Betty Mae Jumper wrote the following column several years ago. It is one of her most popular columns, and we're reprinting it as a special Christmas gift to our readers.
This time of the year, I always have memories from years ago when I was a small girl and didn't know what Christmas was about.
One year I saw young white girls my age. They were wearing black patent leather shoes with little straps across the top. And they were carrying dolls. They said "Santa' gave it to them."
For the longest time I used to wonder who was this man Santa Clause who went around and handed out shoes and dolls to children and why didn't he come to me. I wondered how you ask Santa to give you those things. But, I never learned how to go about asking. Finally, I just figured you had to be white to get a doll and shoes, so that's that. I never got my black patent leather shoes, or the doll when I was a child.
Years later, when I was a teenager - about 15 - I was attending the Cherokee Boarding School in Cherokee, N.C. My family didn't have any money, so over the Christmas holidays I couldn't go home like the other kids. I had to stay at the Boarding School.
One day, I was out in the hall cleaning for my room and board, and two big boxes came to the girl's building. I called my matron. She came out and signed for the boxes.
"Oh," she said, "I wonder what's in these boxes?"
She opened one large box and what did I see? Nothing but dolls and dolls. They were gifts collected by local women and donated to our school for the young girls.
As I looked I saw an old fashioned doll that looked like a real baby. I picked it up and admired it. I was saying to myself, 'Why couldn't something like this ever come in my day?' I questioned myself while standing there holding the baby doll.
The matron saw me and said, "You like that doll, don't you?" Then, I told her my story of wanting a doll and never getting it in my life.
I laid the doll back in the box, but the matron picked it up and said, "Here, take it and wash her clothes and clean it up and put it on your bed."
I stood there thinking, "I'm too old for a doll." But the matron kept up saying, "Take it. Take it." So I picked up the baby doll and took it to the wash room and washed it. Then I took the doll clothes and I washed them. Then I took the doll to my room and laid it on my pillow.
That doll stayed on my pillow every day while I remained in Cherokee and finished high school. Then, I took it to my nurse training at the Kiowa Indian Hospital in Lawton, Okla. It stayed on my bed until I finished that, too.
Then I brought it back to Florida and laid it on my bed. It stayed on my bed every night until my house burned down and it was lost in the fire.
The lesson I learned from this and what I like to tell parents is that it doesn't take a lot of presents to make an impression on a child. Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ, a baby who was born in a stable where animals were kept.
The mother of Jesus didn't have any fine blankets, so she wrapped Him in rags and laid him in a manger. Jesus never had fine clothes, but he came to teach love and peace and that's why Christmas is such a wonderful holiday.
Christmas is not about gifts. You don't have to give your child a mountain of things. Give them love and guidance and a good example to follow. Those are the important gifts and they're the things that even a fire can't destroy.