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 10 years or
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas --oh, not the true
meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it -- the
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.
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 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 around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation
watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like
the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.
May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the
true Christmas spirit this year and always.