By Daris Howard
I was working on a humorous Christmas story when the news came about the massacre of 20 children in Connecticut, along with the deaths of many adults that gave their lives to protect the children in their care. My two youngest daughters are about the same ages as some of the children that were killed, and I was too stunned to continue writing. Later in the afternoon, I went to my daughters’ concert. When it ended I hugged them tightly, grateful for their safety, while, at the same time, my heart ached for those who had lost people they loved.
When I finally sat back down to work on my story, my emotions were such that I knew I could never finish it this year. Instead, my thoughts turned to the real meaning of Christmas and a different story.
We had been out of graduate school a couple of years, and had paid down our student loans. We decided we could finally afford some of the gifts that our little girls really wanted. We told them they could make a list and let them look through some catalogs. But soon they were overcome by the commercialism of the season.
Through the years of school, when we had very little money, our Christmases were simple, but family centered, and the strength we drew from the season, and from each other, couldn’t be purchased at any price. I found myself longing for those same feelings as our little girls fretted more and more about what they wanted.
Finally, as the “I want” attitudes seemed to reach a crescendo, I decided it was time for a change. I called a family council. “This year,” I said, “we are going to give Christmas away.”
“Give Christmas away?” my oldest daughter asked.
“Yes. You will still get to choose some things, but they won’t be for you. They will be for a child your age that has greater needs than you have.”
My wife, Donna, and I had contacted the university for the address of a struggling young family who had children that were the same ages as our girls. What we purchased would go to them.
I was surprised at the eagerness my daughters showed for this. They spent even more time happily trying to pick out the perfect presents. They each purchased a set of clothes, a nice coat, and two toys that they would have loved for themselves. Donna and I purchased warm clothes for the parents. We also bought a full Christmas dinner with a turkey and everything to go with it. We added a large box of oranges and baskets of fruits and cookies.
It seemed to our little girls that Christmas Eve would never arrive, and they marked the days off on the calendar. When it finally came, we loaded everything into our old car and drove to the rundown apartment complex where the family lived. Donna insisted on playing Santa to deliver everything, even though the apartment was on the third floor.
It took her three trips, hauling the heavy boxes and stacking them next to the apartment door. We had our car windows open, and our little girls were listening intently. When they heard their mother’s loud knocking on the door, and heard her feet pounding down the stairs, they squealed with excitement. Donna had just arrived out of breath at our car when we heard the squeaking of a door opening and heard the joyous delight of children’s voices. Then, through the night, we heard a young mother’s voice, full of emotion and in a strong southern accent, call out, “Thank you.”
Donna and our girls almost simultaneously yelled back, “You’re welcome.”
The next day we opened our few presents, played card games, built a snowman, and went sledding. In the evening we settled down with hot chocolate, and I read stories to my daughters. We talked about how the Christmas season is really about love, friends, and family, just as it was two millennia ago when a wonderful baby became the newest member of a special family.
As we finished the stories, my daughters snuggled up in my arms as we watched the lights on the tree. Eventually, my oldest daughter broke the silence. “Daddy, I want to give away Christmas again next year.”
“Me too,” I said. “Me too.”
As I think of the people in Connecticut, and know we have little to offer compared to what was taken away, I realize we can still give our love and prayers, and that we will do.
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