Christmas 1963. 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.
Now that I am a parent and grandparent I realize how difficult it must have been 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. Back then there were no such things as food banks or church assistance.
Soberly, 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.
A couple 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 them. 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. Piles of beautifully, lovingly decorated boxes with bows and trinkets. A tree twinkled merrily in the corner. The melodies of familiar Christmas carols filled the air. Unexpectedly, Christmas had come to our home.
As I stood in the open doorway, I could not imagine what had happened. Certainly, we didn't get rich overnight. I shut the door before walking around the rooms gently touching the lovely boxes. Mum, more excited than I had ever seen her, urged me to look in the kitchen where two boxes of groceries, a ten-pound ham, fifty pounds of potatoes, and a five pound box of chocolates sat on the table. A special Christmas dinner indeed!
In a little while, when my brothers came home from school and my dad arrived from work, 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.
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.