Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Story

It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas---oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it-overspending...the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma---the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black.

These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears.

It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.

Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them."
Mike loved kids-all kids-and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church.
On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years.
For each Christmas, I followed the tradition---one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal it's contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn't end there.

You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad.

The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.

May we all remember each other, and the Real reason for the season, and His true spirit this year and always. God bless---pass this along to your friends and loved ones.

--- Copyright © 1982 Nancy W. Gavin--- Submitted by Edwin G. Whiting

The story first appeared in Woman's Day magazine in 1982. My mom had sent the story in as a contest entry in which she subsequently won first place. Unfortunately, she passed away from cancer two years after the story was published. Our family still keeps the tradition started by her and my father and we have passed it on to our children. Feel free to use the story. It gives me and my sisters great joy to know that it lives on and has hopefully inspired others to reach out in a way that truly honors the spirit of Christmas. --- Kevin Gavin



Upside down candy canes make great cocoa stirrers!


  1. Christine,
    That story has caused tears to roll down my face. It is so beautiful, simply beautiful. I will have to share this story with my family.
    If you would be so kind to lift up a prayer today, my Husband and I are meeting with his parents today at 4:30 in hope of some sort of reconciliation between them and us. It is a very long story and something we have prayed and strive for in the past. But I'm full of fear... Much thanks... Dee Dee

  2. Okay, that made me cry. What a neat tradition and a great reminder of what we should be focusing on.

  3. Oh yeah, tears. What a story! Sure does make you stop and think!
    It IS so much more blessed to give than to receive!
    At the school where I teach, the student council has been collecting loose change to provide Christmas gifts for an orphanage in Belarus. Our goal was $500.00. I am happy to say that over $1500.00 was collected! That's enough to buy a box of candy (a traditional gift in Belarus, I'm told) for each child in three orphanages!
    We also collected gently used winter clothing for refugees from Iraq. We sent I don't now how many hats, blankets, over 60 coats, 39 pair of mittens, and 92 sweaters. I'm happy to say the Christmas Spirit is alive and well and bringing happiness to all the givers!
    Joy to the world!

  4. Wow Susan!
    Your school really knows how to reach out with the Christmas Spirit. I'm impressed.

  5. What a wonderful post. I have read so many inpiring posts here. I hope you don't mind, but I copied this and posted to my blog. Thanks for all the inspiration you give. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Have a blessed day!!

  6. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. I am sure it has inspired many.It certainly inspired me. Merry Christmas to you and your family! Have a wonderful day.

  7. I'm speechless. That was awesome. My, how we forget the joy of giving! I love this tradition!

  8. That was a heart touching story. I didn't want to start crying because I wanted to finish reading the story.

    What a fantastic idea.


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