Alyssa Gilliland

Alyssa Gilliland

‘Twas right before Christmas of my senior year when I was totally filled with holiday cheer. The finals were over, the school year half done, with sixteen whole days to relax and have fun. But with this my last year in school and at home, I’d like to reflect on where I’ve come from: on Christmases past, some of which were quite scary, but all, thanks to God, turning out to be merry.

Christmas has always held a special meaning for me not because of trees, movies, songs, or lights, but because of presents. One might assume that by “presents,” I simply mean toys, money, or other materialistic things, but the best presents I ever received on Christmas did not come from a store.

When I was in first grade, I spent the Christmas season going between hospitals and hotels. My dad was hospitalized when what should have been a routine gallbladder surgery became a life-threatening case of pancreatitis. On Christmas Eve, I opened my presents at St. Elizabeth’s hospital. One of them was the movie Kung Fu Panda; at the time, I did not know if my dad and I would ever get to watch it. With my brother not yet born, it was possible that he would never meet my dad. Amidst all the uncertainty, however, my family never forgot the true meaning of Christmas. My other present was a Bible. Together, we read the Christmas story in the hospital room, and on the way back to the hotel with my mom, we sang carols like Silent Night and Away in a Manger. It was a silent night as we drove through the snowy streets of Lincoln, and as we sang, I took the lyrics to heart. Christmas came the next day, and with it came the perfect gift — my dad’s surgery had gone well, the pancreatitis was gone, and he would be coming home soon.

A few years later came another Christmas in the hospital when my mom underwent a typically harmless procedure that unfortunately, in her case, caused sepsis. I was in fifth grade, my brother not yet four years old, when I came upstairs from watching A Christmas Story to find my mom shivering uncontrollably near a heater and under several blankets. She asked me for some cranberry juice, and had it not been for a stubborn lid, I never would have gone downstairs to get my dad, he never would have taken my mom to the E.R., and she would have died of septic shock. My brother and I spent that Christmas at our grandparents’ house, visiting Mom in the hospital and receiving the news that she was in steady recovery. Looking back on it now, I have no doubt that the same God who watched over Bethlehem on the first Christmas night was watching over us then.

Just last year, I had my own experience with going to the hospital around Christmastime. After nearly three years of mysterious pains becoming worse over the summer before my junior year, I discovered that gluten was the cause. This news broke just before my sixteenth birthday, and one can imagine how I felt about not getting to eat my own birthday cake. To rule out celiac disease (which causes severe reactions to gluten and can be life-threatening), I had to have an endoscopy. As a preparation, I had to eat two slices of wheat bread per day for the two weeks leading up to Christmas vacation, which I appropriately dubbed “Torture Toast”. With this came the same pains as before and neuropathy in my arms and legs. I went through finals week, lifting weights and typing final papers with numb, shaking arms, then spent the night in Omaha before the procedure. I found out that I do not have celiac disease, but I am gluten intolerant. As we drove home from the hospital, I sang the same songs that had been with me years before, thankful that we had finally solved the mystery. I could never eat gluten again, but after seeing what my parents each went through, I was content with a gluten-free Christmas.

My Christmas experiences have been far from average; however, I would not trade them for anything because I understand that, while some may be blessed with health and happiness every Christmas, others are less fortunate. Instead, I will always be thankful on Christmas for all the wonderful presents I have been given: family, friends, faith, and hope. That is what Christmas is all about—the hope we get from knowing that God can bring good out of any and every situation, no matter how frightening or uncertain times may be. So now, as this year comes to an end, let there be peace on earth and goodwill to men.

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