Leah jumped out of bed and ran downstairs. She stopped at the entrance of the living room to glory in the beauty of the large Christmas tree dressed in tinsel, multicolored bulbs and lit candles and standing majestically in the corner. “Leah, come and open your presents,” her mother called. Did Father Christmas bring her to me, did he? The ten-year-old blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty thought to herself. “Here, open this,” her father added. She sat down on the floor and ripped the wrapping and ribbon off the gift as fast as she could. “Oh, thank you, Mother and Father. Thank you. It’s the best present ever.” She was holding a large, porcelain doll fully dressed in the style of the time.

“Wake up, wake up. You’ll be late for school.” Leah awoke, sat up and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. As she looked around her spare, dingy room, tears began to well in her eyes. It was all another dream, one of many she had over the past month-always the same ones-each leaving her sadder than the other. It was only in dreamland that she would experience the joys of Christmas. In her harsh reality, she was poor, dressed in hand-me-downs, lived alone in a dreary, cold flat with her mother-a charwoman who earned barely enough to pay the rent and put food on the table. Leah’s Christmas present last year was a rag doll her mother found thrown away in a junk pile near one of the houses she cleaned.

Things hadn’t always been that bad. Ten year- old Leah could remember happier times, when she was four or five and her father brought home an armful of presents and treats from the local bakery, and a Christmas tree that Leah helped to decorate. She could almost taste the popcorn they strung crisscrossed around the fir.
But then came the war.

Unlike many of the children she knew, Leah saw her father return from the trenches in France. But he wasn’t the same happy, carefree man who told her bedtime stories and hugged her mother. He was short-tempered, angry, and would often wake up the house with his night terrors. He no longer paid attention to Leah or her mother and couldn’t keep a job. But worst of all, when she was six, her father left on Christmas Eve and never returned.

Because of unavoidable circumstances, Leah and her mother were forced to move. Sadly, she had to leave her friends and go to another school. There, the children made fun of her ill-fitting clothes, her scuffed shoes, her long, unkempt hair, and her stutter, a speech impediment her old friends understood. Every time Leah tried to talk, students laughed at her. And her teacher, Mrs. Smythe, did nothing to stop the mocking, which continued in the halls, on the playground and on the long walk home.

And life out of school was no bowl of cherries. It has been said that one is the loneliest number in the world, and no one knew that better than Leah. To make up for a life without friends, she created a world filled with imaginary companions who could appear at a moment’s notice. Angels. Leah had always been fascinated with angels ever since being introduced to them in Sunday school. Now they helped ease her loneliness.

Spring Angel and her yellow wings brought the melting of the snow, the blooming of daffodils and tulips and lilacs, and the songbirds with their mischievous chipmunk friends. She told Leah about the miracle of Easter and its many traditions, including brightly painted eggs and baskets overflowing with marshmallow chicks and multi-colored jelly beans.

Summer Angel and her green wings dazzled Leah with tales of carnivals and crystal blue lakes and picnics in the park and firework displays and vanilla custard ice cream cones.
Autumn Angel and her orange-colored wings described how much fun she had painting the leaves red and gold, and following the Frost twins as Jack performed his magnificent artwork on windowpanes and pumpkins and Jake compiled his list of who was naughty and nice for Father Christmas and helping the hibernating animals prepare for their long winter’s night.

With the first snowflakes, Leah remembered that Christmas was just around the corner. She worried about the tradition at her new school, a student gift exchange, where every year in December, teachers allowed children to choose gift exchange partners. And as she expected, nobody chose her. That night, after crying herself to sleep, she had a special dream.

Appearing to dry her tears was the Christmas Angel, perhaps the most beautiful one of them all. She had golden hair, eyes blue like the sky, pink cheeks and wore a white gown framed by wings sporting the seven colors of the rainbow. She reminded Leah that despite the loss and cruelty she suffered, she never struck back at her tormentors, showing them only kindness. ”Use that kindness,” said the Christmas Angel. “That is your special gift.” Before leaving, the Angel asked Leah what she wanted for Christmas. “I’ll tell you my wish, but I know it could never come true.”

On the day before the gift exchange, Leah asked her teacher if she could have fifteen sheets of paper and a box of colored pencils. Mrs. Smythe was too busy to think of a reason to say no. That night, Leah’s mother let her stay up as late as needed to finish her project.

The next day, as the other students began to exchange gifts, laughing and oohing as they opened wrapped packages, Leah sat quietly at her desk. As the noise began to die down and children returned to their desks, Leah rose and walked to the front of the room. The same girl who rarely spoke because the words that tumbled from her mouth were met with hostile taunts, now found the courage to speak loudly and clearly.
“I have something for each of you and Mrs. Smythe.”

Leah opened the box on her desk and began passing out to each child a beautifully designed, handmade card bordered by holly and ivy and depicting an Angel with Rainbow Colored Wings and the words-“ Merry Christmas. Be Kind to Others.” Upon touching Leah’s gift, the children’s demeanor seemed to change; smiles spread across their faces and Mrs. Smythe’s as well. Breaking the silence, a girl cried out-“It’s so beautiful!” Then the entire class shouted “Thank you, Leah, thank you!” as they rushed over to give her a big group hug. From that day on Leah’s gift would always remind them to respect each other and that no act of kindness is too small.

That Christmas morning, Leah awoke and looked out her window. It was snowing, and the bells of the nearby church played O Come All Ye Faithful. As she began to get up, she turned toward the doorway and saw a shadow. “No, it can’t be!” She rubbed her eyes again and again. “It is!” Her Christmas wish to the Angel with the Rainbow-Colored Wings had come true. “Daddy, Daddy,” Leah cried as she jumped out of bed and ran straight into his arms. Happy Holidays!

And Leah stood out. Her clothes were ill-fitting, her shoes scuffed and torn, her hair long and scraggly and she had a speech impediment. Stuttering wasn’t a problem previously because her fellow students had become used to it. But now, in a classroom full of strangers, every time she opened her mouth she was laughed at. The teacher, Mrs. Smythe, did nothing to stop the mocking but at least showed a bit of humanity by not calling on her in class. Taunted in the halls and on the playground, school had become a living hell.

And life out of school was no bowl of cherries. It’s said that one is the loneliest number in the world, and no one knew that better than Leah. To compensate for a life without friends, she created a world filled with imaginary companions who could appear at a moment’s notice. Angels. Leah had always been fascinated with angels ever since being introduced to them in Sunday school. Now they helped ease the pain of loneliness she had suffered for so long.

She loved talking to Spring Angel with the Yellow-Colored Wings who brought the melting of snow, the blooming of daffodils and tulips and, best of all, lilacs, the appearance of songbirds and the mischievous chipmunks. They talked about the miracle of Easter and its many traditions including the coloring of eggs and Easter baskets brimming over with candy delights.

Summer Angel with the Green-Colored Wings dazzled her with tales of carnivals and lakes with crystal blue waters and picnics in the park and firework displays. Then came Autumn Angel with the Orange-Colored Wings who described how much fun she had painting the leaves red and gold and following Jack Frost as he performed his own artwork on windowpanes and pumpkins and watching the hibernating animals prepare for a long winter’s night.

As fall gave way to winter, Leah was reminded that soon it would be the holiday season and with it came something else to worry about. One of the Christmas traditions at her school was the student gift exchange. Every year during the first week of December, teachers allowed each student time to choose his or her “gift partner”-the one whom he or she would be exchanging gifts with later in the month. On selection day, no one picked Leah. That night, after crying herself to sleep, she had another dream.

In it, she met the Christmas Angel with the Rainbow-Colored Wings-perhaps the most beautiful thing she had ever seen-an angel with golden hair, sky-blue eyes, and pink cheeks, dressed in white and sporting wings highlighted by red, orange, yellow, blue, green, indigo and violet stripes-the seven colors of the rainbow. While drying Leah’s tears, Christmas Angel reminded her what a special child she was-that despite the cruelty visited upon her, Leah never struck back at her tormentors, showing them only kindness. She then suggested something the little girl could do which would help her classmates understand the importance of treating each other with respect along with teaching them the true meaning of Christmas. Before the Angel departed, she asked Leah what she wanted for Christmas. “I‘ll tell you my wish, but I know it could never come true.”

On the day before the gift exchange, Leah asked her teacher if she could borrow 15 sheets of blank paper and colored pencils. Her teacher, too busy to ask why, complied. That evening, after telling her mother of her plans, she was allowed to stay up an extra hour to finish her “job.”

Just before dismissal the next day, the students were given permission to exchange their gifts. As the others laughed and oohed and aahed over their presents, Leah sat quietly at her desk. Just as the noise began dying down, she rose and addressed her classmates. Suddenly, the silence was deafening. The same girl who they thought was too ashamed to speak was now talking clearly, loudly and without stuttering. They couldn’t believe their ears. “I have something for each of you and Mrs. Smythe.”

She then opened the box on her desk and began passing out her special gift-a beautifully designed, handmade paper cut-out of an Angel with Rainbow-Colored Wings holding a Christmas card bordered by holly and ivy and bearing the following words “Merry Christmas. Be Kind to Others.” Upon touching Leah’s gift, each child’s demeanor seemed to change; smiles spread out across the children’s faces and Mrs. Smythe’s as well. One of the girls broke the silence crying out, “It’s so beautiful.” Then one after the other shouted, “Thank you, Leah, thank you!”-as they rushed over to apologize for the way they had treated her and to give her a big group hug. From that day forward, Leah’s gift would always remind them to respect each other and that no act of kindness is too small.

That Christmas Day, Leah awoke and looked out her window. It was snowing and she could hear the bells of a nearby church ringing out “O Come All Ye Faithful.” She turned towards the doorway and thought she saw something. “No! It can’t be!” She rubbed her eyes again and again. “It is!” Her Christmas wish to the Angel with the Rainbow-Colored Wings had come true. “Daddy, Daddy,” she cried as she jumped out of bed and ran straight into his arms. Happy Holidays!