Giving is the Gift of Christmas
Updated: May 17
Quietly, I make my way down the hall. Although it’s pitch dark, the white carpeting creates a path for me to follow toward the living room. Not knowing what to expect, I gingerly peer around the corner. Nothing. The room is black. Wait. Black except for two green glowing circles.
What is that? Could they be eyes. Big green eyes. A monster is in there, and it’s staring at me.
I know I should slip back into my bedroom, but I can’t. Fear loses out to curiosity. My parents, afterall, promised me that something special would happen tonight. I had to find out. Why is my favorite word and now it drives me on.
I peer around the corner to look again. The eyes are still on me.
The rest of the room--except for those eyes—is a study in monochrome. But my eyes are getting used to the dark. I see the black silhouette of our tree in the corner and smell the faint aroma of pine, and I can just make out my parents’ coffee table. Oh, there’s the little table with the lamp. It’s across the room, but if I can just make it I’ll be able to see what I’m up against…and what’s so special about tonight.
I step into the room. The eyes aren’t moving. That’s good. Slowly, silently my feet sink into the thick carpet as I tiptoe across the room to the lamp. Made it. I flick it on.
The room is illuminated by more than the light. It’s a wonderous sight. Bright and colorfully wrapped packages are piled under the Christmas tree. I see a teddy bear sitting in a little chair just my size. I look in the direction of the glowing eyes and there lies a toy tiger. It’s bigger than I am, but at least it seems to be smiling.
Childhood Lessons Learned
I’ve racked my brain, and honestly I think that this is my earliest memory. I was 2 ½ years old. The Steiff stuffed toy tiger was for me. It was not only huge, but became a good friend for many years. Sometimes I’d put on my pith helmet and play safari gear and wrestle the tiger. Other times, he absorbed my tears and dried my eyes when I was sent to my room crying.
But back to my story. Although my memory stops at seeing the tiger and dozens of gifts, my parents enjoyed filling in the rest of the story.
I was the oldest; my sister and brother hadn’t come along yet. So everything I did was new and unexpected. Mommy and Daddy never dreamed that I’d come out and tear into all the presents—especially since I was locked in my crib.
No, my parents weren’t monsters. Our apartment at the time doubled as my father’s medical office. Each night, my crib was set up in Daddy’s examining room. To keep me safe and away from Daddy’s medical equipment, I was locked in. My crib was something of a cage. What my parents didn’t know is that I had figured out how to pick the lock. I wasn’t really a toddler Houdini. The lock was simple and only designed to keep an average child under control. But, as one of my teachers would report years later, “Kendra is inimitable.” I guess I have to own that.
Did I already say back to my story? Well back to my story. Several hours later, when my parents heard noises coming from the living room, they dragged themselves out of bed. When they stumbled into the living room, their eyes snapped wide open as they surveyed the damage.
There was ribbon and wrapping paper everywhere, and I stood in my footed pajamas knee deep in the discarded paper and boxes with two silk ties wrapped around my neck and wielding a handheld, electric egg beater.
With a smile on my face, I looked at them and proclaimed, “Look what Santa brought me!”
It Really is Better to Give
I also don’t recall how Mommy and Daddy broke it to me that not everything was meant for me. I was still an only child, and in my universe, the world seemed to revolve around me.
A few years later, however, when my brother and sister came along, I began to develop a different perspective. I discovered that I loved buying special gifts for others.
I still remember the glee on my four-year-old brother’s face the year that I bought him a plush Toyland Solder. It was almost as tall as he was, and the look of surprise and joy on his face was more precious than any gifts that I received that year.
I remember, too, the Christmas that my sister received a white convertible pedal car. It was a thing of beauty. Stunning, really, with a sleek plastic shell and red seat. Although it was my sister’s gift, my brother (about two at the time) was so drawn to the car that he stood in the driver’s seat all day long. He wouldn’t take a nap and only cried when someone tried to pick him up and take him out of the car.
My sister, who was about four, was incredibly gracious. She let him stay in the car all day and didn’t even try to take control—even though the “pink slip” was clearly hers.
The True Meaning of Christmas
And that brings me to my subject of this month. I want to explore the true meaning of Christmas through our movies, songs, books, TV shows, activities and actions. It’s a complicated subject. On the one hand, we have the secular side of Christmas, which seems to gain greater traction every year.
On the other, we have the spiritual or religious side. When I search Google for the true meaning of Christmas, the first response is “Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus.”
But as my own story suggests, for many children today, the spiritual aspect of the holiday is not the first thing they see and learn. Some may criticize and claim that Christmas has lost its true meaning and been replaced with greed, avarice and materialism.
I’m going to take a different position. I think all things come with time. A child overwhelmed with gifts is naturally going to respond. It’s only human. But it doesn’t take too long for most to discover the joys of giving.
Even a Small Gift Makes a Difference
And I’ll close with a recent story. This last year has been tough on many people. Some have been laid off. Many small companies have gone out of business. And other people have just never have gotten back on their feet after the Covid lockdown. Meanwhile the cost of food, fuel and other necessities have continued to rise.
I was listening to a podcast the other night when the host went off in an entirely different direction than usual. He’d announced earlier in the day that he wanted to give $500 to 50 deserving people who were struggling both to make ends meet and give their families a nice (or any) Christmas. Five hundred dollars may not sound like a lot, but for people with nothing but a pile of unpaid bills it can be meaningful.
Throughout the day, stories poured in to our host’s email. He selected 50 of the most deserving and read each on air. The stories of need were overwhelming—so many hurting families. In fact, by the end of the show the host ended up giving not $25,000 but more than $30,000 to close to 60 families.
His was more than an act of kindness. It was a reminder to everyone to stop and remember the true meaning of Christmas and to do what we can to help others. I know that I’m making a point of grocery shopping on the weekend. That’s when the tables are set up at the market to collect donations for food, drug rehabilitation and other causes. I look forward to forgoing something I was going to buy in order to give the help to others.
Enjoy your holidays, but take time to make sure friends, neighbors—even strangers—are able to do the same. Even a small gift can make a huge difference. And I hope you’ll stay with RosieCentral this month as we explore and dissect the true meaning of Christmas. We hope you'll find ways to turn memoirs and family stories into gifts to share.