Halvorsen Gatlin: Some life-changing Christmas memories

By Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin

For the Vidette

One of my earliest Christmas memories reaches back to when I was 5 years old. It was Christmas morning, and the gifts under the tree had been opened. My favorite was a sweet new baby-doll.

(I loved dolls, so much so that one night a few years later I counted 11 that were sharing my bed. They were together at the head, and I was scrunched down toward the bottom to give them enough room. I didn’t mind at all.)

That long-ago Christmas, I pondered aloud what to name my new dolly.

“How about something to do with Christmas, like Angela, for angel?” my dad suggested. I fell in love with the name and decided then and there that if I had a little girl when I grew up, I’d name her Angela.

My first child, a son, was born 9 minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve, the last baby born in 1964 in all of south King County, near Seattle. And my hospital roommate had the first baby of 1965. We made at least one front page of a big Seattle newspaper.

She was given some special gifts for having had the first baby. My husband and I received the tax deduction of $600 for our little boy, Michael. I’ve always said we got the better deal.

Expecting our second child a couple years later, we chose a boy’s name, which I don’t recall now, and a girl’s: Kari Lynn. It was still the 1960s, and ultrasounds, which weren’t invented until the mid-1950s, weren’t used routinely, so we prepared for either a girl or boy.

But when I was about six months into my pregnancy, the memory of that Christmas doll suddenly came back to me. And I knew that if I had a girl, her name would be Angela. (I’ve sometimes said I named her when I was only 5. Her middle name is Viola, also the middle name of my grandmother, mother and sister.)


Living in little Whitney, Texas, nearly a decade later, a life-changing event led to another Christmas memory.

I’d always known that, no matter what day Jesus Christ was actually born, Christmas was the celebration of His birth, the gift of God’s son to the world. But it wasn’t until I was 28 years old that I really understood what that meant.

We’d been attending a little church in Whitney, and the pastor’s sermons had raised a number of questions in my mind. I needed some answers, so I composed a list and made an appointment with him.

I’d only asked one question, when he had one for me: “Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

When I told him I didn’t know what that meant, he explained, using some Scriptures — often referred to as “the Romans road” — in the Bible’s New Testament book of Romans.

Romans 3:23 points out that all people “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

But, says Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

And though Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death …,” it also says the good news is “the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

Therefore, according to Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

For, says Romans 10:13, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

That’s how I became a Christian. And when Christmas rolled around that December, I received an additional gift, which became another Christmas memory: For the first time, I really understood what many of the Christmas carols meant. Here’s just a couple of verses of one:

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

“Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.

“Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is giv’n;

“So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n.

“No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,

“Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

Merry Christmas, and I hope you’ll all be gifted with some precious Christmas memories!

To reach columnist Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin, send an email to rhoda1946@yahoo.com.