I’m going to tell you a story that has changed my way of thinking so considerably, I doubt I’ll ever look at Christmas the same way again. Over a month ago, I asked my wife to start figuring out the Christmas wishes for the children. We’re a single income family, and while we do just fine, we’re on a tight budget – so I like to know as far as advance as possible how to adjust the household finances for the Holiday season. While we always have plenty, my wife would be the first to tell you I am always stressing about the finances. Stressing about finances is one thing I happen to be really good at.
Anways, I got a call from my wife at work shortly after making the request. It went something like this:
Tori: Um, we might have a problem.
Me: Oh, great? What now? What broke? How much? Who needs to see a doctor? Who got in trouble this time?
Tori: No, not that. It’s Emma – she’s decided she doesn’t want anything for Christmas.
Me: What? Why?
Tori: We got this unsolicited catalog in the mail where you can buy items like medicine, farm animals, food, etc. for poor countries and their people so they can help themselves. Emma started flipping through it and decided she wants to use whatever money we’d spend on Christmas for her on these things instead.
Me: Oh, wow. Well, I’m sure she doesn’t understand that means she won’t get anything. I wouldn’t worry. She’ll forget. We can talk later.
Now, I’m ultimately ashamed at my first reaction: I was completely certain to myself that my 7 year-old daughter couldn’t possibly understand the sacrifice she was suggesting. In truth, I was worried. As I mentioned before, we are on a tight, one-income budget with 3 children. Forgoing Christmas presents for these gifts would really mean that – forgoing Christmas presents. My wife and I have a strong pact we won’t go into debt for anything but an emergency, and I wasn’t about to jeopardize our finances for that. It’s simply really: if we buy the items Emma wants to give, there’s really no money in the pot for Christmas gifts for Emma – not that we are poor – but we would never go against our budget.
I started having these visions of Emma waking up on Christmas morning, realizing her brothers had gifts and she didn’t, and then realizing the cost of her decision. I spent the better part of two weeks trying to talk her out of it. Explaining to her what her sacrifice meant. Worried, as a parent that she’s too young to understand such a sacrifice. I mean, a 7 year old without Christmas morning? What kind of memory is that?
We asked Emma to pray about it, giving her every out we could. Giving her another chance to donate “less” to another cause so she could still have some for herself. The next morning, she told my wife that she had a conversation with God in her dreams, and God told her the little kids needed the farm animals and food, and she should give those things more than anything else. Oh the faith of a child, to have a conversation with God in her dreams, and speak of it so nonchalantly. How have I missed such an opportunity in my adult life?
That’s it. We were stuck. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. We had to move on.
So, the next paycheck we set aside the money for Emma’s ducks and chickens that she would be buying a village. She explained to us that with the ducks and chickens we were buying, some would be used for food, and some would be used to help grow a farm – and years from now, the number of ducks and chickens would grow based on her gift. Not only did she understand giving – she understood the eventual reaping of her harvest. My wife placed the order. We were worried, but we were proud.
Shortly after, actually – the same day – I got unexpected word of a small financial blessing. Not large, but not tiny either. I wasn’t expecting it, wasn’t even thinking about it – but there it was. All of a sudden, I realized it’s purpose more than ever. And with that, I began to understand the true meaning of Christmas more than any sappy movie or song could ever tell me. I understood the spirit of giving, of Christ, and the fat jolly man we call Santa Claus.
So with a bursting sense of pride for our children, my wife and I sat down tonight and wrapped Emma’s new American Girl doll, and a couple other small gifts for her. I realized, at that very moment, that my 7 year old daughter understands Christmas more than I ever have in my 29 years on this Earth. One day, I’ll share with her the secret I will share with you all below – but for now, tonight, my daughter will experience a little bit of Christmas magic, courtesy of her own heart. Attached to Emma’s new wrapped doll, I wrote this note:
FROM THE DESK OF SANTA CLAUS NORTH POLE, THE ARTIC DECEMBER 23, 2011 FOR IMMEDIATE DELIVERY
Dearest Emma Hope Dawson,
I have learned from my sources in Africa and South America that they have received a shipment of ducks and chickens!
I have also learned that these ducks and chickens came from you! It has come to my attention that you have done a selfless deed, and have asked your parents to forgo purchasing Christmas presents for yourself, in hopes that these funds can be used for other little children in need of food and animal friends.
Here at the North Pole, we have been touched by your generosity. While your parents may have an agreement with you to not purchase gifts in exchange for the ducks and chickens, Santa Claus has some extra buying power for such wonderful little girls as yourself.
I hope you enjoy the extra-special gifts that my elves and I have put together for you. Keep being you Emma. Your parents and Santa Claus are very proud.
Your friend, Santa Claus.
P.S. continue to Be nice to your brothers and parents. They love you.