My family moved to Nome, Alaska, in 1921, when I was 4 years old. We came to Nome in a boat with no motor, just sails to move us along. We arrived in July and that fall, Nome was very cold and winter came early.
That year, we didn't have oil stoves; we had coal-burning stoves. Our family had a stone fireplace that we didn't use. We were such typical Eskimos we didn't use it, so it just let in wind. My father was going to get rid of it, but my sister said we shouldn't replace it until after Christmas so we could hang our stockings on the mantle. My father listened to her and we kept it.My sister and I walked out on the tundra and found a willow tree to decorate for Christmas. It was a pretty lopsided willow so when we got home my daddy took branches off of other willows and attached them to our little tree to make it bushier, and then he went to town and bought a few ornaments to put on it. My sister and I were also busy making paper chains and popcorn chains to put on the willow tree and it was just like any other Christmas tree.
The church we attended planned a pageant for Christmas every year. Everyone was to bring their presents from home and put them under the tree at the church the night of the pageant. We were also to bring a big sled so that we could deliver presents to those who couldn't attend the pageant. It was an old-fashioned church with lots of room. The gifts were piled high around the tree, which was as high as the ceiling. The pageants were always wonderful, with beautifully colored decorations, homemade costumes and Christmas music. The gifts were passed out to the various families after the pageant and were opened and taken home.
When I was 8 years old, I started to sing at the pageants and sometimes I would even play my accordion; I was pretty good. After the program, we would deliver the boxes to the families in town --not only the needy, but every family would get boxes from our church.
Soon after I was married, the reverend died. I was so sad because Christmas was never the same after that and neither was the church. I didn't feel like it was the church for me anymore. I kept going to the meetings, but my heart just wasn't in it. Then when we were still in our middle years, my husband got cancer. This was a very hard time for us.
Just before he died, he said I should look into the Mormon Church. Some years after he passed away, I met two Mormon missionaries, and they taught me the gospel. I knew it was the truth that I had been searching for. Now I have a new family in the gospel in our little branch here in Nome. Christmas has taken on a new and special meaning in my life since I joined the Church. We may be few up here in the Nome Branch, but the Christmas spirit is brighter than ever. We have beautiful dinners and programs. I always feel the warmth and the love from my brothers and sisters. I wouldn't change this for anything. We know everybody, and we love each other.
What touches my heart each year are the little children and the adults singing Christmas songs. I often think that this is how it will be in heaven being with our loved ones.
My first Christmas with the branch after I was baptized in 1982 was so beautiful. On that evening, I thought to myself, `What a bright Christmas I have with this new-found church of mine.' That first Christmas I felt that the Christ-child had been born for me.
The branch members showed their love toward me, and they all wanted to hear about the Christmases I used to have.
And they didn't come to me with empty hands. They came to me with gifts and cookies. I was smiling, and I had little tears in my eyes because it was so beautiful. I was lifted, and I felt wanted and loved.
I had such a beautiful feeling on that Christmas day. I'll never forget that. I felt in my heart that I wanted to serve my Church because of the beautiful Christmas spirit the members showed me.