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If you’re like me, something feels a little off-kilter this Christmas. There just doesn’t seem to be much joy to the world.

Part of it is the election, I know. It’s easy to be discouraged by the cast of characters that Mr. Trump has nominated to keep watch over the flocks at the departments of Treasury, Energy, Interior and State and the Environmental Protection Agency. Not many Magi in that story.

Part of it also is personal in that, for the first time, our son, Christopher, is not with us during Advent. He’s in Sweden on a Rotary Youth Exchange program. All in all, it’s not a bad time to be in Sweden, enjoying the lights, ice sculptures and genuine husmanskost — and the company of people who still believe in things like climate change and finding room in the inn for refugees.

In times like this, however, I remind myself of a Christmas story that took place long ago, before we had the luxury of fighting over things like tweets and fake news and vaccinations and worrying about finding the right 12 gifts for each family member.

This story took place in a small town in California during the Great Depression. It involved a 6-year-old girl named Dorothy who had the misfortune of having her birthday on Christmas.

The year was 1932. Dorothy lived with her sister Vivian, 12, and her brother Adolph, 15. Their father was a bus driver named Hugo, a laborer who had emigrated from Sweden three decades earlier in search of a better life. The mom, Victoria, also from Sweden, took care of the family in their two-story framed home in downtown Palo Alto.

One cold gray in early December, Adolph became very ill. He had diphtheria. This was a time when as many as 13,000 to 17,000 children died every year from the disease in the United States alone. According to the doctor, it was very serious.

If that wasn’t scary enough, that day, a sign was nailed on the family’s front door that read “Quarantined.” No one could come in or out.

Unfortunately, this included Hugo, who was at his job when all of this happened, and the oldest brother, Victor, who was away at school. As a result, Hugo had to stay with a brother who lived in the next town over.

Meanwhile, being stuck in the house was a trying experience. Dorothy couldn’t go in her brother’s room and saw little of her mom. She tried to help but was often directed to just stay out of the way. Sometimes that wasn’t so easy.

“These were the days before we had a radio,’’ says Dorothy. “We had to make our own fun. We didn’t have many toys. I had paper dolls and made paper dresses for them. I had a doll and buggy, both hand-me-downs, of course. We didn’t know we were poor.’’

Nonetheless, signs of the Depression were everywhere.

“Many homeless men would come to our house in those days,” she says. “My mother couldn’t turn anyone away. She felt it was her responsibility. They would knock on the back door, and she would feed them on the back porch,’’ she says. “We didn’t have much, but she always found something to cook for them.’’

But all that stopped during the quarantine. Even the homeless knew to stay away. The milk man had to leave the milk in a pan on the back steps because they couldn’t leave the bottles for fear of infection.

The family was only allowed three visitors: the family doctor, a nurse and the county health physician. “The three of them came out every day to check on my brother,” she says. “Mrs. White, the nurse, was so sweet and gentle and was always smiling. Dr. Phillips’ black bag is what I dreaded. He would swab our throats each day with something out of that black bag, and it tasted so awful. I can still taste it to this day.”

One day, when the doctor came, Dorothy ran upstairs and pretended to be asleep, hoping to avoid the swabbing. “I heard Dr. Phillips on the stairs and, what a relief, he said, ‘Oh, let her sleep.’ ’’

She had a particular fondness for Mrs. White, who was well-named because of her white hair. She brought the family a Victrola. “It was taller than I was,” says Dorothy.

By the time Christmas Eve arrived, it was pretty anti-climactic. There was little in the way of a holiday celebration let alone a birthday party.

Dorothy enjoyed looking at the family Christmas tree, which was carefully decorated with tinsel but little else. She imagined for a moment what that tree would look like with a few gifts underneath. But she didn’t allow herself to dwell on the thought for long. She just didn’t want to go there.

It was a quiet night.

Then, Dorothy heard footsteps on the front steps. Lots of them. Then voices coming from the porch, which wrapped around the front of the house. Her mother and her sister came into the front room to see what was happening. That’s when she and her family started to hear singing — from a multitude of voices.

It was the choir from the nearby Lutheran church. They had surrounded the house. Each singer held a lighted candle, bathing the home in light.

“They sang just for us,’’ said Dorothy, who still tears up thinking about it. “It was the most beautiful music I ever heard.’’

“Silent Night,’’ “Angels We Have Heard on High’’ “O Holy Night.’’ It was a full concert. Neighbors gathered from other homes to take it in.

“I just remember standing at that screen door and listening,’’ she says. “To me it was heavenly.’’

She didn’t want it to stop. But soon it was quiet once again.

The next day, Dorothy turned 7. Her gift that year was an orange coat that had been her mother’s. Victoria had simply cut it in half for her daughter.

But then the family received its greatest gift. Adolph started getting better.

Soon the “Quarantined” sign came down — and her father came home. So did her brother. Dorothy was never so happy as to see everyone together again.

“Then we really had another miracle,’’ she says. It started to snow.

“We had never had snow before. I only saw it on Christmas cards. I was out in front of our house with daddy and my sister,’’ says Dorothy. “The snow wasn’t sticking, but I saw a collection of snow on my daddy’s hat brim. I gathered it together and made a small snowball and threw it at my sister.”

She laughs when she talks about it.

Since that day, Dorothy has enjoyed five children, nine grandchildren and many creative birthday celebrations. She will enjoy another today at my place. But if you ask her to name the most memorable, it won’t take long before a smile appears, and she becomes 6 again, remembering simple joys of things you can’t wrap, things like family, good health and the sights and sounds of being embraced in prayer and song — and snow.

Happy Birthday, Mom. And Merry Christmas.

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