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How Her Son’s Homemade Star Brought Holiday Joy to Their Family

She just wanted her son with autism to love Christmas in his own way.

Kelly Gallagher’s son, Hudson, standing in front of a Christmas tree; Photo Courtesy Kelly Gallagher

Grocery bags in one hand, I helped my seven-year-old son, Hudson, out of the car. It wasn’t easy to hide my excitement as we walked toward the house. Hudson didn’t know it, but there was a surprise waiting for us inside: a Christmas tree. A real Christmas tree. My husband, Alan, and I had never put up a live tree in all our 14 years together.

We’d made careful plans the day before. Alan would sneak out to buy an evergreen and get it in its stand while Hudson and I were out. We hoped the tree might make an impression, that it might get Hudson excited for Christmas in a way that would add a whole new level of holiday joy for us. But we could never be sure what might touch Hudson’s spirit.

Most kids didn’t need any encouragement when it came to Christmas. But Hudson wasn’t a typical child. Because of his autism, he sometimes seemed to float between two worlds, the one I lived in and the one in his head. Looking forward to future events, even Christmas, didn’t come naturally to him. Neither did answering questions or interpreting words and gestures. He had his own way about him. I singled out the house key on the ring. So what if Hudson prefers the sound of crinkling wrapping paper to the gifts inside the box? But a real Christmas tree Before I could stop myself, I was picturing Hudson’s eyes lighting up at the sight of it.

 Kelly Gallagher with her husband and their son Hudson; Photo Courtesy Kelly Gallagher
Kelly Gallagher with her husband and their son Hudson; photo courtesy Kelly Gallagher

I unlocked the front door and opened it wide. Alan was waiting with a camera to record Hudson’s reaction to the gorgeous evergreen tree now standing in our living room. “Hey, buddy,” Alan said. “What do you think?”

Hudson looked at the tree. His eyes didn’t light up. He didn’t smile. He might have been looking at a new piece of furniture. “Tree,” Hudson said simply. “Pine needles.” All the hopes I’d told myself not to have came crashing down.

Alan turned off the camera. His eyes were shiny with tears. “It’s okay,” he told me quietly. “We’ll decorate it together. Hudson will like that.”

Or not, I thought as Alan got out the ornaments. I knew it wasn’t fair for me to put my expectations on my son. It was my constant prayer not to let myself do that.

God had given me the perfect child, autism and all. Hudson could never fail me. But at times like this, I feared I was failing him. I felt helpless to find something about Christmas that spoke to my son. I hooked a silver ball and handed it to him. I hung another one on the tree. Hudson stared at the blinking lights, the ornament dangling forgotten from his finger. God, bless Hudson. Help him enjoy Christmas in some way. In his own way. Even if I don’t understand it.

A few minutes later, Hudson was inspecting some tiny detail on an ornament I’d hardly looked twice at. Alan and I hung most of the ornaments ourselves. When the tree was finished, I unplugged the lights. Then I realized we’d forgotten one thing—the tree topper. “Do we still have that star you made last year?” I asked Alan.

“The jagged piece of cardboard I cut out at the last minute?” He laughed. “I threw it out after we took down our fake tree.”

“Good. This tree calls for a proper topper. We’ll buy a shiny star this year. Or a beautiful angel.”

“Star,” said Hudson.

Alan and I turned to him in surprise. “Star on the top,” he said.

Alan and I exchanged glances. “Okay, then, star it is,” I said. “Let’s go online and pick one right now.”

Hudson shook his head. “I want to make another star,” he said firmly. “Don’t throw it away.” Alan and I almost fell over each other, grabbing up art supplies.

“What color do you want your star to be, Hudson?” Alan asked. Hudson chose a yellow crayon. We watched him color intently. When he was satisfied, I cut the star out for him. Alan climbed the stepladder, affixed the star to the top of the tree and turned on the lights.

“I love my star!” Hudson exclaimed. I didn’t need a camera to remember this moment forever.

“We will definitely save your star for next year,” I said. “Okay?” Hudson didn’t answer. He was looking up at the tree topper, his face split in a wide smile. The wise men themselves couldn’t have been more joyful as they gazed at the star leading the way to Bethlehem. Alan and I had our tree; Hudson had his star. God had touched each one of us in his perfect way.

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