After a 2,000 mile Thanksgiving road trip, followed by a week of post-road trip utter exhaustion, we’re in full speed Christmas mode at our house. Mounds of boots by the door: check. Christmas tree cut down: check. Christmas Program at church: check.
Bundling up our kids to head out the door after church, our pastor stopped me and asked if I would mind being one of the volunteers to write about “My Best Christmas Gift Ever” for an advent season devotional. I agreed, with mixed thoughts of “that sounds interesting” and “why did I just take on another project.”
Sitting in the van on the way to my mom’s house after the three and a half hour marathon of the kids’ Christmas program practicing and performance, I felt more than a little fried as I tried to ponder my best Christmas gift ever.
Nothing really jumped out from my memory.
Perhaps my favorite gift ever was my Cabbage Patch Doll in first grade. It was the one I longingly stared at week after week at the hardware store in Plainview. I dreamed about getting to hold the doll in my arms. On Christmas morning, it was the first present I opened, and it was indeed the very doll I’d wanted.
Mahala Sibyl (yes, that was the name the doll had) was a great present and very memorable, probably because stared at her week after week in the store. I don’t know, though, if that was my BEST gift ever.
Then I realized the present that meant the most to me was not a Christmas present, but an unexpected birthday gift from my younger brother.
When we were kids, our grandma used to give us five dollars every year on our birthdays. My younger brother Matthew has his birthday two days before mine. The year that he was about six, he brought his crisp five dollar bill from Grandma along on a shopping trip to Rochester, ready to spend it the day after his birthday.
The day after his birthday, of course, also happens to be the day before my birthday. I remember being at the mall that day, looking at a little display of rings on the counter, on sale two for $5.
I wandered away then, knowing that I wasn’t really going to get them. Then I saw my mom helping my little brother with something at the counter, and I tried not to pay attention too much, although I knew what was happening.
Later my mom whispered to me, “Matthew just spent all of his birthday money on two rings for you for your birthday,” confirming what I already suspected.
We always had everything we needed, but as little kids, we rarely had money of our own. The five dollar bill from Grandma was often our entire cash earnings for the year. At nine, I fully understood the generosity of getting a gift that came from Matthew’s birthday money for the year.
On my birthday, I opened up a little box with two sparkling rings, one looked like a diamond, and the other was aquamarine. They were the same two rings I’d pointed out to my mom, but never expected to get. The rings tarnished over time, but I kept them safe in my jewelry box for years, and occasionally wore them even in high school. I think I still have them in my old jewelry box up in my mom’s attic.
Of all the gifts I’ve received over the years, it was the unexpected generosity and thoughtfulness of a little boy that meant the most to me. Matthew didn’t make a big deal about giving me a present, he just did it. And he never complained about not having money left over to spend on himself. That just the kind of person he was, and still is today. Even as a kid, that made a big impression on me.
That was my best gift ever.
Heading full speed into Christmas, I’m trying to keep all of this in my head.
My favorite present ever came from a generous little brother, and when asked “What was your best Christmas gift ever?”, nothing to me really stood out.
And maybe that is the most significant thing of all about Christmas: the lasting memories of Christmas weren’t about any specific gift. My memories are of the feelings that surround of Christmas:
-the excitement of decorating the tree,
-the secrecy of wrapping presents,
-the magic of the lights turning off in the church on Christmas Eve for the play,
-the anticipation on Christmas morning,
-the nervous excitement sitting in the crowded living room at Grandma’s house on Christmas Day.
Any one of those thoughts triggers story after story in my head about Christmas time. It’s not the presents, but the whole Christmas package that makes me so excited to celebrate Christmas with my own kids.
I’m writing this to remind myself as much as anyone. In my head, it’s easy to get stuck on needing to buy x, y, and z for my kids for Christmas to be “just right.”
In reality, the best gifts are getting to decorate gingerbread houses with cousins in Montana, cutting down a Christmas tree with family in Minnesota, and getting to hold a new baby cousin. That’s what they’ll remember.
So when Christmas morning rolls around, we’ll be up bright and early to open presents, but the best gifts we’re getting this year are nothing that can be wrapped and put under a tree.