(Abridged) by Brian Joseph
After he had unwrapped his gifts on Christmas morning, a 5-year-old boy was asked which of his presents he wanted to donate to a poor child who had less than him. “None,” the boy replied. His mom sat him on her lap and explained to him that sharing with those who are less fortunate is part of the holiday spirit and how a child with less would be very happy to receive a gift. This took some convincing, but the boy eventually agreed to part with one of his gifts.
The day after Christmas, the boy put his four gifts in front of him and tried to decide which one to part with. It was a difficult decision. His eyes scanned over the toy flute, book of Aesop’s Fables, Popeye book bag, and the toy dump truck with doors that really opened. He decided to part with the flute. “Where do we take it?” he asked his mother. His mother explained that there was a Salvation Army box two streets away and that the people who emptied this box would make sure that it got to a child who needed it. “How will they know it is for a child?” he asked. His mother told him that he could tape a note to the flute, and she helped him to write one that read, “Please make sure this gets to a kid who doesn’t have a lot of toys.”
This parting with a gift the day after Christmas became a yearly ritual. When he was 8, he made the difficult decision to give up a set of checkers that he loved. Three months later, when he saw a checkers set at his friend Jerry’s house, he fought back the temptation to say, “that was mine,” after Jerry revealed it had been delivered by an army man.
When the boy was 10, the laundromat where his mother worked closed shortly after Thanksgiving and gifts were sparse.
On Christmas, he looked over his three inexpensive gifts. His mother came and sat beside him and told him that this year he didn’t have to part with a gift. At first this sounded great, but when he woke up the next morning, he thought about how much joy the checkers had brought Jerry and how the giving gift could be secret and magical. He told his mother that he wanted to put his new football in the Salvation Army box. “You don’t have to do that”, his mother said. He told her that he wanted to.
Many years later, when the boy was nearly grown, he talked to his mother about how in some ways it seemed strange that she had him give to the poor when they themselves were poor. His mother gave him “the look” and explained that true poverty is poverty of the soul.
The giving gift tradition continued into adulthood. One Christmas, the boy—now a man—was asked by his own 5-year- old boy, “What was the best gift you got for Christmas when you were a kid?” He tried to explain that the best gift he ever received didn’t come in a box; it was the gift of giving, which he had received for the past thirty years. The following day, he selected a new sweater and wrote directly on the box, “Please give this to someone who needs it.” As he prepared for the trip to the Salvation Army box, his son asked, “Can I come?”
As his son ran off to put on boots and a coat, he sat and thought about that first Christmas where he learned about the giving gift. He was about to get up and see what was taking his son so long when the little boy came running out with a new Play-doh set.
“Dad,” he said, “can you help me write the note?”