? Was it a teacher from school or a co-worker? Was it someone from the bank or from church?

How could we ever thank them if we didn’t know who or why they were being so loving and generous? We began looking at others with a more open spirit. Thinking that it must be this one or that one, we went out of our way to be loving and kind to all we came in contact with. When confronted and questioned, our friends and acquaintances all denied knowledge of the phantom Santa, but all agreed it was a wonderful idea.

Soon we noticed that the sunshine and love that we felt were being passed around faster than a midwinter cold. Smiles were bigger and greetings were merrier. Hearts and minds became more reflective on the true meaning of Christmas as those questioned almost universally said, “No, it isn’t us, but I wish it were.”

We never did know for sure who our phantom Santa was, even though we had a pretty good idea. We will forever be grateful to that family who gave us so much that year; a fun filled Christmas season, some true gifts of the spirit, the basis for forming everlasting friendships as well as a tradition for our family to carry on.

But, best of all, was the stamp of approval on our decision to make Missoula, Montana our home and to give back to the community that had welcomed us so warmly.

Author's Bio: 

Judy H. Wright lives and loves in beautiful Montana. She is the author of over 20 books dealing with human relations from birth to death. She is a respected personal historian and popular international speaker. She is known as "Auntie Artichoke, the story telling trainer." Please contact her for a fun filled staff or organizational training at http://www.ArtichokePress.com or by calling 406.549.9813