On Christmas Eve at Dann and Michelle Bellah's house, a Nativity scene dominates the living room bookshelf. The family tree is lit and sparkling, and an electric-powered train winds its way between the colorfully wrapped presents. The couple's adult children—sons Andrew and Levi, daughter Kiesha, and son-in-law Rick—settle comfortably on the couch and floor. The house is silent, save for the steady hum of the train and soft Christmas music drifting from the stereo.
In front of each family member sits a pen and blank piece of paper. Quietly, they begin to write Christmas greetings, filling their pages with words of praise and thanks. But the letters they're writing are not addressed to friends or family—not even to Santa.
When they're finished, they fold their letters and deposit them in an aged stocking that hangs on the fireplace mantle. The name on the stocking reads: "Jesus."
Jesus' stocking has been an important part of the Bellahs' Christmas celebration for more than 25 years. Growing up with Santa and his middle-of-the-night present delivery, Michelle realized early on that she wanted something different for her children. "Our kids understood that people celebrate the myth of Santa, but we wanted them to see Christmas for what it really is, the biggest birthday party of the year."
To help their children understand the true importance of Christmas, Dann and Michelle began hanging a stocking for Jesus. Over the years, the practice of placing written or drawn statements of thanks into the stocking also became a part of the tradition. Before their kids could write, the couple remembers, the "letters" for Jesus' stocking were filled with simple stick figures. One year, Kiesha, now 31, proudly added a baby Jesus made from a Popsicle stick. "As a mother, it's been a precious gift to see my kids' letters," Michelle says with a smile. "Even as they've gotten older, there's still a vulnerability and innocence in their thanks and praise."1