Shh! Telling Spoils the Fun


Does your holiday season go anything like ours did last year?

“Oh, Daddy, come quick! See what I want for Christmas!” squealed three-year-old Davey. “See the monkey jump!”

The television screen had been filled for weeks, not with visions of lollipops and stockings, but with every contraption and toy and deceptive device imaginable to catch the attention of gift-hungry children. Try as we might, my husband and I found it nearly impossible to guide their thoughts in any other direction. If the brainwashing wasn’t taking place in our own living room, it was happening everywhere else: driving down Main Street, in every store, at school, and even after Sunday School as friends got together and discussed their hopes for Christmas morning.

“Please let me have some skis so I can learn to ski this winter,” pled Julie.

“Oh, Mom, will you get this purse for me for Christmas? All my friends have them and I want one, too,” Caroline coaxed.

“If I can have a sled, a bicycle, a BB gun, chaps, cowboy boots, a racetrack, and lots of candy, I’ll be happy,” six-year-old Brad remarked.

And on it went. By December 10 each child’s list was overwhelming. Even my husband and I were a bit preoccupied with trying to decide what we would most like to receive for Christmas. The pressure on us mounted as we attempted to stretch our funds to the utmost, not wanting any of our children to be disappointed or feel shortchanged. We almost began to wish there were no such thing as Christmas!

But that Christmas was the last of its kind for our family. A miracle occurred. It was in the form of a “mysterious Santa” who came to our house—someone who was generous and concerned about our six young children and the three “orphaned” youngsters who were living with us at the time.

A few days before Christmas this “Santa” deposited on our doorstep nearly half a carload of thoughtful and unique gifts for each member of the household. He then slipped away before anyone could even catch a glimpse.

Well, that spirit of love and sacrifice put the rest of our Christmas preparations and expectations to shame. We had been eyewitnesses to an act of pure charity. We knew how it felt to be the beneficiaries of such an act. Our natural response was to seek an opportunity to do the same for some other family by being their “mysterious Santa.” We knew it would require sacrifice. We had access to only a humble amount for our own Christmas and we didn’t feel comfortable about borrowing. In order to be able to give we would have to give up something.

During our family council meetings we discussed various ideas and approaches. First, we made a list of families we knew. Each of us made suggestions. One of the families on the list caused all of us to become especially excited. It was a family (I’ll call them the Joneses) that we knew only slightly, but their children were about the same ages as ours, and we felt we had something in common with them. Each of our children began to think of what he would like our family to give to the child who was his age. It seemed to be a wonderful idea, so that was the family we selected.

There is a certain, unique joy that comes to both the giver and the receiver of an anonymous gift. One of the greatest pleasures we have had this year has been trying to figure out who our “mysterious Santa” could have been. We were suspicious of nearly everyone we knew, which made us feel a little bit better toward everyone, knowing that they might have been the ones who did such a nice thing for us.

So the whole family was sworn to secrecy. Not a single other person in the world was to be told of our plans.

Now the family began to think new kinds of thoughts:

“Julie, what do you think Anna would like to have for Christmas?” asked Janet.

A thoughtful look appeared on Julie’s ten-year-old face. “I don’t know. … Hey, why don’t I ride my bike over to her house after school some day this week and take a look at what she has. Maybe I’ll even ask her what she wants.”

“That would be great,” said Janet. “Do you think you could keep a straight face and not let the cat out of the bag?”

“Sure,” Julie giggled. “She’ll never guess!”

Soon everyone had caught the excitement of our project. Everyone, that is, except Brad. He was somewhat concerned.

“Do we really have to give our whole Christmas to some other family, Dad? I sure do want those things on my list.”

“Tell you what, son. You help us plan what we can get for Michael and Dan. There might be some things on your list that they want as much as you do. Then, after we’ve bought all the gifts for their family, we just might have a bit of our savings left over. If we do, we can have a few gifts for ourselves.” Dad squeezed Brad’s shoulders. “How does that sound?”

“Okay, I guess. Would you look at the list and help me?”

To our great joy and satisfaction, my husband and I found that our concerns about whether our children would cooperate on this new approach to Christmas had been unnecessary. By including them and their ideas from the start, their commitment to the plan became as strong as ours. And the plan became more meaningful as we, throughout the weeks, taught our children the principles and values related to what we were doing.

We discussed with the children how much money we had available for Christmas spending, and they donated what they had put aside from their meager monthly allowances. They participated in the gift buying and wrapping. This was their “thing” as well as ours, and they felt it.

Realizing that Christmas Day is the real climax of the Christmas season, and since we planned to drop off the bundle of gifts a few days before, my husband and I started early to make preparations to prevent any possible “let down” for our family. We wanted this Christmas Day to be one that would be remembered and talked about for years to come.

There is one thing that always makes children happy: for mom and dad to give their total time and attention to them. So that was what we determined to do. No ball games on television, no friends in to distract us, no thoughts of the nap we would like to be taking—our gift to our children that day would be ourselves. All of our planning revolved around their favorite activities, with us involved to the utmost. Since ours is an outdoor-loving family, everyone agreed that, following a royal feast on our own home-grown poultry, vegetables, and fruits (which everyone would assist in preparing), sledding in the mountains would suit everyone’s fancy.

Now Christmas is almost here again. We can hardly wait—not for it to be over (as in years past), but for it to arrive. It has been an uplifting season for all of us in a number of ways:

First of all, we are more united as a family. We have had a common goal and we are achieving it. Each of us has been called upon to sacrifice some of our individual desires and concerns for a worthy cause. We feel closer to and more understanding of each other. What a good year we can see ahead of us as we stand on a united foundation!

Second, our initial purpose is being fulfilled. We are gaining the true spirit of Christmas, which is, of course, the spirit of giving. Christmas is a time to give, not a time to receive. We have heard that said. Now we believe it.

Third, we have become more aware of our responsibility to our fellowman. The Joneses will never know, we hope, who their “mysterious Santa” was. If our efforts in their behalf can cause them to feel the joy that we felt last year, perhaps a “miracle” can take place in their lives, too. And that would be even more of a reward for us.

[illustration] Illustrated by Howard Post