The Girl Who Saved Christmas: A Tale of Forgiveness


The Girl Who Saved Christmas: A Tale of Forgiveness


It is easy to get lost in the pageantry of Christmas, and to forget the holiday’s deeper meaning—the promise of forgiveness. Each year, I look forward to decorating the tree, hanging the lights, and celebrating with my family.  But the most wonderful Christmas I’ve ever known had none of these—no tree, no lights, not even my own family. It happened in a small town in Rwanda, after the genocide.

When the violence erupted, I was in neighboring Kenya. Hearing early reports of mass killings, I went to the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross and volunteered. My first mission was to evacuate trucks from the capital, Kigali.

At the time, the city was torn between government and rebel forces, and the killing was at its height. We drove down streets stained with blood and scattered with bodies. I spent a night in the ICRC delegation—an old convent—helping to triage the wounded, and carrying away the dead.  We were all in shock—stunned by the horror.  It went on for 100 days.

Then, finally, the killing stopped.

Over the following months, we witnessed a slow return to life. The leaders of the genocide were driven off or imprisoned. But the country was left with a terrible legacy; so many people had participated in the killings—voluntarily, or out of fear—that prosecuting them all was impossible.

So, the new President, Paul Kagame, called upon the Rwandan people to do the unthinkable—he asked them to forgive.

At the time, it seemed senseless—almost cruel—to ask people who had suffered so horribly, and lost so much, to forgive those who had attacked them. But, slowly, forgiveness worked its miracles—mending wounds, pulling a nation from the abyss, and restoring the path of hope.

The first Christmas after the genocide, I was based in a town called Kamembe, supplying food to orphanages.  The wounds of war were still fresh, and the threat  “Kigali by Christmas” drifted across Lake Kivu from the refugee camps in Zaire where many of the killers had fled. The children at the orphanages faced their first Christmas without their families.

On a leave to Nairobi, I bought roles of gift-wrapping paper, and big bags of hard candy. I went to the UN delegation and got several crates of high protein biscuits that were popular with the children. My truck drivers and I spent our evenings wrapping presents. On Christmas day, we delivered them to the orphanages.

I remember most clearly what happened at a small orphanage in a town called Kirambo. The head of the orphanage had the children gather in a circle, sitting on the ground with their eyes closed and their hands open in their laps. The drivers and I went around the circle, laying a gift in each pair of hands.

When the headmaster gave the word, the children opened their eyes.

They beamed at the gifts, but they didn’t open them. It occurred to me that these might be the first gift-wrapped presents they had ever received. So I showed them how to open them, and they were delighted!

They stood in a circle, clapping and singing, and taking turns dancing in the middle. When the drivers and I finally had to say goodbye, the children chased after our trucks, laughing and yelling.

It was this experience that inspired me to write The Girl Who Saved Christmas. I hope that it helps guide children (and their parents) to the true meaning of the holiday.

The Girl Who Saved Christmas is available for purchase through the book website and

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: William Thomas Thach grew up in St. Louis, MO. He attended Washington University, and then worked overseas with the Red Cross, finally settling in Los Angeles. He is the cofounder of Lighthouse Tutors, a private tutoring company. “The Girl Who Saved Christmas” is his first book.



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