The Joseph Group

Christmas in an Envelope

December 1, 2016

Though the story shared with you today may have some age, its message is timeless. Published on December 14, 1982 was the story winning first place in the Women’s Day magazine contest, “My Most Moving Holiday Tradition.” This story has not only encouraged families to adopt the tradition in their own home, but also inspired an Atlanta, Georgia family to start Giving101, a nonprofit passionate about unleashing the amazing power of contagious giving. May we remember throughout the season to give from the heart and remember Mother Teresa’s words, “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.”

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 so.

It all began because my husband Mike disliked Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it; overspending, the frantic running around to find last minute gifts. Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, and ties. 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 school he attended and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without proper safety equipment such as headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears.

Mike loved kids, all kids, and he knew them after 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 an envelope on the tree with a 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.

We lost Mike to cancer years ago. 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.