By: J Robert Giles
CHRISTMAS SERIES 2011 (Part 1)
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. - Hebrews 13:2
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.
That story is the first of several I will share over the next eleven days. It’s that time of year. As I sit here writing this, surrounded by political absurdity, sports misery, and looming poverty; it’s stories like the one Mrs. Gavin told in 1982 that remind us all what this season is truly about. Mike Gavin was right; if the only thing you care about this time of year is the commercialized aspects of this Holiday, then you are a lost soul. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. We are in a fight to keep the right to celebrate it as such, but in our own homes, where our Christmas memories are made, we are free to celebrate Christmas as it was meant to be celebrated. The traditions, like the one enjoyed by the Gavin family to this day, are what the Christmas season is all about.
Occupy Wall Street hippies and ACLU morons can oppose Christmas all they want but they will never force us into retreat. Beyond the commercial greed, and the billons of dollars spent on gifts, decorations, and electricity for the front yard light displays, Christmas is about love. It’s about giving of not only gifts to the ones you love, but to people you wouldn’t normally notice. Those gifts need not be fancy or expensive. They need not be wrapped in delicate ribbons or beautiful paper. They can be gifts of generosity or time. As long as they are given from a genuine heart they have earned the title of “gift.”
Give your gifts. Give things at Christmas you wouldn’t normally give. Embrace the very foundation of this holiday and cherish the spirit that consumes you. Set aside arguments with forgotten sources. Surrender control and welcome with open arms the full force of Christmas. The songs, the sounds, the smells, the tastes…..as soon as they leave, you’ll miss them. Enjoy them while they’re here so that you can anticipate them again next year. There will always be those who refuse the gifts delivered on the day that launched this annual celebration. The biggest gift you can give this year is to pray a selfless, heartfelt prayer for those who have not discovered the power behind such actions for themselves. We all have close friends who do not share our religious views. We have family members with values that more closely resemble the values of our enemies than our own. Pray for them. Pray that they discover the power to see the world as you see the world at Christmas. Pray that they can one day enjoy not only the memory of their mother decorating the house, but that they can enjoy the celebration of Christ that kept their mother happy as she did so. Pray that they can not only enjoy the memory of a grandmother’s monkey bread, but also the guiding hand of Christ that kept heart attacks at bay as a recipe consisting of mostly butter and sugar was consumed. Pray that they come to know the joy of seeing their kids anticipate a candlelight Church service as an important and non-negotiable part of their budding Christmas traditions. Christmas is about sharing, so share Christmas. Share it or lose it to the misguided opposition.
The Spirit of Christmas allows for indulgence and encourages laughter. Christmas is the one time in our year when thoughts of political landscape can be set aside for a few days while tradition is honored, loved ones are remembered, and family is gathered. Enjoy this time, take lots of pictures, and we’ll get back to the lunacy on Friday!
As always, thanks for playing!
J. Robert Giles