Even though Pham was twelve years old, he was about to celebrate his very first Christmas.
Pham and his family had come to the United States during the great airlift of refugees from Vietnam. And although many wonderful things had happened to Pham’s family since their arrival, the most wonderful of all was when they had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!
Before then, Pham had only heard about Christmas. He had not been too sure how the Christmas holidays would be celebrated, but he thought that they might be celebrated like Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. During Tet everyone decorated his home with flowers, ate delicious food, and shot off fireworks. Then when the missionaries came to teach his family about the Church, Pham learned that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. He never tired of hearing his teacher at church read the Christmas story. He especially liked to hear about the Wise Men who had brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Pham had decided that, like the Wise Men, he would give Jesus a gift.
On the Saturday before Christmas, Pham held his little sister’s mittened hand in his as they headed for the bus stop. He shoved his other hand deep into his coat pocket where his fingers found and clutched five one-dollar bills. He had worked very hard shoveling snow and running errands to earn the money, and now he was on his way to the department store to buy the special Christmas gift for Jesus.
Although the cold nipped at Pham’s nose and ears as he and Kim Li got off the bus and started down the sidewalk piled high on either side with snow, his heart was warm and singing. Soon the singing wouldn’t stay inside, and Pham’s voice rose clear and sweet in the cold air. He sang every Christmas carol that he knew, and people passing turned and smiled.
Soon Pham and Kim Li reached the department store. Its windows glittered with gold and silver tinsel and tiny star-lights that blinked off and on. The sight was so dazzling that Pham and Kim Li just stood in wonder for a moment.
Then, remembering his important mission, Pham led his sister into the store and started his search for the perfect gift for Jesus. Slowly he went up and down the long aisles, looking and looking. Ties and socks and books and shirts and jackets were fine for his father but didn’t seem quite right for Jesus. Pham looked at diamonds and watches and golden rings, but somehow even they would not have been good enough, even if Pham had had the money to buy them. Discouraged, he wondered how the Wise Men had been able to decide on their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Pham felt a tug on his sleeve. Looking down, he saw that his little sister was so tired that she couldn’t take another step. Gently Pham picked her up and gave her a hug. He carried her to the store’s snack bar and sat her down on a bench while he went to get some hot chocolate for her. It cost fifty cents, but Pham didn’t think that Jesus would mind if he spent a little of the money on Kim Li.
After Kim Li had finished her hot chocolate and had rested a while, Pham decided to try another store. On the way, they passed a crippled man begging on the sidewalk. Pham had seen many people who were hurt and crippled during the war, and his heart went out to the man. Before he quite realized what he was doing, Pham took a dollar from his pocket and gave it to the beggar.
When they arrived at the second department store, Pham again searched down every aisle, but he still couldn’t find anything that was just right. Then he saw a little boy who was lost and crying. Pham bought the boy a small toy and told him stories while they took him to a security guard, who paged his mother.
It was getting late, and Pham and Kim Li started home without finding a gift for Jesus. They stopped for a moment to watch a fat man with a white beard, who was dressed in a red suit. The jolly man was ringing a bell above a pot that people dropped money into. “What is the money for?” Pham asked. When the man said that it was to buy food for the poor, Pham put two dollars into the pot. He knew all about not having enough food.
When Pham put his hand back into his coat pocket, he was shocked to discover that he had only one dollar left. What have I done? he wondered. It was too late to earn more money, and he couldn’t think of anything that he could buy for a dollar. Filled with disappointment, he thought of the Wise Men and their handsome gifts. He had so wanted to give Jesus a fine gift too! How could he ever do it now? By the time they reached home, great tears were sliding down Pham’s cheeks.
“What’s the matter?” his mother asked as she gently held his tear-streaked face. Pham told her about how he had wanted to give a gift to Jesus as the Wise Men had and about how he had spent nearly all his money and still didn’t have a gift.
“Oh, but you do!” his mother said, a tender smile lighting her face. “You have already given Him the only gift that He really wants—the love in your heart!”
“It is true that I have love, but how have I given Him that?” Pham asked, puzzled.
“Don’t you see?” his mother said gently. “You have given love today to Kim Li, to the crippled man, to the little boy, to the poor for food. Oh, Pham, you have given richly! Don’t you remember that Jesus said, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ (Matt. 25:10)? Pham, you have given Jesus the finest gift of all!”
Pham’s eyes began to shine with joy. He took the remaining dollar from his pocket. “I will give this to the bishop,” he said. “Maybe it will help a missionary teach others about Jesus and the gospel.”