Christmas past

by | Dec 24, 2017 | a slice of life, Winter | 76 comments

As I’ve been getting ready for Christmas in this new house, I’ve turned my thoughts to past Christmases.  I have always loved Christmas and I have a lot of good ones to look back on…

The Christmas when my parents gave me a German dollhouse, complete with painted furniture and red checked “feather deckers” on the beds.   The Christmases I spent rushing off from Christmas brunch to dance in the nighttime parades at Disney.  Yes, it was working on Christmas, but there was something magical about it, just the same.  It was Disney, after all.  And the Christmas when Jeff and I farm-sat for some friends and I was running around in my jammies and wellies, feeding the goats and horses before we opened our presents.

But one of my favorite Christmases was the one that seemed, as we were getting ready for it, like it might be one of the worst.

We had just moved to Pennsylvania and we were living on a small youth pastor’s salary.  I wasn’t working at the time and was 8 1/2 months pregnant with our first son.  Finances were tight.  We didn’t have cable TV or internet.  We didn’t eat dinner out or spend money on fixing up our house.  We didn’t buy new clothes or shoes or anything that we didn’t absolutely need.  We were always able to pay our bills and have something to eat, but that was about it.  So, as Christmas was approaching, we didn’t have extra income to put towards gifts.

I remember fretting about it, thinking that Christmas would be such a disappointment.

The anxiety was amplified by the heartburn and hormones.  And every time I turned around, it seemed that there were more expenses if I wanted to “do Christmas properly”.  All of the little things that I never noticed before really added up – stamps for Christmas cards, gift boxes, wrapping paper, extra groceries for Christmas dinner…

But, I was determined that Christmas would be great and we would have plenty to open under the tree.

I started saving cereal and oatmeal boxes to use as gift boxes.  I dug through the depths of my Christmas bins and craft supplies for ribbons, paper, gift tags, and any leftovers from previous Christmases.

For gifts, Jeff and I made coupons for each other for foot rubs, special request homemade dinners, help on a project, a day out hitting yard sales.  The funny thing is they were coupons for things we did for each other, anyway, but they were something to make and wrap.  I wish I had kept some of them, because they were pretty intricate!  It was like we were trying to out-coupon each other.

We also went to the grocery store and used some of our grocery money to buy gifts.  We snuck around the store, trying to evade each other and keep the contents of our basket secret.  I would catch Jeff peering around an end cap, whistling at me, and then retreating to another aisle.  We did get some treats, like favorite cookies or chocolate, but we mostly bought each other foods we liked and needed.

We laughed a lot that Christmas morning.  Jeff would unwrap something…  “Oh, a box of oatmeal…”

“No, that’s just the box.  The gift is inside.”

Or, “You don’t need to open that one, because it really is just a box of cereal.”

Maybe I’m just looking back on that morning through nostalgic goggles and I’ve blocked out any disappointment I may have felt as I was surrounded by my haul of handmade coupons, food, and used books.

But, I just remember how we made the best of it and how, even though it was our leanest Christmas, we laughed and found joy.

Whether you’re in a time of plenty or in one of those lean years… Whether your family gathering goes exactly as planned or it goes off the rails… Whether youer heart is full to capacity or your heart is breaking…

…I hope you can find joy in it.

Merry Christmas!


  1. Kathy

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, from Hanover Pennsylvania!

  2. Linda at q is for quandie

    Merry Christmas Marian! I hope you have a joyous first Christmas in Minnesota. And whatever you do, don’t let anyone convince you to try the Lutefisk!

  3. Michelle

    A lovely post – a great reminder!

  4. Janice Propst

    Merry Christmas! May your Blessings be many this holiday season, and thank you for blessing me with your artistic talents during the year. God Bless you!

  5. Mary in VA

    Some of our hardest times can be remembered with some fondness because of someone who cared. Merry Christmas to you and your family, Marian, and thanks for the way you share your beautiful ideas with us.

    • Kathy

      This is a great reminder to us all. How I wish we could all spend a little less at Christmas and focus on our families and the “reason for the season!”

  6. Eileen

    Merry Christmas to you. Good thoughts.

  7. Vicki Carver

    Merry Christmas, Marian. 🙂

  8. Barbara H.

    Merry Christmas to you and your entire family. Lutefisk is out but do try the lefse if anyone is generous enough to offer it to you. Spread butter on it, maybe sprinkle a little sugar on too, roll up and enjoy!

  9. Peg

    Beautiful post!

  10. Dana Wall

    Ok, you made me teary. Merry Christmas to you and your family Marian! 🎄

  11. Elizabeth

    Thank you, Marian. This was just the right post for Xmas Eve… May it help us all keep the mass-media image of a perfect Xmas in perspective…I won’t be surprised if this post becomes a classic.

  12. PJ

    Some of our leanest Christmases remain my favorites. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  13. Cindy

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!
    Funny how the leanest years can somehow produce the greatest joy. I think that’s because you learn what is really important to you. In our lean years I always remember thinking that I would rather have the decorations, Christmas music, dinner, cookies, etc., than any gifts under the tree. Those things were always more important to me as that is what makes it special!

  14. Ruth A

    Merry Christmas Marion and family! Your memories brought up a few of mine when times were lean!!! Thanks for your inspiration!

  15. Michelle

    Your sweet memories remind me that having people to love & having contentment are much more important than having “things”. Merry Christmas from Fort Worth!!!

  16. Kathy Nordmann

    A Blessed Christmas, to you and yours, Marian. I really needed to read this today, as I’ve been having my own pity party here, being apart from my children and family this Christmas. 🙁 Thank you so much for sharing. I will make the best of it. xo

  17. Pat

    I needed to hear it, find the joy, and I have and will. Merry and Blessing to you and yours. For in this post I found joy.

  18. Jill Marden

    Merry Christmas Marian, and all my fellow readers of your posts from Australia.
    It is Christmas Day here and I am about to pick my dear husband up from a Care Facility for the day.
    I have your post firmly in my mind and will look for the positives. He has Parkinson’s Disease, but we will be together with the family, and he is coming home in a week or two. So I say thank you for that reminder that things can have a positive side.

  19. Jackie

    Merry Christmas to you and your family – it goes to show you that Christmas is about love not the material things – Every day should be treated like it’s Christmas – Smile at strangers and hold open a door – spread the love and do away with the hate!

  20. Nikki

    Oh, the lean years…and there were many, but I wouldn’t go back and change a thing! Merry Christmas to you and yours from a former Minnesotian!

  21. Joy in Alabama

    Merry Christmas! Thank you for the beauty you bring to all of us! Blessed 2018!

  22. MaryLisa Noyes

    Today is my daughtet’s 25th Birthday! She was our gift that year because she grew under someone else’s heart. We picked her up the day after Christmas with her big brother who wasn’t even 3. It’s been such a joy every year and we are so thankful! Family is the gift I was given twice and will forever be grateful!

  23. Suzette

    Merry Christmas! HE brought you through!
    It’s amazing that we never forget being in the valley! That’s what makes us appreciate the mountain top!
    God Bless your sweet family!
    May your New Year be the best!


  24. Ellen

    Beautiful. This reminded me of more than a few lean Christmases.

  25. mary m

    Lovely. I firmly believe you have to have the hard times before you can have the good times.
    Forty four years ago was the worst Christmas season ever and then I was lucky enough to meet someone buying a Christmas tree. We celebrate that ritual every years.

    A couple of years later my mother in law gave me a sewing machine and I made all of our
    Christmas Decorations. Still have the string of gingerbread men and ladies that I sewed and
    stuffed. When I look at them I look and remember.

    Do you still have the doll house?

    Have a lovely Christmas. Your children are still young and it is a special time for them and you.

  26. Julie Bailey

    Merry Christmas Marian! To you and Al of your family.

  27. Kathy L

    reading this post, i remember all the Christmas my husband and i had where we did not have a lot of money, with 5 children we always made sure they had a good holiday, we dide’t need anything, but we always made something for each other with stuff we had around the house, and we still have all of that stuff, which makes it extra special then and today. Merry Christmas Marian to you and your family, Love reading all your blogs every day.

  28. Maureen Ryan

    Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas to all! Have a wonderful time and look forward to another great year!

  29. Susan Cecere

    Merry Christmas to Marian and family. We celebrated today with our family, the best part for me. I brought my 87 year old aunt home from a rehab after 3 falls in 10 days. We were blessed to have her with us.
    Now I pray for strength in looking after her.
    Blessings to all.

  30. Marlene Stephenson

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, from Shawnee,Okla.

  31. trish

    what a sweet post & a lovely memory! we can all find joy in something. Merry Christmas to you & yours and thank you for bringing joy into my life through your blog and creativity.

  32. Laura

    I love reading your blog and this one brought tears to my eyes. You have such a special way with words; I can almost hear you speaking them. Merriest of Christmases to you and yours!

  33. Marty Smith Cotton

    Love you, Marian. Merry Christmas!

  34. Angie

    Merry Christmas to the whole Parsons family!

  35. phyllis

    Your post made me cry, but in a good way. I have had a Christmas like that as well, and I think that those memories are also good, but serve as a reminder to appreciate all the years we can be together to celebrate this special holiday. Sending best wishes to you and a thank you for opening a door for me to be more creative, more thankful and more joyful over the little blessings in life.

  36. Karen

    Merry Christmas! Sending lots of Love!

  37. Patricia

    Thank you remembering that out burdens can feel heavier this time of year .
    Merry Christmas Marian and the whole Parson family . God bless your new home and all those in it .

  38. Robinleach

    Thank you, Marian, that was lovely. Wishing you the merriest Christmas with your sweet family!

  39. Carole Prisk

    This is a tough Christmas for us as my husband’s oldest and last living brother is under hospice care and nearing the end of a long struggle with cancer. He has gone from a robust 240 pound fellow who actually played Santa for years in our city tree lighting celebration to a frail 110 pounds. He is 80 and had a long life, but watching him dwindle away is hard.

  40. Jane

    Such a lovely story! Christmas is a celebration, of all the wonderful people, and things (health, home) with which we are blessed. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  41. Bambi

    What a wonderful Christmas message! My husband’s and my first Christmas (39 years ago) was one of those lean ones–I was in nursing school and we survived on one income. I crocheted all our ornaments (little green trees and wreaths and gifts). I still hang one of those ornaments each year on my tree-of-plenty-ornaments and smile about that wonderful Christmas.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  42. Addie

    Merry Christmas to the Parson family!!!

    I remember a first Christmas in a new (to us) house. A complete fixer upper!!! It was early 1980’s and interest rates were 16 & 1/4 per cent!!!!! We were scared…what did we get into? I gave my husband a ladder and he gave me a gallon of paint. We each gave each other a paint brush in our stockings!!! We smile about that now.

    Merry Christmas to all!!!

  43. Naomi S.

    What a sweet and wonderful story, Marian! It reminds me of a Christmas after my divorce with just me and my two daughters. I was pretty broke and the girls were teenagers without much money at all. We decided together that we wouldn’t buy any gifts for each other except what we could find at the thrift store. When we all opened our gifts on Christmas morning we each were amazed at the wonderful things we had found for each other for very little money. We all loved our gifts and were proud that we hadn’t spent more than we had. It is one of my most memorable Christmases. Making the best of the situation and having fun with it like you and Jeff. It really is true that happiness doesn’t depend on how much you have, but on what you choose to do with it.

    Best wishes to you and your family for a Christmas filled with Love, Joy and Peace!

  44. Cheryl

    Merry Christmas to you and your family from Oregon!

  45. Victoria

    Lovely post – I watched allof your previous singing Christmas videos tonight. Hoping that somehow you could pull off one 2017. Merry Christmas Marian

  46. Miep

    Merry Christmas from Belgium 🌲🌲🌲

  47. Patty Soriano

    Merry Christmas, Marian and Family! I think the simplest Christmas must be the best, because you have the gifts which are priceless. I wish I were up in Minnesota today with you. I haven’t seen mom and dad’s families for many years. So glad someone above warned you about the lutefisk! But the lefse is good ! Have a blessed day!

  48. Karen J.

    Marian, this was a lovely post. I especially like your closing. We all have had tough times, missed loved ones, and weather situations that have derailed our “perfect Christmas”.

    I am wondering if you still have (or have pictures of) the German dollhouse? Thirty-five years ago my husband built a 2-story (with balconies) dollhouse for our daughter. Time has taken a toll on the once beautiful structure, so now we plan to restore it before next Christmas for our 4 young granddaughters. I would love to see some ideas!

    I hope your family had a lovely Christmas in Minnesota. If you are like us in northern NE, it is definitely a white, cold Christmas!

  49. Jenn Anderson

    Merry Christmas from a fellow Minnesotan! God sent great joy to all people in our Savior, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate today! Blessings to you and your family this day.

  50. Sue Pagels

    Merry Christmas to you and your family! Your post just shows it’s the simple things in life – not the expensive, over the top presents, but the memories.

  51. Brigitte

    Lovely post! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  52. Sharon

    What a great reminder to remember Christmas’ past. Thank you. I think the lean Christmas’ are some of the best. The best of all is to remember the blessings God has given to us and of course the best blessing of all. Our Savior, whose birth and resurrection gives us the gift of eternal life. Merry Christmas to you Marian, and to your family.

  53. Karen L.

    Merry Christmas! Thank you for reminding us that joy is the basis of Christmas. My mother-in-law just passed away yesterday on Christmas Eve but we are trying to focus on God’s faithfulness and His joy. I sure enjoyed your post; thank you, Marion.

  54. Sheran

    I love this. Many years ago, when I was waiting for my husband to return from Vietnam Nam, funds were extremely limited. I made ornaments out of string soaked in glue. I made the shapes on waxed paper. When they were dry, I painted and put some glitter on some. We still have two: our names. They are precious to me.

  55. Rose

    Love this post. Reminds me of some of our lean years. Sometimes simpler is better.
    Merry Christmas to you and yours

  56. Doreen

    We’re on the way home from spending Christmas with our son, daughter-in-law and our 2 precious grandchildren. My heart is full of love and gratitude. To spend Christmas with loved ones is the best possible gift. We get to extend the joyous season by celebrating again with our daughter and family this week. Being surrounded by my family and the love and grace of God is all I will ever need. I wish for that peace and joy for everyone!

  57. Kerry Stevens

    From ‘across the pond’ we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year……..from our home filled with the love family brings to yours. x

  58. Krista

    A sweet post! Simple Christmases are usually the best! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  59. Cindy D

    That was such a heartwarming story. So glad I found your blog…’re my favorite. It’s funny how when you think you’re at your lowest, but yet you find the joy in the littlest of things. Those little things are my favorite times. Have a wonderful New Year to you and yours. <3

  60. Susan in Texas

    This is the perfect Christmas post! 🙂

  61. B. Folk

    Funny how we all have an idea of how to “do Christmas right”, when God already gave us the perfect first Christmas!

    As Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again. Rejoice!” “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:4, 12 I’ve had plenty of gift coupons, boxes of food, and “hand-made Christmases”, and those are some of my favorite memories, too. Your post reminds me of that O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Magi”.

    Very well-written, Marian. Thanks for another lovely post. Hope you all had a Merry Christmas!

  62. Barbara

    I am a little late, but I hope you had a wonderful day. And I hope you have a happy and healthy New Year. Miss you!

  63. Nicole

    I love this post, just beautiful!

  64. Marilee

    Lovely blog. I think most of us have had a lean Christmas or two. It’s all in how you handle it and it sounds like you did just fine. Happy New Year.

  65. Teresa

    That was such a heart warming post. It is the lean years that makes us appreciate things more. I told my husband last night that this was one of the best Christmas’ in a long while. Yesterday, as I looked around my parents living room and saw a house full of family and friends having a wonderful day, I realized you couldn’t ask for a more perfect gift.

  66. Valerie

    I loved reading your post today. It reminds me of so much in my own life with my own family. I am so thankful for the blessings that the Lord has given us and for always making a way for our Christmases to be happy and full of joy regardless of the quantity or quality of gifts we had to give to one another. I’m so blessed!

  67. Finch Furnishings

    We drastically cut back on buying gifts a few years ago when we were focusing on paying off debt. And now that we’re done, we still don’t swap gifts with those family members. It’s like once we stopped doing those gifts, we didn’t really miss having that gift swap “event” built into Christmas day. Even for each other, we just added lights to the exterior of our home instead of gifts. Back when we stopped doing the gifts I was worried it would make Christmas less, but it really didn’t.

  68. Sandy

    my fondest christmases were the ones when we didn’t have much – our first christmas as a married couple we didn’t have any ornaments for our tree (which was a old fake one a family member didn’t want but I did!!) “Parade” was an insert in the newspaper and you could order 100 wooden ornaments for $10! they looked gorgeous to me in the paper, I was so excited to get them – when they came needless to say they were not as expected!! some of the animals had three legs, the drummer boy was missing a drumstick – you get the picture; every year though when I pull out the decorations, they’re still there – I can’t bear to part with them! the tree always gets at least a couple of them, they are still special – have a good Christmas week and enjoy the small stuff 🙂

  69. Julie

    I just love this post. I think it is my favorite.

  70. Melissa

    Thank you for this post. Funny story about opening up the cereal boxes!! A treasure to remember your past Christmases and rejoice in serving each other. This sounds almost like our Christmas this year. Not because of the “leanness” of the money, but we’ve been married for 40 years and have everything that we need. We just choose to buy the “special groceries” (favorite snack/cookie, chocolates, hot chocolate, favorite artist in calendars, etc.) because we want to focus on the everyday items that we use and will enjoy.
    Thank you for sharing.

  71. Carole

    Cold weather in your neck of the woods has been the lead story on the news for the past few days. Hope your family is safe.

  72. marge

    every christmas brings joy its always in our hearts, wishing you and your family many blessings

  73. Wendy

    Such a lovely post! Thank you so much for sharing. It made me reflect on our first couple of Christmases as a married couple and the experiences were very similar.

  74. Eva

    Beautiful words… I hope you had a great Christmas, Marian!

  75. Pat Swenson

    I’m confused by Carole’s comment about the cold in our neck of tbe woods here in Minnesota. It has been a very mild winter so far with warm ( for us) temps in the 20’sand 30’s and little to no snow. People here CAN survive in weather like that! It is sometimes funny how other parts of the country view the upper Midwest as the bitterly cold tundra in all seasons.


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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