The Simple Gifts of Christmas
©2015 Susan Noyes Anderson
“Can you believe it, New York? Only one more week until Christmas. Santa will be dusting off his sleigh and hooking up the reindeer before we know it!”
The host of her favorite morning show sounded jovial, but Emily’s heart sank. Most days, his buoyant energy cheered her. This day, she grumpily wished him all the way to the North Pole! Maybe a hefty dose of snow and ice would dampen that holiday spirit he dispensed so eagerly. At the very least, he’d have a better idea how it felt to shiver at the very thought of Old St. Nick and his sleigh full of Christmas presents. Non-existent presents, for her children.
Her head bowed. Cade and Chloe deserved better, but Emily couldn’t give it to them, not this year anyway. Maybe if there weren’t so many medical bills they could get ahead…or if Steve had stayed around. At this point, she didn’t even know where he was. No one else knew, either, or so they said. Six months without child support had drained them dry. And the twins’ asthma was always bad in the winter, even now that they were well past the age of outgrowing it.
Hearing the warning bell, Emily left the warmth of the teacher’s lounge. Better get a move on, she told herself. Her job didn’t pay much, but helping young people read was a gift she gave and received every day. It filled her soul, even if it didn’t quite fill her pockets. And it didn’t require that degree she couldn’t afford. Best of all, she was home with the kids when they needed her. Emily smiled. These were tough times, but the small and supportive K through 12 school had stood behind her, waiving the costs of its after-school enrichment programs indefinitely. People could be so kind, she reminded herself, and a bit of Christmas swirled into her heart.
The classroom bustled with holiday-inspired energy all morning, and little Izzy grinned when Emily took her aside for some one-on-one. “What shall we read today?” she asked.
“Simple Gifts!” lisped her student, spraying her enthusiasm in Emily’s direction. “Mommy got it. At the liberry.” “Simple Gifts it is,” Emily agreed, chuckling at Izzy’s exuberance. The book was plain and worn at the edges, the illustrations dull and faded. It didn’t look like much, but the story was clearly well-loved. Emily couldn’t help but wonder what the attraction was.
“Read it,” Izzy demanded. Emily hesitated. “Please?” she begged.
“But I thought you wanted to read Simple Gifts to me,” Emily replied.
“You read,” the girl insisted. “It’s your turn this time.”
“All right, Iz. This story will be my Christmas gift to you. And you can return the gift by reading it back to me!” Satisfied with that arrangement, Izzy nodded.
Turning the weathered pages slowly, Emily began:
The creatures of the forest
were gathered all around.
The day was Christmas morning.
Soft snow lay on the ground.
A blue spruce stood as tall and proud
as any Christmas tree,
but pine cones were the only gifts
the animals could see.
Who-o-o took my present? cried the owl.
Where’s mine? the chipmunk wondered.
The rabbit wrinkled up his nose.
They’re gone, the brown bear thundered.
No gifts. No gifts, the squirrel chattered.
Wolf howled at the dawn.
How can it be? the cougar wailed.
Oh, where has Christmas gone?
The noble elk stepped forward
and raised his antlered head.
Some gifts cannot be taken from us;
God gives them, he said.
Wisdom is yours, he told the Owl,
and vision in the night.
Chipmunk has much resourcefulness;
and Rabbit, speed in flight.
Bear’s blessed with strength, and Wolf is clever.
Cougar’s claws protect.
These gifts to us are priceless treasures,
worthy of respect.
Squirrel excels at gathering.
As we now gather here,
may Christmas bring remembrance of
God's presents we hold dear.
Our Father gives good gifts to us.
In glad hearts, they are found.
When we receive His Son with love,
it’s Christmas all around.
Emily breathed deeply as a rush of truth and possibility swept into her heart. Her eyes filled as Izzy said, “It’s my favorite Christmas story. My very best.”
“You know what, Izzy? I think it might be mine, too. Thanks for sharing it with me.”
The week before Christmas shaped up a little better than Emily had envisioned. She made the few, small purchases that fell within her budget, being sure to enjoy wrapping each one in creative ways to please the eye. Santa’s sleigh would not be entirely devoid of packages for Cade and Chloe that year. But the most important present would be her own offering, covered with bright paper and nestled under the tree for Christmas Eve.
That day of heightened expectancy dawned early as the twins flew into her bedroom, nearly beside themselves with glee.
“Look, Mom! It’s snowing!!” shrieked Chloe.
“The kids all wanna go sledding. Can we?” yelled Cade, too close to Emily’s ear. “Jake’s parents are going, too.”
A week earlier, she would not even have considered joining them, but after her specialty breakfast of pancakes and chocolate chips, a big gust of Christmas spirit whirled her out the door. The twins were delighted to see their mom caught up in the joy they’d been feeling for weeks. The air felt sweeter; the sun shone brighter, and the smell of pine reminded them of every Douglas fir they had ever decorated. Sugarplums may even have danced in their heads (or maybe it was See’s candy), as they looked forward to a wonderful evening together.
The moon rose, and the bright lights of Christmas led them home. Beneath the tree was one very Simple Gift, and after Cade and Chloe unwrapped that book, their mom lovingly read them Izzy’s “very best” story. When she finished, the room felt calm and peaceful as the most silent night.
“What do you think?” Emily asked.
“I thought of us.” Chloe smiled. “I liked the idea of animals celebrating Jesus. Not every gift is the wrapped-up kind.”
“Kids’ poetry books aren’t exactly my thing, but that elk was no slouch. He made me look at Christmas a whole new way,” Cade admitted.
“I was hoping you would,” their mom said, “because that’s what happened to me. I got the idea that we could give the same kind of presents the animals received, reminding each other of the gifts God has given us. Does that make sense?”
Both heads nodded slowly. Emily sensed she had captured their interest.
“Chloe,” she began, “your gifts are energy and creativity, sensitivity and compassion. You always seem to know how people feel, and you use your heart and your talent to lift them up. I can’t begin to tell you how many times you have raised my spirits on a difficult day, and I’m grateful for your wise and willing presence in my life. I simply can’t imagine what I’d do without you.”
Chloe blushed with uncharacteristic shyness. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Cade,” Emily continued, “you are blessed with curiosity and intelligence, understanding and humor. You always want to make sense of your world and the people in it, and you make my world a far better place to be. Sometimes you teach me; sometimes you make me laugh, but all the time you remind me that life is as precious as the things we believe and the people we love.”
“Cool,” Cade said, clearly pleased by her words.
His grateful mother had one more thing to say. “I hope you both know that the people I love most in the world are you, and I thank God every day that you are mine.”
Christmas spirit flowed around the room, a river of love that filled their eyes and hearts.
“I’ll go next,” Chloe offered. “Okay, Cade? Because I want to tell you I think your gift is loyalty. Whenever your friends tease me, you refuse to join in. You stick up for me every time, even when they make fun of you for it. Being your sister always makes me feel good. Well, most of the time, anyway.” She grinned. “You’re a pretty big deal, Cade.”
“Awww,” he teased. “I ain’t all that.”
“True,” answered Chloe. “I’m just using my amazing gift of compassion to boost your self esteem a bit.”
Their laughter, shared, added to the good feeling.
Chloe continued. “Mom, your gift is yourself––or maybe that’s our gift, because you give it to us every day––in more ways than I can even think of. You go without things other moms have so we can eat good food, stay warm, be happy…and even breathe right. You give your love, your time, and your energy. You give everything. Every time we need it. I’d say that makes you the best mom ever!”
“The best,” Cade agreed. “I think your gift is unselfishness, Mom. And charity. Pastor Bob says charity is the pure love of Christ, and I think you have it. I know you do, because I feel it.”
Emily’s heart swelled with joy. What more could she want for Christmas than to be a good mother? And how wonderful it was to hear her children expressing their feelings this way. She could hardly wait to hear what gift Cade recognized in Chloe.
She didn’t have to wait long. “Chloe,” Cade said. “Your gift is that you ‘get it.’ You really get it, and you get me, too. Sometimes better than I get myself. Remember that time I was so mad at Jake, and you helped me see why? Talking to you helps me figure myself out, which is a good thing since my gift is supposed to be ‘understanding.’” He grinned. “Seems like our gifts kinda work together. Know what I mean?”
“I know exactly what you mean,” his mom replied, “and I think you’re onto something. No wonder we’re a family. The gifts we’ve been given complement each other to perfection. And that’s what we’re seeking, eventually…to be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect. Which brings me to the last and most important gift He has given us, the gift of His Son. Let’s take a minute to tell the Christmas story like Luke did, so many years ago:
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:1-14).
“As you might have noticed,” Emily said, “earlier this month I wasn’t in the right mood for Christmas. In fact, I was one step away from Grinch status, with my heart two sizes too small and shrinking. All I could focus on were the presents I couldn’t afford to give you, forgetting that the most important one, Christ’s presence in our lives, cannot be purchased. The only gift that really matters is the gift of His birth: including His example, His life, His death, and all they mean for us. Do you understand?”
The twins nodded. “I’m glad you gave up on the Grinch thing,” Chloe whispered. “Me too,” Cade muttered. “That was a gift in itself!”
His mom smiled good-naturedly, ready to laugh at herself now that her worries had passed. “One more thing,” she said. “Thanks to Izzy’s Christmas book, I remembered something I had forgotten. Something important. The best gift we can give is seeing ourselves and others as Christ sees us, naming and acknowledging strengths openly. These are the gifts worth sharing: the simple gifts, powerful gifts. My grandma used to call them gifts of love. And they don’t fit under the Christmas tree. They only fit deep in our hearts.”
This was our circletime story from two years ago, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Christmas has grown far too commercial of late, and I guess this one was my way of trying to regain some balance. I hope you have found a bit of balance in your celebration this year, and if not...there's always next time around!
In the past, I have always shared my circle time questions with you, so here they are:
1. Please share with every member of your circle the gift or gifts you see and appreciate most in them.
2. Please share which of Christ’s gifts (comfort, mercy, etc.) has meant the most to you this past year.
I always pass out some kind of pocket token, and last year it was a pewter nativity scene. As I was handing it out, I said, "The image depicted by this token is to remind us that the Star of Bethlehem shines far more brightly than presents under a tree ever could."
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO
ALL A GOOD (CHRISTMAS EVE) NIGHT!