My Favorite Christmas Story Ever – Angels from the Rooftops

It’s a story worth telling every year.

Pakistan, Ratodero

My mom grew up in a small town in Massachusetts called Winchendon known at the time for its toy factory. The toy factory made a variety of wooden toys and the town earned the well-deserved nickname of Toy Town. A large wooden rocking horse named Clyde created in 1912 stood under a pavilion in the center of town, a symbol of the town’s history.

My mom was named Pauline and she was the first-born, the oldest of four children born to my maternal grandparents, Ruth and Stanley Kolodinski. Hers was a world of seasons; hot, humid summers, fall with red and golden foliage, white Christmases, and rainy April’s that brought out the glorious mountain laurel in late June. She knew baked beans, brown bread and New England boiled dinners.

The long sea journey that took her, my father, and my oldest brother to Pakistan in 1954 transferred her from a town of sidewalks and bay windows to a desert with dusty palm trees and Bougainvillea. The contrast between her life in New England and that in Pakistan could not have been more pronounced. Her story was one of a commitment and calling rooted deeply in her soul; a story with many chapters that began with a move across the world to create a home and life in Pakistan.

Christmases in Pakistan differ dramatically from those in the west. As an Islamic Republic, the majority of the population is Muslim and green, red, and gold twinkling fairylands and holiday music don’t exist. Christmas traditions among the minority Christian population include long drama presentations depicting the Christmas story, all night Christmas caroling parties, and new clothes for everyone in the family. Christmas was a time where my parents opened up our home to people coming from near and far, serving hundreds of cups of sweet Pakistani chai throughout the day along with special sweets and savory snacks.

When my mom and dad first arrived, adjusting to Christmases in Pakistan was a challenge. Loneliness and homesickness tended to come on like thick clouds, made more difficult by their desire to create magic for their children. They were acutely aware of the absence of grandparents and other extended family members back in the U.S. I don’t remember this happening, but I’ve no doubt that sometimes the effort to make things special for us kids overwhelmed and tears crept in, throats catching on Christmas carols as they celebrated Christmas far away from where they had been raised.

The town they lived in at the time of this story possibly resembled ancient Bethlehem more than any place on earth. Dusty streets, flat-roofed houses with courtyards, and donkeys and ox carts that brayed and roamed outside were all a part of the landscape of Ratodero. We were the only foreigners in town and our house was located right in the middle of a neighborhood. Mosques surrounded the house, their tall minarets ever present; the call to prayer echoing into our home five times a day.

When I was almost three years old, my mom experienced deep sadness during the Christmas season and, despite the excitement of  my brothers and me, felt more than ever like we were “deprived” of a “real” Christmas. It was a few days before Christmas that the feelings became more than she could bear and after we were put to bed, she went up on the roof top and looked out over the city of Ratodero. She gives words to her feelings in this narrative:

“Leaning against the wall, I pulled my sweater closer against the evening chill of December. The tears I had been holding back spilled over as I looked up at the stars, then out over the flat roofed houses where our neighbors were cooking their dinner. The smoke from wood and charcoal fires rose in wisps, and with it the now familiar odors of garlic, onions and spices. Familiar, yes, but at that moment the smells only reinforced the strangeness of this place. Then I wondered ‘Did Bethlehem look and smell something like this?’ – Bethlehem where God came down to become a human being, a little baby in a manger, in a setting not so different from some of our neighbor’s homes”.(Jars of Clay, page 128)

It was at this point, tears falling, experiencing the loneliness and sadness of a world apart, that she looked up at the dark, clear sky. As she watched the bright stars, millions of light years away, she heard singing just as on that night so long ago the shepherds heard singing. Could it be angels? It was a moment of wonder and awe that the God who she loved so deeply, who knew her frame, knew her sadness, would provide angels to bring comfort and a reminder that she was not alone.

There were no heavenly angels, but “earth angels” had arrived in the form of our dear friends, the Addletons and the Johnsons – two missionary families with 7 kids between them. Out of love for our family they had traveled along a bumpy dusty road, remembering that we were alone in this city. There they stood in the street outside our front door singing “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come. Let Earth receive Her King!” I am too young to remember the celebration that followed, but my mom writes this:

“We woke our children, and together we sang Christmas Carols, ate Christmas cookies and drank cups of steaming tea. And I knew God had sent them to us on that very night to show me once again that no place where he sent us could ever be “God-forsaken” Jars of Clay, page 128

My mom, far removed from the snowy childhood Christmases of her past, where eggnog and Grandma K’s raisin-filled cookies were plentiful, taught us that Christmas is not magic that can quickly disappear. Instead it’s wonder. It’s the wonder of the incarnation; it’s the wonder of God’s love; it’s the wonder of angels heard from rooftops.

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27 thoughts on “My Favorite Christmas Story Ever – Angels from the Rooftops

  1. Marilyn dear…I never cease to be amazed at the beauty with which your words flow, lacing any experience with down to earth understanding. You made me also think of my early days in India when expecting my first child and all so foreign to me…in Iran, going to the flat rooftops as well and hearing the mullah call out just before the revolution broke out….so many similar smells and sights I can identify with your dear mother and with ‘You.’ We were so blessed to live in the Middle East and can therefore understand first hand the culture in which ‘Immanuel’ (God with us) was born. Thanks for much for this reminder of the ‘incarnation’ coming to us from your dear mother’s sharing her heart. Would ‘Amazon’ have her book…’Jars of Clay.’?


    1. Yes, “Jars of Clay” is available from Amazon, or from the publisher’s website, Thank you for commenting. It’s interesting, after living so many years in Pakistan, I can never feel completely at home here in the USA. I guess we did a pretty good job of pulling up our roots. I do believe that the homesick feelings we so often feel here are really a longing for that forever home that God is preparing for us. Blessings on your celebration of Christmas,


  2. Marilyn, thank you for posting this beautifully written reminder of how God’s love is expressed so often through kindness. And thanks, Aunt Polly, for originally sharing such a powerful story in your book. Other comments movingly reflect on how we sometimes don’t know when we are that “angel unaware” to someone else. I was touched also when I read Bettie’s perspective of being one of the angels. How filled with humor, anticipation, and love those folks were that night! Because I have only visited, never lived, in another country, I haven’t experienced the loneliness and homesickness that are so much a part of your world. As a child and teen, little did I know of the challenges my beloved Aunt Polly and Uncle Ralph–and you 5 kids–faced each day in Pakistan nor was I aware of the deep sadness that could sometimes envelop you. I just saw you as my down-to-earth, fun, and deeply committed aunt and uncle. And I loved you all very much–still do!


    1. Jan – thanks so much for this beautiful comment. And I know the love goes both ways – how much mom and dad love you!. I loved hearing Bettie’s side as well and want to highlight that in another post.


  3. Ever since the first time I heard this story, it has become one of my own favorites as well . . . It is perfect testament to God’s love, compassion and caring made real, in physical form through living angels. And isn’t it also true that we may encounter those angels unaware so often in our lives? But in that moment, your mom WAS aware, and she felt so deeply loved and comforted that she never forgot. Her story touches every one who hears it, rippling through the years and so many Christmas times. Thanks for retelling; I can never hear it enough! (Love to your mom too!)


    1. Thank you, Cathy, for your lovely comment. I feel very humble reading all these comments. We are doubly blessed when our experiences of God’s care bless and encourage others. Thanks for your love, too, and my love to you.


    1. Ariana – thank you for loving this story. It means so much and I think any of us who have lived in places where family is far get what it means to stand on rooftops and cry out to God.


  4. Marilyn, when I relate that story I often begin by saying, “the night I was an angel” or “the night I sang like an angel.” Little did we know that we would bring such “good tidings of great joy” to your mom and the family. I also remember what a thrill it was to ride through those dark, bumpy roads and then to park the car outside of town so the Brown family wouldn’t hear us. Tip-toeing down the narrow brick streets in the dark we held on to each other. Standing at the huge door we began to sing with our loud voices “Joy to the World” like we’d never sung before. We never know when we might be that “angel unaware” do we? Seeing the photo of that house stirred my emotions. Thank you for sharing this Christmas story that we all remember so well.


  5. Such a beautiful story. While I am a sucker for the nostalgia of American Christmases past, I find that Christmas stories from around the world remind me of what this holiday really means – and how, despite the separation of miles and cultures, we are still so much alike.


  6. I can so relate to that sense of sadness at being in a foreign country, away from your family and their Christmas traditions – even though the “foreign” country was the USA and my family was in Australia!


  7. Thanks Marilyn! I’m honored that it’s your favorite Christmas story. It still brings tears to my eyes when I remember the experience and God’s kindness to a homesick young woman. Love you!


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