A Stair-Step Christmas Carol

By Linda O'Connell

I love Christmas carols. I can’t carry a tune, but I keep my car radio tuned to the Christmas station during December and sing holiday music at the top of my lungs. One song in particular brings tears to my eyes no matter how often I hear it. The melody takes me back to Christmas Eves of long ago when my son, now 38 and my daughter, 41 were children and our family was intact. They stood on the staircase with their cousins, before one of the girl cousins was struck by a car and killed at age seven. Each of the kids claimed his or her own stair step, and their little hands held onto the garland-wrapped banister. Their faces radiated love and trust as I taught them the words and hand motions to my favorite childhood Christmas carol, “Away in a Manager.”

Every year I photographed them in the same poses with their mouths open wide singing as they rocked an imaginary infant to and fro. I can almost hear their tiny voices as they interlocked their hands and nestled them under their chins pretending to lay down their sweet heads. Their fingers danced in the air as they sang about the stars in the sky. They folded their arms and pretended to cradle an infant as they sang lustily about sleeping in hay.

The days of cradling my babies are long gone, but those precious memories unravel like a strand of loose red wool in my old holiday sweater. My blue-eyed little girl with blonde wavy hair had a smile brighter than the Christmas star. Her overactive little brother’s hair was parted to one side but inevitably fell over his forehead no matter how many times I hand-combed it out of his eyes. Joy and laughter rang out as all of the children ran and played with one another and adults enjoyed the family festivities.

After everyone left, the children would excitedly watch the night sky for Rudolph’s red light. They’d hover nearby as I poured a glass of milk and set two cookies out for Santa. “Don’t forget an apple for Rudolph.” They’d stand at the front door shivering as I set an apple on the porch. Then, I’d hurry my little girl and boy through the tooth brushing routine and into their fuzzy, footed, zippered pajamas.

“Listen, I can hear the tinkle of bells. Hurry, hurry, climb into bed. Let’s say your prayers.” I rushed them off to dreamland.

“Mommmmm?” my daughter called.

“Yes?”

“Are you sure Santa can get in? We don’t have a fireplace.” 

“Don’t you worry. Santa has magic. He can squeeze into any little boy’s or girl’s house.” I assured her.

“Mommmm?” My little boy called again and again.

“What now?” I responded, impatient and tired.

“I love you, mom,” he shouted. I got up from my comfy couch and went to them.

“I love you too.” I peered down into their faces and said the same thing to each, “I know you’re excited about Santa, but don’t ever forget, this is the night that a very special baby was born.”

“Okay Mom, I won’t.” I’d back out of their rooms smiling, singing softly, “Away in a Manger.”

This Christmas Eve, as usual, the kids will all be off in different directions, meeting family obligations. I’ll snuggle on the sofa wrapped in a holiday afghan with sugar plums dancing in my head, holiday music playing softly, the TV screen a blur as I remember the past and gaze into the future.

The kids are grown and gone, but the same feelings remain. Every Christmas Eve, no matter where they are, I can still feel their childhood bear hugs and smell their little minty toothpaste goodnight kisses. As I doze off, I envision myself young, tiptoeing into their childhood bedrooms pulling the covers up to their chins. Satisfied with their rhythmic breathing, I brush my lips across their chubby little cheeks and turn the light down low…

Goodnight my babies with babies now of your own. Merry Christmas. There’s only one thing I want from each of you this year, just a promise. Teach your children to sing, “Away in a Manger,” and when I’m old and infirm, please stand at my bedside with them on Christmas Eve and serenade me with my favorite Christmas carol. Please, continue the tradition.

About this writer

  • Linda O’ConnellLinda O’Connell is a seasoned preschool teacher and award-winning freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Her prose and poetry have appeared in books, magazines and anthologies. As Linda waltzed through the decades, she discovered her age of elegance was in her forties, but she isn’t complaining. Life has been an adventure. Linda resides in the Midwest but her heart and soul hang out at the beach.

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20 Responses to “A Stair-Step Christmas Carol”

  1. Such a sweet memory! It brought tears to my eyes. I haven’t thought about what I’ll do on Christmas Eve after my boys leave home.

    Their Christmas memories will no doubt be of their older cousins teaching them to play poker in my sister’s basement.

  2. Linda, one of your best! I just loved it.

  3. Lynn Obermoeller says:

    How sweet.

  4. Thank you all so much for your nice comments.

  5. Beautifully written story Linda. It has made me all tearful, but in a lovely warm way. That was awful about the cousin who was killed in a car crash, at only aged 7. It must have been heartbreaking for everyone. How wonderful that those memories of when your children were young, are still so fresh in your mind and in your heart. I do hope that they will teach their own little ones to sing Away in a Manger. Lovely story.

  6. Linda–Your simile about the memories unraveling like the “loose red wool” of your old holiday sweater was wonderful.

    As always, I bow down in your presence. The image you painted of your kids as they sang and as you set out goodies for Santa and Rudolph was crystal-clear. It even made me revisit the song “Away in a Manger” in my mind.

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

  7. Awwwww, Linda. That was beautiful. Now you’ve done it. Friday morning and tears are streaming down my cheeks. Lovely story, beautifully written. It squeezes the heart. Makes me think of my own “cherubs” now grown up and one living far away. Great job! Susan

  8. Alice Muschany says:

    A nostalgic and though-provoking story. Made me think of family traditions that have been passed down from my children to my grandchildren.

  9. Sharon Hohler says:

    Beautiful Christmas story
    I enjoy Linda’s writing

  10. Carol says:

    I loved every story. You often (almost always) make me smile. Just know that I will be teaching the twins “Away In A Manger” and when I sing it I’ll think of your wonderful Christmas (not Holiday) story.

  11. Pat says:

    Like the ghost of Christmas past, I love to remember when my kiddos were small and starry-eyed. Very sweet story!

  12. claudia says:

    Oh, a great story, Linda. Loved the figurative language using red wool too!!

  13. Tammy says:

    This is beautiful. The magic is so fleeting, isn’t it? One magical night per year. One magical time of life. And now, this. One truly magical story that brings it all back.

  14. Great story and very well told, Linda!

  15. Tracey says:

    Great story & brought back many memories. You are a wonderful writer & can make a person relate to your story as if they were there. Enjoyed your Christmas story.

  16. Beth Wood says:

    Linda, this is a beautiful story. So well written. Brought tears to my eyes…thanks for sharing!

  17. Susan Sundwall says:

    What a lovely evocative essay, Linda. Many hearts will be touched by it.

  18. Loved reading your story, Linda. Christmas is magical, especially when the children are young.

  19. Faye Adams says:

    Great story, Linda. Brought back sweet memories of when our four, two boys and two girls were children. The last one, Jim, was born on Christmas Eve. I awoke at 3:00 A. M. that morning, knowing that I would not be home for Christmas. I shook my husband awake and said, “Get up, Hon, and put those tricycles and toys together. We’re having Christmas a day early!” Then, I called Mom, and said, “I’m just about to ruin your Christmas.” Unfortunately, I gave her three extras, early, when my baby wasn’t due until December 27th. But, for me, it was a VERY special one, giving me a real affinity with a blessed Mother from two thousand years ago.

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