“Mama,” the little girl said, “should I make a list of everything I want for Christmas?”
Her mother stood still and quiet for a moment. She was carefully hanging tinsel, pulling the strands gently from the glittery pile. “I think,” she finally said to her daughter, “that you should come and sit and listen to a couple stories.”
The girl came quickly, for she loved stories of every kind, and she knew this would be a special type of story. It would be a story from when her mama was little, like her. She brought her big ball of red yarn and her crochet hook. She was making a long, long chain to wrap around the Christmas tree. Her mother continued to pull the tinsel apart, piece by piece, and tape in carefully in a dangling, sparkly row.
The two worked busily with their hands as the stories began…
The year I was fifteen my parents made money. I don’t know why that year was so different, but it was. For the first time my mama, your grandma, had plenty of money to spend on presents. “Give me a list,” she told us. So we did.
I carefully constructed my list, trying to think of all the things I wanted. A new watch. A CD player. New shoes and clothes. Games. Books.
Christmas came and the tree was heaped with gifts. Really heaped. Never in my life had there been such a pile.
One by one we opened the presents. I got everything I wanted. Every single thing.
But afterward, I felt hollow. What was wrong with me? All these wonderful gifts…
Except, wait. That was it. They didn’t feel like gifts. I expected them all. I knew what each box was before I opened it. I knew when and where Mama had bought them, even how much money she must have spent.
It wasn’t Christmas. It was grocery shopping.
Instead of happy I felt guilty. Guilty for asking for stuff that would soon break or wear out or fall apart.
I learned a lesson that year. Stuff doesn’t mean much. Presents and gifts are the most valuable when they are connected to thoughts or memories. Like the time a friend stopped by with a bouquet of sharpened pencils…. because, well, she saw the kind of pencils I liked and thought of me. That day was Christmas, right in the middle of summer.
Here was the truth: A gift is valuable because of the giver. A list of “I-wants” will ruin it all.
The second story is a bit different. I was younger then. Probably just your age.
It was the year your grandma had cancer. Between surgery and doctor’s visits, our money was eaten up pretty quick.
When the Christmas season came, Mama didn’t have the energy to decorate. One evening, while she was gone, the boys tromped out to the woods and cut a tree. By the time Mama got home it was set up and decorated with lights and ornaments and great globs of tinsel. She cried in joy (and maybe a little over the desecration of the tinsel).
The house was perfect and twinkly and extra sparkly.
But on Christmas morning there was not a single present under the tree. We sat there in our PJ’s and Papa gathered us all around. “We all received the most wonderful Christmas gift this year,” he told us. He pulled his wife close and looked us each right in the eye. “This year we got Mama. And we will be forever grateful that God gave her back to us.”
Mama smiled. I think maybe she felt a little sad that there were no pretty packages under the tree.
But I had never been so happy.
It ended up that some sweet friends from far away had mailed us a package with little gifts for each child. Mama had hidden them in the tree and we all got a chance to search for our name. The game was delightful and I tore open the present when I found it.
I’ll never forget those bright colored hair ties.
Not because I love hair ties, but because I set them down under the tree and thought, “It was fun to open a present.”
But the most fun was having my mama. We played games, made popcorn with melted cheese and lots of butter, and sang carols while Mama strummed on the guitar and Papa played the harmonica.
It was the best Christmas ever.
The story ended and the living room was quiet. After a moment the little girl whispered, “A mommy is way better than presents.”
“Let’s make a deal,” her mother said, setting down the tinsel and looking her daughter right in the eye. “You don’t worry about what you’ll get for gifts– but instead, take time to enjoy each special moment. Enjoy decorating the tree, running your hands through the yards of tinsel, reading the advent story each night. And if there are presents on Christmas day, then enjoy them! But let’s not waste our time thinking up lists of ‘I-wants’ when we can be praising God for the ‘I-already-haves.'”