Friday, December 17, 2010

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String

Do you know what the five love languages are?  I really won’t go into all of them, but the theory is that people like to show and receive love in different ways.  For example, I might really like to receive love by just hearing the words “I love you,” but I might like to show love by writing little love notes.  The point is, we all have different ways of expressing how much we care about each other. 
My family is big on expressing love through gifts.  Not in a materialistic  superficial way, we just get really into  selecting presents the others will love.  When we were little, and the time came to visit our grandparents,  my sisters and I  would spend weeks before hand making them drawings and knick knacks to give to them upon our arrival.  Our little tokens were obviously of no monetary value, they just showed Grandma and Grandpa how much they meant to us.  We STILL make many of our own Christmas presents to give away.     
We spend a lot of time thinking about what to give each other for birthdays, and other gift-giving holidays (i.e. Christmas, mothers & fathers day, etc…) because a generic gift doesn’t say, “I love you” like a thoughtful gift does.  We love wrapping the presents and sneakily hiding them somewhere in the house.  We love surprises more than most people, I think.  It’s not about how much money was spent, just how much thought and care went into the gift.  I’m sure we’re not the only ones who feel this way, we ALL want to share meaningful gifts don’t we?
I found this story that shared a really great idea for meaningful gift giving.  Perhaps it can become a new tradition in our house. 
Here it is:
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


  1. See, now you've got me crying at work. That is beautiful.

    Thank you for so eloquently describing our families love for gift giving. It goes so much beyond materialism...I think for Dad especially. And this is why if anyone ever criticizes our family Christmas traditions, my fangs come out. you sister.

  2. I was very touched by the story. I shared it on my blog, and put a link to your blog in the post. If you want to see it, you can go here.

    Thanks for a great story and a good reminder about what is important!