Matt Holland begged for super powers. Susan Durham sought a fresh start. Caden Anderson just needed his father.
Their wishes exemplify how, for each of us, Christmas is intensely personal and, when we peer back at holiday seasons past, we recall different details and memories.
This month, Yahoo asked readers and contributors to share one photo that carries an inspirational, touching, amusing, instructive or even sad memory with it. Here are some photos from their Christmases — and the stories behind them — we received this week, alongside a few favorites from previous years. Submissions are excerpted and lightly edited.
Christmas 2008 was magical — and it very nearly did not happen.
I was separated from my biological mother at birth and did not find her until she was 66 years old — a full 45 years after I was born. I located her through a years-in-the-making mutual-consent registry that Tennessee developed for situations such as ours. By late 2008, she and I were confident enough with each other that I asked to bring my daughter and granddaughter at Christmas time so everyone could meet for the first time.
We took this photo of Mom, Santa, my niece, Kele, with my granddaughter, Summer, and daughter, Angela. As so often happens, "things come up,” so 2009, 2010 and 2011 passed without us all being able to get together; in the back of my mind, I was thinking we'd find a way to get together for Christmas again.
In 2012, I learned Mom wasn't doing so well. I was able to visit her for her 72nd birthday that October. In some ways, I think she was hanging on just for that last visit; she went into the hospital the night of her birthday.
She passed away less than three weeks later. 2008 became the first and only Christmas that my biological mother, then 68, was ever able to have all of her daughters, granddaughters and even her only great-granddaughter together.
— Sharon Annette McCuddy
In November 2010 my husband, Jon, deployed to Afghanistan, leaving our 3-year-old son, Caden, and me alone for Christmas — again.
This was his third deployment, and it became so much harder the older our son got. I'm from Germany, so that particular Christmas was extra hard for us. For the first time we were alone in the United States. Caden missed Daddy a lot, especially during the holidays.
He used to get so upset when he saw other children with their dads at the mall, waiting in line to see Santa. We decided to get him a special gift that year. I found a webpage that sold Daddy Dolls. It was perfect.
When Caden unwrapped his gift, his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree and with a huge grin on his face he said: "Look, Mommy! Santa brought me Daddy!"
That night he went to bed holding his "dad" in his arms and telling him all about the wonderful gifts Santa had brought him.
As I walked out of his room I heard him say: "Good night, Daddy. I love you."
— Jelena Anderson
I usually love Christmas. Even through difficult years, there's something magic about the season. However, I don't even remember Christmas 2005. My mother died in July that year and, two months later, my "older" twin daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The shining bright spot of 2005 was the birth of my first grandchild — a beautiful baby boy. I traveled from California to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to hold him for a week.
By the end of 2005, I shuffled robot-like through the days. I loved my job counseling teens, but it no longer distracted me from the grief of losing my mother, the anxiety about my daughter's battle with breast cancer, and the huge distance between my loved ones and me.
I made a life-changing decision in 2006. I quit my job. I gave away or sold everything I owned, except what fit into my car, and I moved to the U.P. of Michigan.
Re-uniting with both daughters — a new mommy and a recovering breast cancer survivor — brought me sorely needed peace. A grandson to hold and a son-in-law I adore added deep levels of sweetness to my life.
No, I will never forget Christmas 2006.
— Susan Durham
Once we send our anxious three children to bed on Christmas Eve, assembling the gifts under the tree is typically a straight-forward process. My wife and I realize that we will be awoken early, so it is imperative to get work underway quickly. My curious and creative 7-year-old daughter, however, found a humorous way to slow down our operation last Christmas.
Without giving notice, Anna managed to slip Santa Claus a letter before going to bed. The hand-written note was tucked under the tree, knowing only the jolly gift-giver would discover it. In her neatest first-grade handwriting, my daughter wrote:
"Dear Santa I want to no (sic) how your rainder (sic) fly. Dear Santa can you wake me up. Love Anna"
The discovery of this letter proved more meaningful than most other aspects of our Christmas celebration. As parents, we were certainly proud that she expressed herself so clearly. Yet, before perceiving such a deeper meaning, we enjoyed a hearty laugh from the note. What a sneaky girl to ask Santa to interrupt his lengthy journey to wake her up! Yet, I must concede that I too am curious how those magnificent animals annually defy gravity.
— Jeff Briscoe
When I was 8 years old, like most young boys, I wanted nothing more than to be Superman. I had it all planned out. The first step, obviously, was to ask Santa for the powers. Step two: the suit. You can't be Superman without tights, now can you?
So I wrote my letter to the big man with the beard and crossed my fingers. I had been (mildly) good all year, so surely this would be one Christmas wish that got granted.
Christmas morning I crawled out of bed, ready to test my new powers. My plan was to leap from the top of the stairs and get a handle on this flying business right away. Better judgment prevailed and I tested a small leap off the floor. Heartbroken, I realized that I woke the same as I went to bed: powerless.
Begrudgingly, I headed downstairs. I found that part of my Christmas wish did come true: I was now the proud owner of my very own Superman suit. My grandmother slaved over her sewing machine to make the outfit, and while I couldn't fly or outrun a speeding bullet, I was still the happiest kid on the block.
— Matt Holland
Here's the humidifier amid the presents — placed on a mat because it was set so high the mist was soaking everything around it.
Thirty-six hours earlier, at midnight on December 23, 1999, we rushed our 2-year-old son, Graham, to Cincinnati Children's Hospital. A severe case of croup had nearly closed his airway, causing respiratory distress. Fortunately he improved, and was home again by late afternoon on Christmas Eve. He was pretty wiped out and not overly enthusiastic opening gifts.
Grandpa's tender gaze showed he understood Graham's discomfort, perhaps better than anyone else in the room, having recently undergone chemotherapy himself.
Grandma's smile exemplified her perpetual delight in her grandchildren. She kept our worried little 5-year-old Emma busy and happy, even taking her sledding during our hospital stay.
My husband's posture, though barely visible at left, exuded weariness. A sleepless night in the hospital was followed by a late night making sure all of Santa's work was done. Once Graham had stabilized, I remember panicking, realizing I hadn't wrapped any presents yet.
My son recovered, my father-in-law is cancer free. The only remaining evidence of the uncertainty of that holiday is this photo. A reminder of our many blessings.
— Susan Foster
I look at my grandma's picture when I feel an impending attack of Christmas Spirit tarnishing.
She sits in front of the Christmas tree with her grandchildren. (She is at the far left in the picture with me, the girl in the center with the braids.) Pictures from her generation and the generation before are on the old-fashioned radio behind her. Despite the misunderstandings and hurts of the past year, she celebrated Christmas.
Christmas isn't all presents, ornaments, and parties, although these things are part of our Christmas celebrations. Christmas is music, and the lights of love coming from God into our lives.
Christmas is a time to measure personal growth marks on the charts of our hopes and disappointments and expectations. Christmas is family. My family was not and is not always the Hallmark Channel family, but Grandmother taught me that the Christmas spirit is hope and continuity — passing the Christmas spirit from generation to generation for each to shape.
Sometimes the wrapping paper is tattered from family wear and tear and the Christmas spirit is tarnished with the wear and tear of the season, but it can be passed on shaped by our understanding, and resolve to celebrate Christmas as better people next year.
Please pass on the Christmas spirit, tatter, tarnish and all.
— Kathy Warnes