The Wish Book was dogeared, smudged, and highlighted from cover to cover. My sisters and I were giddy with excitement. Christmas was mere weeks away, and we knew exactly what we wanted. So did everyone else. Commercials during Saturday morning cartoons showcased all the seasons’ hottest toys, especially my favorites, Hot Wheels and Legos. As the month of December wore on we talked incessantly about presents and toys and playthings. Everything revolved around what we were getting and what we wanted.
Finally our poor mother had heard enough. One dreary December morning, she told us we were going shopping. As our minds raced with possibilities of what we could buy—and so close to Christmas, she squashed our joy by telling us that we would not be getting anything. Instead, we would use our own money (gasp) to buy a present for a child in a needy family near us. This was not what we had expected. I was more than a little frustrated at having to spend my hard earned money on someone else. After all, wasn’t Christmas about adding to my toy collection?
We begrudgingly made our purchases that afternoon and headed back home to wrap the presents. As we did, my mom explained to us that Christmas was actually about giving instead of getting. She told us that we were celebrating the fact that God sent his son to earth for us and because of that great gift, we should share with others less fortunate than us. The thing is: I should have known this. I could recite the Christmas story by heart and had even acted in church pageants, but the act of actually having to buy a gift for someone else made me recognize that Christmas was more than what I was getting. After my sisters and my father returned from delivering the gifts, my mom’s lesson hit home even more. They described a small living room adorned with a sparse tree that did not have any gifts beneath it. The rest of the house was nearly bare. Hearing about a family less fortunate than mine and actually doing something to change that made me understand the true lesson behind Christmas—and it didn’t involve adding to my toybox.
Almost 30 years later, I still think about that Christmas season. I have tried to make it a habit in my own life to always donate some time or a gift to someone that truly needs it. And now that I have children of my own, we have done several things this year to reach out to needy families around us. Jesus came to the earth to help people that were unable to provide a way to take care of their own sins. And in some small way, reaching out beyond myself at Christmas time reminds me of that fact and helps me remember the Best Christmas Lesson I have ever learned.