A ‘Horehound’ Candy Christmas!


In a day and age when overindulgence seems to permeate our Christmas season, I was again inspired by a story told long ago by Marlin K. Jensen about his great-grandfather. Perhaps because I had occasion to meet and interact with Marlin Jensen that the story is more personal to me.  He related this story.

“…as a young boy, my great-grandfather arose one Christmas morning with great anticipation and came down from the loft where he slept to inspect the stocking he had hung by the fireplace the previous night. To his dismay he found what was to constitute his entire Christmas that year—one piece of horehound candy! He was immediately faced with a weighty decision: Should he eat the candy in one glorious burst of flavor, or should he make it last? The scarcity of such delicacies apparently convinced him to make it last. He carefully licked the solitary piece of candy a few times and then wrapped it in tissue paper and hid it under his mattress. Each Sunday thereafter, following dinner, he retreated to his bed, retrieved his treasure, and enjoyed a few pleasurable licks. In that way he nursed the piece of candy through an entire year’s enjoyment.
This is obviously not an account of deeds of heroic proportions. And yet, in these times of overindulgence and excess, it is somehow very inspiring and strengthening to me…” (“The Power of a Good life”, Jensen Marlin, April, GC, 1994)
I once recall my mother saying, “I can’t buy my grandchildren anything; they have it all!”  I’ve now reached her age and I can’t help but think the same thing about my grandchildren. May we enjoy this wonderful season by not getting too caught up in the material things that the world tells us will bring happiness. A ‘Horehound Candy Christmas’ can last a lifetime if we are careful to savor the joy that comes when we catch the true spirit of the season.

“Angels Don’t Have Wings!”


A young boy in the first grade was given the assignment in elementary school to make an ornament for Christmas. A popular way to make an ornament in his day, circa 1963, was to Papier-mâché a soda pop bottle into a holiday character. He decided to make an angel. He spent several days meticulously applying the starchy paste to torn strips of old newspapers. He painted the angel then shellacked it. When at last the “Angel” was complete, he presented his masterpiece to the teacher. She complimented him on his work but then curiously asked him this question. “I see that the Angel doesn’t have any wings. Where are the wings?” “Oh”, exclaimed the little boy, “Angels don’t have wings!” “Really” replied the teacher. “And how do you know that?” The little boy confidently responded, “Because Joseph Smith saw one with his “berry” own eyes!”

I was that little boy and I have a vague memory of the incident. I still have the image in my mind of making that Angel so many years ago. But the exchange between me and my teacher only survives in my memory because my parents recorded me relating the incident on audio tape. I don’t recall why they made the audio tape; perhaps it was for a family home evening. But my mother had me tell the experience in my own words onto the tape down to the memorable “berry own eyes!” Years later I happened to listen to that audio tape so the conversation between me and my teacher was reinforced in my mind. It was my first grade teacher who related the story to my mother. Perhaps she thought it was interesting that I would take such a firm stand on angels without wings.

This story of a young child’s simple faith is compelling to me. And although the story is autobiographical, that little boy is long gone from my life. It just as well could be about some other little boy. But what impresses me about such stories, is that young children seem to express such faith, without thought as to what others might think. I’m sure it never crossed my mind what my teacher might think of me and of my explanation of why angels didn’t have wings. I was just stating a fact, according to my knowledge; and there was no need to hide it. Unfortunately, as we get older we have a tendency to guard what we say regarding our beliefs. Perhaps it is because of bad experiences or maybe it is just laziness on our part. Mostly, I think it is out of fear of rejection. What will people think of us? Jesus taught this:

“…came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them. And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 1-4).

“Joseph Smith saw one with his “berry” own eyes!” was the unashamed declaration of my former self. I think that is how the Lord would have me declare it today, at my age, with that kind of clarity. The humility to do so is found so naturally in a small child. Be it bearing testimony of the restoration of the gospel, or of Jesus as the Christ, we should be as little children and “fear not” what others might say. We need not be offensive in our declarations,  just firm. May we have the child like faith and courage to always bear testimony of what we believe to be true! (Looking at Picture: Middle Row far right)


The Small Envelope Filled With Big Dreams!


(The short Christmas story below was originally published in the December 14, 1982 issue of Woman’s Day magazine.)

Christmas Story: For the Man Who Hated Christmas

By Nancy W. Gavin

“It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it – overspending and the frantic running around at the last-minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma – the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was on the wrestling team at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids – all kids. He so enjoyed coaching little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed a small, white envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done, and that this was his gift from me.

Mike’s smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. And that same bright smile lit up succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition – one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The white envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children – ignoring their new toys – would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the small, white envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And the next morning, I found it was magically joined by three more. Unbeknownst to the others, each of our three children had for the first time placed a white envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down that special envelope. Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.”

May all of us remember the true reason we celebrate this time of year. The greatest gifts are those given from the heart in recognition of the greatest man who ever walked on the face of this earth, even Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world!

Why I love “The Little Drummer Boy”


Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum

A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum…

My love of this little Christmas song dates back a long way. Despite the wonderful and beautiful lyrics of other Christmas classics, this song for me speaks directly to my heart because it is so simple. It captures, for me, why we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, and that the grandeur of a gift is not found in its earthly value, but is found in its eternal worth. It is not only my favorite Christmas song, it is my favorite song of all time.

I think my love affair with this simple song came when I was away attending school. The last Sunday before the Christmas break, two of the students played a special musical number. I remember sitting in the pews and listening to their musical rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy”. She on the violin, he on the organ. No words were sung, just the notes floating on air. I was moved by it. I do not remember their names. I am sure time has erased this musical selection from their minds. But it lingers in my soul to this day. I guess you never know when you will touch the soul of someone. I am sure they don’t know how moved I was that Sunday afternoon. I never even thanked them.

I found myself in Argentina the next Christmas as a full-time missionary. I was thousands of miles from home. We were visiting with a poor sister and her two children on Christmas day. As we sat together in her metal shack, she smiled and asked me if we could sing some Christmas songs. I said, “Yes, my favorite is “The Little Drummer Boy”. She smiled and clapped her hands together. Squealing with delight, she said, “I have that song on a record!” She got up and went to a small shelf and pulled out a dusty scratched up 45 record. She handed me the record and then motioned to her son to run a cord out to the street where a common line was available for electricity. He returned and she plugged the record player into the cord and with great pride lifted the arm of her record player onto the 45. And there I sat. Listening to a scratchy rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy.” To my surprise the performer was singing in English. I don’t remember who sang it. I didn’t really care. I felt my eyes moisten when it came to the refrain:

I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum

I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,

rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum

Me and my drum.

I guess I felt like that little drummer boy who was giving all he had. For a moment, the boy and I became one. After returning from Argentina, I spent my third straight Christmas away from home. The details as to why are not important. However, I recall that on Christmas day of that year I found myself all alone in the downstairs apartment of my sister in Provo, Utah. I remember looking at the walls and feeling so unloved and miserable. I saw the record player and searched through the records. There it was on a “Greatest Hits” Christmas album. I put it on repeat, sat back and listened and listened and listened. I don’t know how many times I played it. I just know I cried my eyes out.

And so, at this time of year, every year, I rejoice when I hear that familiar opening. It is the sound of the drums, announcing the return of memories past. Memories that remind me of time long since gone and of the singleness of life. Of the beauty of service and the loneliness of the heart. My favorite Christmas decoration is a music box, given to me by one of my sisters many years ago. The statue of the “Little Drummer Boy” playing his drum sits atop. On the bottom of the box is a simple hand written note that says, “Love, Diane”. I wind it up every Christmas and hear its sweet melody. When I am alone it will always bring a tear to my eyes. Tears of love, tears of thankfulness to the Lord for all the blessing that I have. When I think of the “Drummer Boy” I think, maybe, maybe my gift will be good enough for the King. Maybe, someday He will smile at me.



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