NOTE: This is the true story of a young mother, Mary Jeppson, who lived in the remote prairie town of Hillspring, Alberta, and how she celebrated Christmas in 1927 as told by President Thomas S. Monson during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional in the Tabernacle Dec. 7, and reported in the Deseret News, 13 Dec 1997. This story is adapted from that report in the Deseret News and posted in ths Blog written for our family on 8 Dec 2008. A complete and illustrated story is also available in both hardcover and in soft cover from Deseret Book: A Christmas Dress for Ellen –Lloyd Abbott (8 April 2013)
President Thomas S. Monson
christmas dress for ellen
That December her heart was so full of sorrow and concern for her six small children that she felt it would surely break. On Christmas Eve, all her children, except the oldest, Ellen, 10, were dancing around, excited to hang their stockings for Santa to come. Mary helped each one of her children hang a little darned and mended stocking, but she couldn't persuade Ellen to participate. Of all the children, Ellen alone knew there was nothing with which to fill the stockings.
Then the young mother sat by the fire, thinking of her plight. Spring had come very late and winter had come very early for the last two years, causing the crops to freeze and fail.
In October Mary had received a letter from her sisters living in Idaho who, despite their own setbacks, had asked what they could send her family for Christmas.
In November, in desperation, Mary had written.
Mary had requested only necessities. She told them how desperately the family needed food, especially wheat, yeast, flour and some cornmeal. She also asked for some old, used quilts and for some worn-out pants to cut up and use to patch her sons' clothes, and mentioned the family's desperate need for socks, shoes, gloves, hats and coats.
Then finally, Mary asked if someone might have a dress she had outgrown to send to Ellen, who only had one dress that was patched and faded. Mary felt she could fix up such a dress and thus bring some joy to Ellen, who had too much to worry about for a 10-year-old.
The week before Christmas Mary's husband, Leland, made a daily three-hour round trip into the town of Cardston to check at the train station and the post office for a package from Idaho. Nothing came.
Then at 3:30 on Christmas morning, while her husband and children slept, Mary heard a knock at the door. It was the mailman, a member of the Church from Cardston, telling Mary 10 large crates from the States had arrived for the Jeppson family. He knew they had been waiting for the packages and that there would be no Christmas without them. With horse and sleigh, he set out from his home Christmas Eve and traveled eight hours in a severe snowstorm to deliver the crates to the Jeppsons' isolated farm house.
Mary had thanked him all she could, but she always said that there just were not words enough to express her thanks. After all, how do you thank a miracle, and a Christmas miracle at that?''
Inside the boxes was a note from Mary's sisters. They told her that quilting bees had been held all over the Malad Valley, and from these, six thick, warm beautiful quilts had been made for them. They also told of the many women who had sewn shirts for the boys and dresses for the girls, and of others who had knitted warm gloves and hats.
The donation of socks and shoes had come from people for miles around. The Relief Society had held a bazaar to raise the money to buy the coats, and all of Mary Jeppson's sisters, nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles in Idaho had gotten together to bake the breads and make the candy to send.
There was even a crate half full of beef that had been cured and packed so that it could be shipped along with two or three slabs of bacon and two hams.
The letter closed with these words: “We hope you have a Merry Christmas, and thank you so much for making our Christmas the best one we've ever had!”
Mary's children awoke that morning to bacon, hot muffins and jars of jams and jellies and canned fruit. Every stocking that was hanging was stuffed full of homemade taffy, fudge, divinity and dried fruit of every kind.
The most wonderful miracle, though, occurred when Ellen, the very last to get up . . . looked to where her stocking was supposed to have been hung the night before and saw hanging there a beautiful red Christmas dress, trimmed with white and green satin ribbons. She later said it was the most wonderful Christmas morning ever.
“That morning,'' concluded President Monson, “with the Christmas dress for Ellen, a childhood had been brought back, a childhood of hopes and dreams and Santas and the miracle of Christmas.''
“If there is one common denominator, perhaps it is this: Christmas is love. Christmas is the time when the bonds of family love transcend distance and inconvenience,'' said President Monson. “It is a time when love of neighbor rises above petty day-to-day irritations, and doors swing open to give and receive expressions of appreciation and affection.”