My childhood holidays were magical times — with a few exceptions, of course. Like the Christmas that I sneaked into my visiting grandfather’s bedroom, stole an entire box of chocolates, locked myself in the bathroom and ate both layers. I can still taste those chocolates. A few spankings were worth the pleasure of those creamy delights.
Though my parents had no manuals on creating great holidays, they seemed to know how. For one thing, they invested in others. Our turkey was always surrounded not only by our hungry family, but also by famished friends. To my parents, relationships were more important than a perfect meal or a tidy house.
They also limited TV time. We had great times watching classic movies, but we were encouraged to be outside. With little television we learned to ice skate, sing carols and come up with our own entertainment. Perhaps that’s why my brother offered me a nickel one icy Christmas Eve. All I had to do was lick a metal doorknob. (Yes, I obliged).
We were taught to remember what Thanksgiving is about, and that it’s not our own birthdays we celebrate at Christmas. One year, while drooling my way through the toy section of the Sears catalog, Mother reminded me that the gifts would be meager this year. She asked if I thought Jesus got much for His birthday. I had to think, but I said He got gold, frankincense and myrrh, which I thought might have been a plastic toy of some sort. She smiled. I showed her the gift I wanted: a yellow-handled bow with suction-cup arrows.
Not everything about our family Christmases was magical. Christmas morning, my parents made us eat breakfast, then do the dishes. And sweep the floors. And vacuum the carpets. And memorize the gospel of Luke. Then Dad prayed for the troops in Vietnam and Korea and Russia and for missionaries in countries I couldn’t pronounce.
At last the time for opening presents came. Soon, I held in my lap a Tonka truck, black socks, a shirt with pins in it, and a cowboy poster that read “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”
With only one present left beneath the tree, disappointment started to set in. My sister grinned and picked up the last shiny gift. I knew it was hers because I’d checked the nametag. Then the most unexpected thing happened: She handed it to me. “Open it,” she said. “It’s yours. Tim put my name on it to fool you.”
Mom wanted me to save the wrapping paper for next year, but it was too late. I whooped and danced around the room, holding the bow and arrows high.
I remember only a handful of gifts from my childhood, but that one caused me to realize that Christmas is all about grace — a gift I don’t deserve that comes along when I least expect it. More important than any tradition, grace should be the theme of our holidays.
I recall tiptoeing after my brother that afternoon. I locked an arrow in place, took careful aim and pulled the string.
“Hey, Tim!” I yelled. “Merry Christmas!”