What’s the most thoughtful Christmas present you’ve ever received?
Technology gifts tend to top the “most popular” lists these days. From iPhones to iPads, video games to flat screen television sets, holiday giving can be an inordinately expensive undertaking – if you’re so inclined to follow current trends. According to Gallup, the average American will spend $885 on gifts this year, and a third will shell out more than a $1000.
At the risk of dating myself, Christmas gift-giving looked a lot different back when I was a child. Granted, it was a long-ago era in more ways than one. In the 1960s, the most popular Christmas gifts under the tree included GI Joe’s, Easy Bake ovens, Lite Brite’s, Hot Wheel cars and various board games.
Christmas of 1968 found me desperately wanting just one thing – a Los Angeles Rams (1.0) football uniform, complete with pads and a helmet.
I was 7 years old.
My father had only recently abandoned our family, leaving my mother with me and my four other siblings. To make the ends (hardly) meet, she worked as a waitress in an inexpensive restaurant.
While I knew we weren’t rich, I had no idea how poor we were, at least in financial terms.
What I did know is that I wanted that uniform – and I wasn’t shy about telling my mom and anyone else who asked.
When Christmas morning dawned, I noticed there was just one present under the tree for me. Surely it had to be the uniform!
Tearing into the paper while sitting on the floor in front of the small tree and the glow of the multi-colored bulbs, my heart beat a little faster when I saw the Rams logo on the clothing.
But something wasn’t quite right.
Where was the helmet? What about the shoulder pads?
It then occurred to me that what I was holding wasn’t a uniform – but pajamas. Rams pajamas.
I paused, then took a deep breath, my mind racing a million miles a minute. What would I say?
“Thank you, Mommy!” I shouted, doing my best to conceal the disappointment running through my veins. Though not the most perceptive seven-year-old, I knew enough to know that my mom had done the best she could – and only a brat would begrudge the effort.
I quickly changed into the new PJ’s and proudly announced that I was going outside to play football. She smiled. Once in the yard, I noticed that a friend from across the street was doing the same thing, though he wasn’t wearing pajamas – he was wearing his new football uniform.
“Check out my new uniform, Jim!” he shouted. “Yeah, mine, too,” I hollered back.
“What?” he asked incredulously. “That’s not a uniform. Those are pajamas!”
“No, it’s not!” I responded. “It’s a football uniform.”
From the front yard we went over to Alhambra High School, where the rest of the neighborhood kids were playing in their new football uniforms. I received grief from another few kids, one of whom pointed out that real uniforms don’t have slits in the front of the pants.
“It’s a uniform!” I insisted, doing my best to maintain my composure.
The rest of the day is something of a blur, the memories faded by all the years between then and now.
But what’s remained foremost in my mind is that I had a hard-working mother who did the very best she could with the very little she had. Sure, I wanted a football uniform, but she knew I needed pajamas and besides – she could afford what I needed, not necessarily what I wanted.
I think there’s a great lesson in this memory, namely that the Lord will always give us what we need – but not necessarily what we want.
Ours is a God of abundance, a loving Father who lacks nothing and has everything. Yet, He sometimes chooses a path contrary to the world’s ways. He could have sent His Son to earth in any form or regal fashion but instead chose a lowly manger in the Middle East.
Don’t let the commercialization of Christmas or the pressures to overspend distract you from the real reason we’ll all pause to celebrate Jesus’ birthday this coming week. As you’re wrapping and exchanging gifts, singing the songs and feasting on the delicacies of the season, remember that Jesus’ arrival as a helpless baby was the greatest present ever given in all human history.
My mother’s been gone for almost fifty years, and yet each Christmas, I think about her warm smile and that Christmas morning back in 1968. She sacrificed mightily in order to give me a gift that I’ve never forgotten and a gift that taught me a lesson that time will never take away.
From the Daly home to yours, Merry Christmas!
P.S. What about you? Do you have a memory of a great Christmas gift? Please let me know in the comments section below.