The Christmas Coat


Our family had a tradition of giving Christmas gifts to others anonymously. But what about this year, the year my husband lost his job?

During our first holidays together as a married couple in 1973, my husband received a forty-dollar Christmas bonus. Though we didn’t have much money for gifts, we decided to spend the bonus on a family who had recently lost their husband and father. We had so much fun shopping for presents, wrapping them, and then leaving them in the dark on the family’s front doorstep that we made the secret project a family tradition.

Over the years we were blessed with four children. As soon as each child became tall enough, he or she would take a turn at Christmastime wearing a special coat that we used only once a year. Adult-sized, dark in color, and hooded, the coat made a perfect disguise for sneaking up to someone’s doorstep to leave gifts.

Every autumn we would vote on who our secret family would be that Christmas and on what gifts we would make or purchase for them. After some negotiation, the children would agree on who would have the honor of wearing the Christmas coat and delivering the presents that year. On abundant years we would give homemade quilts or clothing along with toys, books, and goodies, and on leaner years we would give stockings filled with smaller items.

When Christmas Eve finally arrived, the lucky child would don that beloved coat, cinch the hood tight around his or her face, and put on gloves and large boots to complete the disguise. With everyone in the car, we’d park a short distance away from the chosen house, and our little elf would make his or her way to the front porch. The fear of being seen or suspected made it even more exciting!

Back in our cozy home we would sit together with hot cocoa and bread sticks and relive the evening’s adventure. With full tummies and warm hearts, we would read the Christmas story from the Bible and appreciate what the Savior’s life taught us about service. Christmases were always wonderful, and we never missed a year of our tradition. Whenever I saw the Christmas coat hanging in the closet during the year, I would think of what it represented to us: the fun of a well-kept family secret and the joy of loving and sharing.

During the spring of our twentieth year together, my husband lost his job and was out of work for five months. Even though he had a new job by Christmastime, our financial situation was grim. We didn’t expect to have much of a Christmas for our own family, so we wondered how we would carry out our secret tradition.

We talked during family home evening about what our Christmas would be like that year. We recognized with gratitude that even if gifts would be scarce, at least we still had warmth, food, and each other. We thought of all the people who had essentially nothing: no home, no family, no warmth. Then we thought about how for years short little legs had run inside our Christmas coat and bright eyes had peered out from its furry hood. How would we put the coat to use this year?

One Sunday morning we loaded everyone into the car and drove downtown with our Christmas coat—only this time none of the children was wearing it. We drove to an area where homeless people often spent the night, and we watched for someone who didn’t have anything warm to wear in the freezing winter air. When we spotted a man walking alone, my husband and son walked over to him. The rest of us watched as the man accepted the coat and smiled. Tears filled my eyes and I saw him put on our Christmas coat, the only gift we had to give that year.

Other Christmases have since passed, and we have been able to continue our tradition. None of us has forgotten about the Christmas coat, however. When I consider all the years the coat disguised us while we delivered gifts, the memory of the year we gave it away warms my heart the most.

[illustration] Illustrated by Brad Teare