When I was a young boy the anticipation and excitement leading up to Christmas morning, the day when we get to open and share gifts, was insatiable. For me as a child, the receiving of a present pretty easily overwhelmed my excitement for giving. Unwrapping those presents was the moment most eagerly awaited all the year through. I remember well my mother’s equally eager eyes peeled to watch as each piece of wrapping she painstakingly attached was torn off with so great haste that the receiver could hardly remember the previous from the next gift opened. Mom enjoyed and endured well the hour of her five children disassembling ribbons, bows and packaging in order to get to our treasures. Patiently she set the gifts labeled for her aside, until her joy was full from watching the smiles on our faces as all other presents were opened, and play ensued. While I still get very excited about presents, I came to understand Mom better when with parenthood I became the wrapper and watcher.
I will never forget a year when I denied my parents, and myself, the joy of that family relationship of wrapping and giving anticipation, well earned observation of eager unwrapping, and seeing the excitement of young eyes fixed and tiny fingers holding for the first time a long hoped for toy.
You understand. As a child I got so overstimulated looking forward to that night of nights, Christmas Eve, that I could hardly stand it. Santa Claus was just hours away in his reindeer drawn sleigh, we had eaten our feast, hung our stockings, performed a Christmas show, sung our carols, and put out cookies and milk for Saint Nick. What was there left to do but pretend to brush our teeth, say our prayers, and go to sleep, so that the magic could begin?
I meant to stay awake, so I could sneak up and see him, as so many had done before, but I must have dozed off, because I never heard him come. By the time in our unlit home I quietly made my way to the Christmas tree, he had come and gone, but left a bounty of gifts irresistible to any child, or at least one naughty boy. I gazed with big eyes, by Christmas tree light, at all the beautifully wrapped boxes, and I lost my mind. I looked for my name on each package and unwrapped as fast as I found, with no thought of the givers, nor potential consequences.
In no time everything was unwrapped, I began to play, when suddenly it hit me, “I am in so much trouble! I can not undo what I have done. I can not rewrap so beautifully wrapped gifts. Mom and Dad are going to kill me!” I climbed back in my bed and lay there the rest of the night trying to scheme my way out of this. I thought my best idea was to tell everybody a burglar had broken in, but why would he just unwrap my presents? This was not going to work, I was going to get a spanking and probably lose all my toys.
We had a tradition to wait in our rooms on Christmas morning until Mom and Dad would get up and give us the okay. The five of us children would line up like reindeer, youngest to oldest, eagerly waiting, so we could fly into the room singing ahead of Mom and Dad. I was second in line behind my younger sister, Nancy. After my near sleepless and worry filled night, I had one last chance of getting out of this. I broke ranks and ran ahead of everyone, throwing myself into the pile of presents and colorful paper, tossing the packaging, ribbons, and bows high, as if I was just then unwrapping it all.
Nobody fell for it, not even my little sister. I remember well the looks on everybody’s faces. My oldest brother Ricky thought it was funny, David and Linda thought I was dead, and I think Nancy just thought I was stupid, but for Mom and Dad, any anger was overcome by disappointment, and I guess that was punishment enough. I have tried never to ruin a surprise again, and I think about this still.
Gift giving is a blessed thing. People have always given gifts when wanting to show a little extra love, or to please someone at a special time. Gifts can bring a smile to a child’s face, and in turn bring a smile to mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa. Gifts can also provide for a special need at an important time. I have long thought that one of the reasons wise men, guided by a star, were drawn to the infant King and Savior in the months following His birth, was to provide much needed financing required when Joseph and Mary had to flee with young Jesus to a foreign country for His preservation from a wicked king.
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.’ …they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11).
The tradition of gift giving at Christmas harkens back to that day, when wise men sought a little child, gave Him gifts, likely not knowing fully that His gift would save us all. They honored Him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh, gifts of great value befitting a king. And so we give, for a smile, a hope, to fill a need, or just to give.
There are so many who are in need of gifts, real needs like those of that Holy Family so long ago, a place to sleep, a meal, hope — and we can help give it, even as wise men gave. There is hope in Christ. As we help provide for temporal needs, hearts are warmed, hope increases, and eyes can see the light of our Savior, even as wise men saw. President Russel M. Nelson recently said, “This Christmas, some are still waiting for the lights to come on again (When the Lights Go On Again). That is why we love to share the light of Jesus Christ. When so many around us are burdened with fear and uncertainty, I invite you to make room in your heart for those around you who may be struggling to see the light of the Savior and to feel His love. No gifts will mean as much as acts of pure love you offer to the lonely, the worn down and the weary. These are gifts that remind us and them of the true reason for the season: the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who was born to cast out all fear and bring everlasting light and joy to all who follow Him.”
At Christmas I am still that little boy in my heart, not so mischievous as before, and I get excited over gifts, but more the giving than receiving. I think back to that simple time when Mother and Father watched me with a gleam in their eyes, almost as excited as I, perhaps more so, to see my face light-up, a smile appear, and hear joyful laughter bursting forth. That is my place now, the joy-filled watcher, more joyful than I ever understood.
Blessed are we for the gifts given, especially that of the Baby who was born to be Lord of all. “He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth. …He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son” (The Living Christ).
May we ever remember that gift, symbolized in all we do to honor Him. May we love as He loved, to place others first, finding happiness in the joy of others. May we, this Christmas and always, remember our Father who is in Heaven for the great gift He bestowed in His son, for all His children. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Let us remember Him always for this selfless gift of infinite love, and continue to share blessed gifts with all. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.