Sunday, December 24

Making New Traditions

This past week has been very busy! I'm sure everyone's in the same boat. We made chocolate bark, decorated sugar cookies, shopped for food, crafted our Christmas dinner menu, finished decorating, wrapped presents, shopped for more food, welcomed guests, and ate enough sugar to sink the Titanic. And it isn't even Christmas yet!

Josh's parents, sister, and grandmother are visiting us this week, and we're really enjoying the company. Papa is working on another remodeling project (this time, the master bathroom), and Grandma brought enough fun projects to keep Kaden busy for a few weeks. Papa and Grandma see who can keep Kaden's attention the longest. So far, hammers and drills are enough to distract him from sugar cookies (Is he really my son?!).

Since this is the first year that Kaden can really dialogue about Christmas and start to grasp what it's all about, I've been thinking a lot about family traditions and how we want to celebrate the day. It seems hard to balance the present factor (me-me-me) with the fact that Christmas is really a celebration of Christ's birth.

One thing that we're doing this year came from a forward I received from a friend. Here it is:


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 hated Christmas --oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it-- the overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma -- the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties, and so forth. 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 junior level at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church.

These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat! .

Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them." Mike loved kids -- all kids -- and he knew them, 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 the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas this at 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. The story doesn't end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to cancer. 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. May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always.

I love this idea. Giving instead of receiving. Others instead of me. I think it honors Christ's birthday and the way he lived his life in a way I've never done before and in a way I want to teach my kids. Are there presents under our tree? Yes, of course. But there will also be a white envelope on our tree this remind us that we're not just here on this earth for us. I hope this story may inspire some of you, too.

From our house to yours, Merry Christmas!


Lara said...

That is just beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.

Marieke said...

Wow... That just made me cry... I'm sure you and your family will have a great Christmas. Hartelijke groet from a Dutch family in Australia

Luci Perry said...

What a great idea. Here I am, sitting in a hotel lobby, crying....but it's worth it. I have a special place in my heart for taking care of other secretly - especially at this special time. I think I'll start that tradition myself. Thanks for sharing and Merry Christmas!!!

Shelley said...

Hey Jen, post current pics of your kiddos. I'd like to see what they look like, especially Laney. :-)

Anonymous said...

you write so beautifully it made me cry especially when I got to the first Christmas after your dear husband died and you found the envelopes on your tree.
I am doing a project collecting stories like this.
If it is ok with you for me to use this one please email me @

JLHesse said...

Just to be clear...the story came from an email forward I received. I didn't write the story, but we did put it into practice for the first time last Christmas.