Christmas 1964. That was the year that Christmas wasn’t going to bring even one gift…we thought. It was a poor financial year. I didn’t exactly know that we were poor. We had plenty to eat. We had clean, warm clothes. We had a warm, sheltering apartment in Chicago that my stepmother, Maxine, worked hard to make a haven for us.
As a parent now, I realize how difficult it must have been then for her to sit us down a few weeks before Christmas and explain that there wasn’t any money for gifts. If all the money she had managed to save was pooled, we could have a special Christmas dinner.
Solemnly, we considered the dilemma, and then one by one, we agreed that a special dinner was the best use for the money we had. Once that was settled, we put it behind us and life went on.
One day, a couple of weeks before Christmas, Mum told all of us to hurry home immediately after school, as there would be a surprise. Friends of the family planned to bring each of us a gift and wished to be present when we opened ours. So on this day, I slung my books into my locker at school and rushed home. Pounding up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I eagerly flung open the door—and froze in my tracks.
Every level surface in both the dining and living rooms was covered with gifts. Beautifully, lovingly decorated gifts. A tree twinkled merrily in the corner. The melodies of familiar Christmas carols filled the air. Unexpectedly, Christmas had come to our home.
I could not imagine what had happened. Certainly, we hadn’t gotten rich overnight. I walked around the room gently touching the lovely boxes. Mum, more excited than I had ever seen her, urged me to look in the kitchen. Two boxes of groceries, a ten-pound ham, fifty pounds of potatoes, and a five pound box of chocolates. A special Christmas dinner indeed!
A little later we opened the gifts. Of all the Christmases in my life, this is the one I can remember every single thing I received. Not because I was a greedy kid, but because they were all gifts of sacrifice from strangers. Our family friends were a minister and his wife with a church in Indiana. One of their church families approached them, seeking a family that wasn’t going to have any gifts for Christmas. The parents and children of this church family voted to give up their Christmas gifts so that a family, unknown to them, would have a special Christmas.
The minister and his wife undertook the responsibility of obtaining clothing sizes and special needs, plus transportation and delivery of the gifts. And they delivered our heartfelt thank you letter to the anonymous family.
As Christmas grows closer, whether we are rich or poor, I look back on that Christmas and know that we are blessed because we are together. Every year I remember the blessing of being loved unconditionally by strangers.