Christmas gifts can be large, flashy, expensive, coveted, impressive, or precious. Christmas gifts may also be simple, humble, lowly — and precious.
My sixth Christmas was absolutely engaging. Under our Christmas tree, festooned with ornaments and popcorn strings, were the largest and most brightly wrapped presents that I could ever remember. Exciting! There were big boxes, long boxes, odd-shaped boxes (which always have great presents), and none of them looked like clothes!
My brother, sisters and I were very excited — so excited that we begged and pleaded until my parents agreed to let us open the gifts on Christmas Eve rather than the traditional Christmas morning “gift-fest.” Oh, how the paper flew! Ribbons and bows were our only obstacles. We shrieked and squealed with joy and played and shouted and were nearly impossible to settle down for sleep that night.
The next morning, we ate a hurried breakfast before traveling to my grandparents’ home to repeat the scene all over again. What a day! What a Christmas! We stayed and played and visited until late, then drove home in the dark and collapsed into bed.
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It wasn’t until the next morning that my mother began picking up the torn wrapping paper and ribbons from the two days before. Hidden amongst the carnage were four small packages — simply wrapped — one for each child.
We opened them slowly, without any emotion except curiosity. Inside our package, each of us found a pair of socks, navy for the boys and white for the girls. Who were they from? How did they get under our tree with us gone for the day and the house locked? It was a mystery as to who would have given us such a simple, humble gift as — socks?
After New Year’s Day, my mother went to check on our elderly neighbor, the only adult that we were allowed to call by her first name, Carrie. Carrie’s home was heated by a small coal stove and had no insulation. In fact, it was an old carriage house converted (barely) into a tiny peak-roofed one-room home. Carrie needed the attention this cold, snowy winter because she was 80-something and walked unsteadily. And her outhouse was across the yard, along with her well pump.
Mom was surprised to discover the answer to our mystery gifts when Carrie told her that, because the house was locked, she lifted our heavy cellar door, felt her way through our unlit basement and climbed the steep stairs to the living area. And there, amongst the litter of wrapping paper, she had placed her simple, humble gifts — one for each child. Why? Because, she explained in her shaky voice:
“It is such a cold winter. I thought the children might need socks.”
Think about that. An old woman who lived in a one-room shack with her water in a pail and her bathroom up the path, came out to bring us a gift. An old woman who purchased her eggs two at a time, cooked her meals on a hot plate and had only two dresses – the spare one hung on a hanger from a nail — had used her scarce nickels to buy her neighborhood children a gift. Because we needed it.
I truly do not recall what I received from those big, flashy, exciting boxes that Christmas, but I do remember that pair of navy blue socks under our tree. Some gifts are simple, humble, lowly — and precious. When I think back, those are the gifts I remember most.
There have been many kings born into this world. Most were born in luxury — large and flashy, impressive and important. Only one was born in a stable and laid in a manger. Simple, humble, lowly — and precious. That is the One I remember most.
Brent Heid is the owner of Lone Tree Farms, a diversified farm in southern Cass County. He draws on his personal experiences to write poetry and short stories.