T'was the Night b4 Christmas
by Mary Marcdante
excerpted from

Living with Enthusiasm
How the 21-Day Smile Diet Can Change Your Life
First published in Chicken Soup Christmas Treasury

      One year about two weeks before Christmas, my father made his annual call asking what was on my wish list. I mentioned a book, West with the Night by Beryl Markham that I'd heard would be inspiring to read given all the travel I was doing. And then I interrupted myself and said excitedly, “Wait! What I’d really like is for you to put The Night Before Christmas story on audiotape.”

      There was this long pause. Then Dad said with a familiar sternness in his voice, “Oh for God’s sake, Mary. What in the Sam Hill do you want that for? You’re 40 years old!” I paused, feeling embarrassed. But I was also determined.

     “Dad, I remember how good it felt when we were little and cuddled up next to you on the couch while you read The Night before Christmas.

"I can still remember how strong your voice was, how safe I felt, and how well you acted out all the different sounds and voices. I’d really appreciate your doing this. Since I’m 2500 miles away and not coming home for Christmas, it would be great to have you with me.”


Dad said, with a little more softness and some incredulity, “You mean you want me to read just like I did when you were kids, with all the bells and whistles and everything?”

      “Yessssssss! Just like that!” I said enthusiastically.

      Again, he paused for a long time. Then he said, “I’ll buy you the book.”

      I heard the finality of his decision in his voice and resignedly said, “Okay. Talk to you on Christmas.” We said our “I love you’s” and hung up. I was disappointed but tried to understand. I assumed I was asking for too much sentimentalism from a 76-year-old bear, and that, in his mind, this was a foolish request for a grown daughter to ask. Maybe. Maybe not. All I knew was that each time I talked to Dad, his voice sounded more and more tired, and I was beginning to accept that the question was no longer if, but when, the day would come that I wouldn’t hear his laugh anymore.

On Christmas Eve day, a small, brown, recycled padded envelope with lots of staples and tape arrived. My name and address were written in architect’s lettering with thick black magic marker, my dad’s unmistakable hand. Inside was the book and an audiotape with a handwritten label, “Twas the Night b4 Christmas."

      I popped the tape in the recorder and my father’s words roared, “Twas the niiiiiiiiiiiiiiight before Christmas when alllllllllllllllllll through the houwwwwwwwwwwwwse,” just like when we were children! When he finished, he went on to say, “And now I’m going to read from The Little Engine That Could.” I guess Dad had another message in mind when he included a favorite childhood bedtime story he had read over and over to us when we were small. It was the same story we read to Mom when she was dying of cancer three years earlier.

      The tape continued with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing, “Silent Night,” our family’s favorite Christmas Eve sing-along song. And then, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”…with more favorite songs until the tape ran out.

      I went to sleep feeling safe and sound that Christmas Eve, thanking God for giving me another Christmas miracle with my dad.

      The following May, Dad passed away unexpectedly. No more phone calls every Sunday morning asking me, “What was the Gospel about today, Mary?” No more “I love you’s.” But his voice lives on…and continues to remind me that I can do what I put my mind to; that I can stretch emotionally for someone else, even when it’s difficult. That’s the power of love.

      I saved the tape as a surprise for my sisters and brother and their families for Christmas the following year. My youngest sister called and left a tearful message on my voice mail that said, “Mary, I just got the tape. Did you know that on the tape he said it was December 19? That’s today! While I was in the living room and put on the tape, Holden (her two-and-a-half-year-old son) came running out from the kitchen full steam, yelling at the top of his lungs, ‘Mommy, Grampa’s here! Grampa’s here!’ You should have seen him, Mary, looking all around for Dad. Dad was here.”

      The sounds of enthusiasm and love live on.

"It takes a long time to become young." Picasso
Grandpa and Holden

[photo by my amazing sister and
Holden's mom Jeanne]


Choose a family member or friend with whom to practice the “five-to-one” ratio: before the end of the day give that person five hugs, positive comments, conscious smiles, or a note of appreciation. Even offer to do a chore, run an errand, or cook their favorite meal to show your enthusiasm.



  • Record an audiotape of your favorite songs and children’s books and give copies to people in your family as a gift.  

  • Commit to five hugs a day. If there’s no one around, hug yourself. It’s good for your immune system.  

  • Call some elderly relatives and re-establish a heart connection. Share fond memories and ask them to share some of their own.

  • Make friends with a young mother and share smiles with her baby. It keeps your enthusiasm muscles in good shape.

  • Call one of your friends when you know he or she isn’t home. When you leave a message, say, “Hello fabulous (name). This is one of your many fans. I’m so glad you’re in my life. I love you.”



  • How often do you share your enthusiasm with the people in your family?  

  • How is enthusiasm for each other expressed in your family?  

  • What has been one of your favorite expressions of love from another person?

  • Who needs the “five-to-one” from you?

  • What loving gesture could you ask a family member or friend to do for you that would make them feel good for doing it?

Living with Enthusiasm by Mary Marcdante
Click on book cover for more enthusiasm!

Excerpted from Living with Enthusiasm: How the 21-Day Smile Diet Can Change Your Life ©Mary Marcdante, 2003-2009. First printed in the Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Treasury.

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