One year, after my sons had gone to live and work on their own and Christmas was approaching, I was looking around trying to think of what to buy my husband for Christmas. After I while I realized I was really trying hard to dream up a gift for him. I knew heíd be having an even harder time thinking of what to give me.
This got me to thinking about the whole meaning of giving and of Christmas. Iíll try not to make this terribly long, but this is the idea that came to me and what we actually did for Christmas that year -
My husband was a Game Warden. He often confiscated game killed illegally. What happens to it? We tried giving it to facilities like orphanages, but too many government and health regulations kept that from happening. So he always had a list of people he found who were down on their luck and needed food for their families. Most were country boys who could come retrieve the game and dress it and prepare it for eating. This included venison, wild duck, goose, quail, doves, sometimes fish.
Many of these people in our rural area supported their families off the land, too. They hunted and trapped and sold hides. So Jim would also stop when he saw a hide-bearing animal on the roadside - hit by a car - retrieve it and give it to someone so they could sell the hide. This little extra money made a big difference to some families.
Christmas was close and Jim found a huge raccoon that had been killed so he took it to the house of a construction worker who had hurt his back and was out of work. He knew the man would get a nice sum of money for it, enough to buy a few groceries for his wife and 5 kids. The next week Jim stopped by the manís house and the kids came running out to greet him. One little boy said, ďMr. Jim. Thanks so much for the raccoon. We havenít had meat in a long time.Ē
When Jim told me this, we were both horrified. These people were not only eating something most of us wouldnít, it was a road kill, intended for the hide sale only. But they hadnít wasted any of it! Iíve eaten roasted raccoon and itís ok, but not what I look forward to having for dinner, and certainly not when itís picked up off the roadside.
So here is the plan I put forward to my husband: This year we will not exchange gifts. We will use the money we would have spent on each other and weíll buy groceries for this manís family. The important parts of this are:
1. We are not just giving food to a poor family at Christmas. We are doing this instead of giving to each other. You and I will NOT exchange gifts.
2. We will not tell anyone about this.
A part of the Bible that has always made a huge impression on me is Matthew, Chapter 6, Vs 1-7. To put it in the vernacular - Do your good works in secret, donít blow your own horn. (You can read it here: tiny.cc/verse
There was a friend at our house when we were discussing this. He did not like the idea because this man was often arrested for one thing or another - misdemeanor crimes. Jim knew lots of people like this and helped them feed their families anyway. They knew if he caught them breaking the law, heíd take them to jail and then take some food to their families. We talked about it for a while and before he left, our friend added his own money to the contribution.
SO, on December 23rd, I left work early and went to the grocery store. I mentally prepared meals for that family of parents and 5 children - 7 days worth, and bought everything that would be needed to prepare them all. That included a turkey dinner for Christmas day and dessert and candy for the kids. I had more than one grocery cart filled. Christmas Eve morning Jim delivered the entire load, including cash we had collected from our friend. I didnít go.
He came home crying. The gratitude of the entire family just overwhelmed him. It overwhelmed me, too. The father came to our house later to thank me himself and tell me how hard times had been and what this meant to his family. I canít tell you the deep joy that filled me that Christmas. It was THE most wonderful Christmas I ever had. It became a tradition I repeated many times, but that first time was the most awesome.
So why am I telling you about this now? I want you, most of all, to hear the SEQUEL. The very next year, this man and his family were in better shape. He came to our house again, to let us know that he and his family were doing the same thing for someone they knew that was in bad shape! He was so thankful to us, not only for the gift of food and money, but for the gift of the GIFT. Of seeing the GIFT in action. I went on to hear, in subsequent years, how the GIFT was being passed on, throughout a community of working poor, and yes, people who were often in our jail for one thing or another. Still people with families to feed and needs to be met.
Even though we didnít tell anyone what we did, the word spread around, mostly through a community of people that most good citizens ignored or wouldnít associate with. I still hear about it now and then, 25 yrs later. I certainly still reap benefits un-imagined from it. The memory of that first time still gives me chills.
Thatís my Christmas Story.