I’ve never been one for knick-knacks. Mostly those small items that represent a particular item, place, or moment in time really just clutter my life, my house, and my head. Instead, I prefer gifts that are necessities (like a new vacuum cleaner when mine broke or new metal baking pans that seem to get so dirty after a year’s use; but not an over-abundance of pans, only the ones I use everyday) or gifts that are an experience (like dinner with friends, a night away, a movie, or just a day trip exploring a new town).
Last week we talked about being thoughtful and intentional about the gifts you give this holiday season. Choose items that add value to a person’s life and not just because you feel the need to give a gift. So let’s continue that conversation.
Today, I’m sharing an article that was originally printed in the December 14, 1982 issue of Women’s Day about the white envelope. In addition to necessities and experiences, it talks about meaningful gifts that may be wrapped in a white envelope or a plain white box. And read all the way to the bottom for even more meaningful gift ideas.
The Man Who Hated Christmas
by Nancy W. Gavin
It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas–oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it–overspending… the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma—the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears.
It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids – all kids – and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition–one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn’t end there.
You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down the envelope.
Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.
Editor’s Note: This true story was originally published in the December 14, 1982 issue of Woman’s Day magazine. It was the first place winner out of thousands of entries in the magazine’s “My Most Moving Holiday Tradition” contest in which readers were asked to share their favorite holiday tradition and the story behind it. The story inspired a family from Atlanta, Georgia to start The White Envelope Project and Giving101, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating youth about the importance of giving. WhiteEnvelopProject.org
So what do you think? Considering giving a white envelope gift to someone on your list this Christmas? Here are some more ideas:
- sports equipment for an underprivileged group
- gifts for a single mom (or Dad) to include under their tree for their young children
- ask your church if there are any necessities they’ve been putting off buying
- a membership to the local boys & girls club for a working family
- shovel snow for an elderly neighbor or hire a plow for them for the winter
- bring someone that’s mostly alone out to dinner
- contact a school for hearing impaired children and start a buddy program with hearing kids of the same age
- deliver a pantry full of grocery items to a senior citizen
- pay for one-month’s or one-year’s worth of prescriptions for a senior citizen
- repair a walkway or do the Spring/Fall clean-up for someone in need
- pay someone’s utility
- get someone’s car serviced
- donate to someone’s college fund
- refinish someone’s outdated or worn furniture