We had no idea it would be the best Christmas ever. Nor did we have any idea it would be the last Christmas we would celebrate with our mom. But, that’s getting ahead of the story…

Roxanne Henke

Roxanne Henke

It was 2009 and our whole family decided to have an old-fashioned “Wishek Christmas.” It had been years since everyone had come from near and far, over the river and through the woods from North Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Illinois, Minnesota and even Australia to meet at “Grandma’s house” in Wishek.

Everyone arrived for almost a week of “togetherness.” The last traveler was barely in the door when snow started to fall. It was a scene from a Christmas movie. Over the next few days, the snow continued to fall. The temperature dropped and the wind started to blow. It was a blizzard.

As the wind continued to blow, the end-of-town corner road where my mom lived got snowed in. But that doesn’t stop anyone from the prairie from driving around. One of the young adult “kids” looked outside and, sure enough, someone was stuck in a snowbank. “Let’s go!” It doesn’t take five young guys long to push a vehicle out of a snowbank. Or another. Or another. They were having a blast.

It was obvious none of us were going anywhere for awhile, so we had to invent our own homegrown entertainment, including the no-talent talent show. None of us are truly gifted, so you can imagine the show. There was “Lion Man,” a nephew who could walk on his hands and roar. One of the young gals demonstrated couponing skills, and another ate wasabi right out of the tube.

My two daughters unearthed batons from the basement and proceeded to do an amazing display of remembered twirling lessons and spirit. One of the guys read a passage from a recently released political memoir with a perfect and hilarious French accent. My husband did his air guitar hopping dance across the “stage.” It lasted approximately seven seconds. I did my infamous “ostrich walk.” (Don’t ask.) My middle sister re-enacted our childhood winter car trips to California. She was notoriously carsick the entire way, and laid in the backseat with her feet TOUCHING ME, vomiting loudly into a bucket from North Dakota to California. Of course, this was acting now, but uncannily accurate.

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to entertain us.

In-between everything, there was lots of chatter, snacking and favorite meals. And, preparation for the grand finale: Christmas. We prepared our post-Christmas Eve church snacks: Mom’s corned beef sandwiches, which, now that she’s gone, almost all of us admit we don’t like. We got the basics of green punch ready to serve, ready to add ginger ale and green sherbet ice cream, and arranged trays of cookies. All that was left was to get ready for church.

It’s not easy herding a group of almost two dozen people to church, even if it’s only a block away.

By this time, it hadn’t all been fun and games. The tension of being with 20-some people for five days was wearing on everyone. We took turns pulling each other aside and venting about everyone else.

The church lights dimmed as little kid lambs crawled down the aisle. Miniature shepherds carried staffs taller than themselves. Mary and Joseph found room in the stable. A baby was born. We sang, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”

Then even the dim lights were turned off and the glow of a single candle silhouetted the young teen holding it at the front of the altar. The flame was carefully carried, aisle to aisle. Each of my family members, in turn, passed the flickering light down our row. Into the quiet, a baby cried. Perfect timing. And then the organ gently began. Silent night. Holy night. Followed by our traditional German verses, stille nacht, heilige nacht.

I looked down the aisle at the faces of my family, including my mother, illuminated by candlelight. Some would say there was something magical about that moment, except I don’t believe in magic. I do believe in miracles and somehow, through my mom, God had managed to put our family together in that place. That night. Along with the flame, we passed smiles to each other. Some of us wore tears along with our Christmas clothes. All was calm. All was bright.

We may have all realized it right about then. This was our best Christmas ever.

We blew out the flames. The lights came on. People started visiting. We returned home, and had punch, snacks and opened gifts. But the presents meant little next to the presence of each other.

Over the next couple days, everyone packed and returned home. We often talk about the best Christmas ever. That was almost 10 years ago. I’m sure it will live on in our family conversations until one day we are together again, in what will truly be THE best Christmas ever. Forever.

Roxanne (Roxy) Henke wishes you blessings, from her heart to yours. Merry Christmas! Email her at