Adverse Childhood Experiences and the path towards healing. You are not alone.
I share my trials, my victories, and my stories with you in hopes that if any of you were ever touched by childhood abuse or neglect, as I was, you will see yourselves in my experiences and feel strengthened to voice what you had not been able to before. I hope we can learn together why we respond to life through a particular lens, and that there are ways to climb out of this prison of pain, silence, and shame.
My name is Bess Hilpert

Christmas Poems

Hopes and Tears Throughout the Years…

“In answer to your letter
I found on the wall
I note your request
For gifts large and small.
For you may not know
But I’ll tell you right here
That times are so tough
That I ate my reindeer.”
… Grand Pa 1931 Santa Fe, New Mexico

And so, the ninety-two-year tradition began in the Great Depression by my grandfather who wrote the first of many Christmas poems to his son, my father, and placed the poem on a branch of their small Christmas tree.

Over the years that followed, a poem would be composed and placed on a Christmas tree branch to be read after “Happy Birthday” to Jesus was sung, and before packages were opened. These poems reflect our lives over a span of nearly one hundred years telling the story of a family whose hurts run deep, secrets lay hidden, and whose love runs even deeper.

In 1947 the oldest of the thirteen children was born and soon to be followed by number two in 1948. It was now my father who took the helm of writing the annual Christmas tale hidden in the branches of the live Christmas tree.

“It’s Christmas again, that time of year
When the clan gets together from far and from near;
From East and from West, we come every one,
Bent upon having some Fun in the Sun.”
… Dad 1948

By 1965 all thirteen children are lined up in pairs on the steps leading down to the tree anxiously singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, hoping for presents, hoping for cheer. Praying silently for ease.

“Again this year I got your list
And reading it I got the gist
That these things you thought would be
So nice to find beneath the tree.
First on the list was “underwear.”
…Dad 1965

By 1971 many of the children were grown and gone; but all except one made it home for the mystical merry of Christmas lore. Dad’s poem ended that year with a reminder to:

“Always stay close – care for each other
And treasure the love of your mother.”
…Dad 1971

By 1981 twenty-three live Christmas Trees had been planted along the driveway of my parents’ home. The trees held the secrets of that most Holy Day. Most of the siblings were spread out across the globe and in tribute to the time passing my father wrote:

“But our roots are deep
And we come together
And stick together
And let’s promise to keep it that way
So whenever you turn in the drive
Remember to look at the tree
Because it is our symbol of Christmas.”
…Dad 1981

In 1993 my parents sold the house we thirteen grew up in. The one with the memories, traditions, hurts, and secrets. The home that held the imperfect love, but love it was and is and always will be. The parting lines of the 1993 poem read:

“It’s tradition that counts-not material things
Christmas trees without poems are like birds without wings.
So to each in the family I pass the baton
The mantle of poet is yours from now on….”
…Dad 1993

And just as my father’s father passed the baton, so my father passed the baton to each of us. With three small boys in tow, my husband, Ed, kept the tradition alive with a poem and pickle ornament, hidden in the tree to find.

“In my wife’s home, there was a tradition.
To create a Christmas poem was the mission.
The poem was placed inside the tree,
And read on Christmas morning to everyone’s glee.
So, I begin in the hope that I can muster,
A string of rhymes to make sense without fluster.
To honor the practice, this day, and our clan.
And remember we’re all part of God’s Plan.”

Our boys grew and moved on, only for me to learn of their own secrets and hurts. Pain is passed forward and hearts searingly damaged, but a parent’s prayer is always for healing.

“A family tradition, caught by me,
To hang a poem on the Christmas tree.
Most times the words would freely roll
But this year’s events have taken a toll.
I sit here feeling the weight of tons
To know that talking is hard for my sons.
I pray for God or the universe
To divinely change their current course.
I know as one advances in years
That losses are added, as well as the tears.
But it doesn’t help the growing hole
That I’m feeling deep within my soul.”

And miracles do happen, as we were reminded, when one of our son’s wrote the poem hidden in the branches of our not-so-alive Christmas Tree the following year:

F is for feeling loved and adored
For nothing more than who you are.
A is for the amazement you experience
When the very people you fought with relentlessly thirteen years ago
Become your best friends.
M is for the magic that our father gave us
Which we now get to pass on.
I is for the seed that is embedded in each of us
The beat in our hearts that will always long to be with each other.
L is for the laughter that is never lacking when we sit at our table and share our stories.
And Y stands for all of you. The people who make me. Me.
And us, Us.
For that is what makes us family,
And that is what makes me feel whole.”

My father’s father started this tradition, oh so many years ago, of a Christmas poem placed on a branch of the Christmas tree. A poem expressing the wonder of the Holiday, the anticipation of the unknown, the great depth of love a parent feels for a child, or just the emotion of the moment. And as such, in 2012, I wrote this to my boys and hid it within the branches of our Christmas tree:

“To my boys:
Life is not a straight path.
It is meant to have bumps, craters, mountains to climb, and oceans to cross.
If it were smooth, we would not fall, fail, hurt, and have to get up and try again.
It is in these times of trial that we learn about ourselves and us in relationship to others, to the world, and to God.
It is how we handle the tough times that we grow and become the person we eventually will be.
You will always be good enough to your dad and to me…no matter what you do, have done, or may do in the future.
We are your home.
You are safe with us.
Even when we are apart, you are still safe because we are always with you in your heart.
If you are quiet enough, you will feel our love for you in your hearts, and you will see our smiles behind your eyes.”

And to you, Edwin, my dear husband, as English poet and playwright Robert Browning is famous for saying:

“Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
The last of life
For which the first was made.”

With all three boys adventuring life on their own and one son starting his own new family, the time came, once again, to pass the baton forward. Six years ago, that son bravely took the helm in hopes of keeping the tradition alive, penning this poem from the point of view of his one-year-old daughter. Holding God’s hand in his, he wrote:

“…I wonder at the twinkling lights
That try to tell me stories.
They sparkle in a telling way
And whisper, “Don’t you worry.”
I long to grow and see the world
To run and laugh and play and twirl
For tea parties and Christmas plays
For Santa, reindeer, elves, and sleighs
But all I have for today
Is a hunger to know you more
And the world you seem to adore
And I hope to find the same joy, too
When I grow to be as big as you.
So today as I watch your lips and hear your sounds
Know I am listening in with eager ears
I might not understand it all,
But know I am fully here
Through the love I feel from the faces I’ve met
In every place I’ve rolled and lap I’ve sat
In my little hands and my little heart
I can tell this is the start
Of something truly magical.”
….son, through the eyes of my granddaughter

A new chapter. A new and hopeful season. A season awash with the power of Love.

As we begin the countdown towards the Holiday weekend, my heart is ladened with memories of those that went before me, those that are journeying this road beside me, and those to come. I am reminded of Christmas cookies laid out for Santa, sugar and carrots for his reindeer, and dreams of a bike being left under the tinsel-draped tree. I pray for healing. I pray that the hidden power of Christmas love will echo around the world caught in the Jetstream of life, touching, even for just a moment, those that so desperately need its magic.

Physician and teacher Rachel Naomi Remen has said: “Every time anyone becomes more transparent to the light in them, they will restore the light in the world.”

Let us, together, restore the light in the world during this Holiday season and every day thereafter.

Until next time, friends.


  1. Very moving, and filled with Love. But, I would expect nothing less from you, Bess. Merry Christmas to you and Ed and your entire family. And, Blessings for the New Year.

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