“Christmas is all about family, friends, the birth of Jesus, and letting people know how much you care about them,” said Linda Jenkins, a retired cardiac care nurse, and someone who has a great big heart for all things Christmas.
“Growing up I couldn’t stand not to know what I was getting for Christmas, so I would find my present hidden in the basement, and unwrap it to see what it was, and wrap it back up. I’ve done this for years. I don’t feel guilty at all,” Linda confessed. “Now, my husband, after 41 years of marriage, doesn’t even bring my presents into the house. They’re at my daughter’s house.”
“I love presents! You get the opportunity to share something. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. People just want to be remembered. Even if it is only a tin of cookies, you’ve taken the time to get something, sign a card, and take it to them,” Linda said. Linda gives gifts to neighbors, mail carriers, delivery people, trash collectors, and people in her church and civic groups. She attends and hosts several gift exchanges each December. Her family has created a spiral notebook to log their gift wishes throughout the year. “Each of our children and grandchildren has their own tab. My son, who is 47 this year, has had a Lamborghini on his list since he was 15 years old. He hasn’t gotten it yet,” she laughed.
“I love to cook for people, so baking is a big part of it,” Linda gestures toward the stack of tins and plastic tubs filled with homemade snack mix and candy. On the counter are recipe cards and ingredients for sweets she will begin making when the interview is over. “I still need to make cherry tarts, microwave peanut brittle, peanut butter blossoms, raspberry pistachio thumbprints, and Christmas nutty-buddies,” she said. “The more I can give… the more I can share…” she chokes up. One can tell how much it means to Linda to be able to give.
Last year, Linda and some friends decided to add the homeless to her expanding list of gift recipients. “Each person in the group of 65 people identified as homeless by the Grand Prairie Homeless Outreach Organization, made a list of what they wanted. Our Sunday school class picked names. John and I picked two, and our neighbors picked two. They needed a variety of things: shoes, jeans, gift cards for fast food… I went to Walmart with five names. Two ladies who worked at Walmart, walked around the store with me and two carts for an hour and a half. If it wasn’t on the shelf, they went in the back to find it,” Linda recalled. “I want to help. I love to care for people. I am so blessed to be a member of First Baptist Church, and a member of our Sunday school class.”
Linda’s house and yard are beautifully decorated, as though she is anticipating a magazine photo shoot. She has nine decorated trees, not counting the little ones on tabletops, shelves and window sills. There’s one on the front porch. “We took our flag down and put a tree up,” she said. There’s one on the back porch, and one in almost every room in the house, including the bathrooms. “We have trees and ornaments everywhere. One bedroom is decorated in red and white; another, in multicolored lights and the children’s ornaments; our bedroom, gold with white lights; the den is the Santa tree; and the living room and dining room, with white and silver. John, the grinch–” she quickly amends, “–my dear, loving husband, will not allow a tree in his office. He had a tree, until it died. Now I have all these golfing ornaments and no tree. I’m hoping somebody will buy me another tree, because I promised that I wouldn’t buy another one. And if someone wants to give me a tree, I can’t tell them ‘no’, because it’s a gift,” she laughed. She pointed out two more trees not included in the count: a wooden one, and a ceramic one that belonged to her mother. These sit nestled among the Santa decorations. All 239 of them.
“I don’t think my mother ever had a Santa Claus,” Linda said. But for the past 50 years, Linda has built a large collection for herself. Some she has found some at estate sales. Most were given to her. “People will find one and think, ‘Who wants this old, nasty-looking Santa?’ I want it!” she said. “None of them are brand new unless someone gave me a new one. When I married John 41 years ago, he gave me a Santa Claus for Christmas, and he has given me one every year since. The year I had 96, I told people I wanted an even 100. Then I got eight Santa Clauses that year, so I went from 96-104.” Then she upped her goal. “I’m almost 73, and I believe that there is a Santa Claus. It may not be the one at Gimbels or Macy’s, but there definitely is a Santa Claus, because it’s in your heart.”
“One is a gift from my next door neighbor, when her mother passed away. She got it as a newlywed, when she was in her early 20s, so it’s got to be about 60 years old. It’s a sleigh and Santa. When you put the batteries in, he sings Christmas songs. It’s probably my oldest one. Some are already old when I get them, so I don’t really know how old they are. I try to date them when I get them. Some are treasured. I have one that was given to me in 2002, and [the friend] died in 2006, so that’s one I treasure. If you’re collecting a wax or candle, do not store it outside, because you won’t have that Santa Claus any more! I lost one that way. I look at all of these, and they all mean something somehow. They all are ‘my favorite’. I mean, look at him! He smiles and grins all the time. Every child that walks in here, no matter what age they are, is thrilled to see all these Santas. He makes everyone happy.”
In the kitchen there is a collection of Santa cookie jars, pitchers and teapots on top of the cabinets and the refrigerator. Her grandson, 16, stood on the kitchen counters to put all of them in place. In the den, one of the Christmas trees is decorated with Santa ornaments from around the world. It’s Linda’s favorite tree, because of all the memories attached to it. In 1996, someone broke into their shed and took everything in it, including several boxes of heirloom ornaments ones her children had made. They were devastated at the irreplaceable loss. Like that collection, each new ornament represents a special person, moment, or trip Linda and John have enjoyed together. Linda felt lucky to find a rare Santa ornament in Japan. Their eldest grandson brought home a surfing Santa from Hawaii. “I love them all!” she said.
There are 16 steamer trunks dedicated to Christmas storage. Each piece of Linda’s Christmas collection is wrapped in the previous year’s wrapping and tissue paper, so it’s like opening Christmas presents every Thanksgiving when the decorating begins. It can take a week or more to bring out the trees, garlands, lights and ornaments, Santas, stockings, pillows, towels, china and stemware, and get everything the way she likes it, but this year she was hosting an early Christmas party and needed to be done quickly. “My whole house is Christmas. I am blessed with a grandson, 21, and a grandson, 16, who had a week off at Thanksgiving. Both boys were here. All the trees were taken out and put in stands for me to fluff. They put up the outside lights. Everything was up and ready to go the week of Thanksgiving.”
“Before I was married, we went to Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. Mom and Dad had Christmas at our house. When I married, we got together with my parents on Christmas Eve, so we could have Christmas Day with the kids at home. The Christmas story was always an important part of our Christmas. On Christmas morning, we had birthday cake as we sang happy birthday to baby Jesus,” Linda said. “Now that our children are grown, Christmas Eve is done at our house. The kids come over on Christmas Eve, and we eat, open gifts and go to the Carols & Candles service at church. The kids will celebrate Christmas Day at their homes or with their in-laws.” This year, because of special circumstances, plans had to be adjusted. We’ve known quite a few people who have lost somebody through covid or cancer this year. It’s going to be a very sad Christmas for many. We have a responsibility to make contact with these people and bring them in. We need to invite them to our parties and celebrations, and call and connect with them. Traditions change as needs be, as your children grow up and marry. It really doesn’t matter what day you have Christmas, as long as you remember Jesus is the reason for the season.”
“You’re the only person who knows if it’s not perfectly the way you planned it. All they know is that you’re the hostess and you’ve welcomed them in. So don’t stress over Christmas. Just have fun! Enjoy! Always remember that we’re only celebrating Christmas because Jesus Christ was born.”