Pedagogical Project “The Joy of Reading”
A Tale of Two Christmases
I have many happy memories of Christmas when I was a child, but there are two in particular that stand out from the others. The first took place when I was in the sixth grade; the second a year later.
Dad would line up five kitchen chairs in the living room (one for each of us kids) after we had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. Out of coat hangers, he had made hooks that fit over the backs of each chair; on each, he hung the large red and green Christmas stockings my mother had made for each of us. Presents too big to fit into our stockings were placed on and under the chairs.
On this particular Christmas morning, Mom and Dad were sitting on the couch at one end of the living room watching us hastily tear into the packages. Excited yells of “Look what I got—look what I got!” added to the din we made as we played with each toy briefly before discarding it and ripping into another present.
I don’t remember what gifts I received, but it wasn’t the presents kit that made that Christmas memorable.
We had finished opening the last of the packages when my younger brother John and I happened to glance over at our parents, who were still sitting on the couch. Both of their faces were lit with beaming smiles.
“Mom and Dad,” asked my brother, puzzled, “why are you smiling? You didn’t get anything.”
At the time, I didn’t give much thought to my brother’s question—or to my parents’ actions. After all, I had gotten what I wanted. All was well with the world, and I expected that future Christmases—because of the presents I would receive—would bring me even greater feelings of joy.
The next holiday season began like all the others. My friends and I reminded each other on a daily basis of how much time remained until Christmas. Weeks turned into days, until finally, Christmas Eve arrived. It was the day before “the Big One.”
I went to bed that night as excited as I had ever been. Thoughts of all the wealth I would soon inherit filled my head. It was rough, but somehow I managed to drift off to sleep.
Finally, Christmas morning arrived. Being the oldest, I felt that it was my solemn duty to lead the stampede to the presents—and so I did. The ripping of paper was punctuated with the usual excited squeals of happiness and the shouts of “Look what I got!” as my brothers and sisters noisily showed off each newly opened gift.
I was tearing the wrapping from my second present when I noticed that something was wrong. Pausing to take a quick inventory of my emotions, I realized that my feverish excitement of the night before was gone. Well, no need to panic yet, I thought. After all, the first present had been the usual can of Planters peanuts from my dad, so maybe the present I was now opening would restore my excitement to its proper level. Encouraged by that thought, I finished opening the package. Inside was a plastic rocket. It could be partially filled with water, pressurized with the included plastic pump, then launched about 30 feet into the air. My younger brother John was practically drooling all over it with envy. And I... didn’t even want it.
A third and final present proved to be equally unexciting, so, bored, I picked up my toys and carried them to the dining room table.
Mom and Dad noticed my let-down look.
“Terry”, my dad said above the laughter of the other children, “you missed a present. It’s under your chair.”
Unexcitedly, I opened a small, white, two-inch-square box. Inside was a Westclox brand pocket watch. I had never owned any watch before, and while I decided that this present was definitely the most practical one of an otherwise sorry lot, I was still very disappointed. The Spirit of Christmas, it seems, had left me. Vanished. Poof! Gone.
I was trying to come to grips with this unexplained emptiness when suddenly I remembered my brother’s question to my parents the previous Christmas when he had asked: “How come you’re smiling? You didn’t get anything.”
Something happened inside me then. I looked over at my mother and father, who were sitting in their usual positions on the couch. The same beaming smile as before was on their faces. Maybe, I thought, they knew something I didn’t, so I walked over to the couch and sat down beside them.
And I watched.
A different kind of Christmas began for me then. I found myself smiling broadly at the delight a brother or sister would display upon opening a present. I felt particularly pleased when a small gift I had bought for one of them was given more appreciation than it really deserved. I felt pride when one of them would come to me requesting my help in putting together a toy or a game.
That year, I found out that Christmas doesn’t always come in a box. That year, Christmas for me came in the shining eyes and joyous smiles of my younger brothers and sisters. My one regret was that they couldn’t see what I was seeing from my position on the couch.
They just didn’t know how much fun they were missing!
Chicken Soup for the Soul – Christmas Cheer
Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC, 2008