I’m looking forward to Christmas day. We’ll have a loud, laugh-filled gathering of relatives of varying ages at our house. The little kids, having already experienced the thrill of Santa’s largesse at their own homes, will dive excitedly into yet more gifts from indulgent extended family members at ours. And there are few things more fun to watch than an excited, gleeful, and unabashedly materialistic child tearing through the Christmas wrapping to get to the good stuff.
But amid the raucous hubbub, I know that my thoughts will drift away to other Christmases where the presents were less plentiful, but the enthusiasm ran just as high.
Unlike the fortunate offspring in the youngest branches of our family tree today, Christmas gifts for us weren’t the icing on the cake of a well-provided-for childhood. They were our once-a-year chance at getting something we really, really, wanted—a pair of ice skates, a doll, a walkie talkie, a paint set, a baseball glove, a robot dinosaur.
Christmas stockings were not an add-on or an afterthought for us, as they were for some of our friends. They were part of the main event because our economically challenged, but imaginative, mother made them so. We each had a handmade stocking adorned with our names in glitter or sequins. Each one was filled with candy, nuts and oranges, but the real fun was in the small “prizes” Mom had hunted down to include.
Our eager fingers dug deep to pull out packs of playing cards, rubber balls, handheld number-slide puzzles, barrettes and ribbons, magnifying glasses, tiny notebooks and new pencils, little plastic snow globes. We pulled each one out, examined it, sometimes stopped to play with it, sometimes held it aloft to show and then negotiate a trade.
Our father enjoyed the show, but it was our mother who directed Christmas morning, and stretched a very small budget into a very big production. My own children received a much larger and more expensive range of presents than I ever got. It was great fun to watch them shout with happiness when they received not just one, but many things on their wish lists. But I doubt any longed-for gift ever gave them the jolt of joy that shot through me when I opened my favorite childhood Christmas gift.
It wasn’t very promising to look at—a large, battered, cardboard container, not even wrapped. But I can still recall the thrill I felt when I opened the flaps and saw the treasure trove inside. A boxful of books!
My mother had rescued dozens of children’s books from a woman ready to toss them in the rubbish pile, because they were old and she thought no child would want them. She was very mistaken. The bindings were worn, some pages were mottled, and the assortment had a definite musty smell—but they were all new to me. I loved the local library, but these books were mine to keep.
I received other gifts from my parents over the years that were more “valuable,” but I don’t remember many of them. I’ve never forgotten that box of used books. I hope, you, too, have a special gift from childhood that still evokes happy memories.