Sethea’s parents always worked to make Christmas special for their children.
The Schwarz family wasn’t familiar with excess. With 14 mouths to feed, Sethea’s father had to go to the grocery store every single day just to keep the pantry stocked.
Yet somehow, Robert and Ethel Schwarz found ways to make Christmas morning magical for their 12 children. Sethea recalls the awe she felt every year as she wondered where all the gifts came from.
Her parents were meticulous in their commitment to making Christmas a whimsical and meaningful experience for their children. Robert would put together buggies and cradles for the girls, and Ethel would write notes from Santa for each of the kids and hide them in the Christmas tree.
“For many years I couldn’t understand why Mom was always sleeping on Christmas morning,” Sethea laughed. “When I had my own children, I realized she was up all night putting things together and setting it all up! It was a lot of work for them, but magical for us.”
The mystery of the gifts was thrilling for the kids, but they also didn’t miss out on the true meaning of Christmas. Each year the whole family got dressed up for church, and they enjoyed celebrating Christ’s birth together.
One year, Sethea’s three oldest brothers kept acting up. Her mother warned them that if they didn’t knock it off Santa wouldn’t leave them anything. But Ethel had a secret. She had ordered gifts for her four kids at the time, and they hadn’t shown up yet. That Christmas morning, only the oldest daughter, Sherry, had something under the tree.
“My mother was mortified, but she couldn’t tell my brothers what had happened until they were older,” Sethea says “So she said, ‘If you behave, I’m sure Santa will come back.’”
The gifts arrived a couple of days later, but the lesson was unforgettable and the story became one that was passed on through the years.
“I think the kids learned a big lesson from that,” Sethea said. “When Mom said behave, she was serious!”