this. As the most special day of the year―besides my birthday―came
closer, something happened that would change the way I looked at
Christmas for the rest of my life. This particular Christmas took place
over fifty years ago, when I was just a boy.
I grew up in a family of seven
children. We knew that when it came to presents, we could never expect
to get everything on our lists. But each Christmas we submitted them to
our parents anyway, hoping for something big that year. That special
day was less than three weeks away, and our lists were in.
Because I had so many brothers
and sisters, my parents began saving Christmas money months in advance.
Much of my father’s income came from freelance writing, a few books he
had written, and films he produced and directed.
A special missionary speaker
came to our church that December. He owned a big ship that he used to
reach out to Eskimo villages. “Many of these people have nothing,
especially the children,” he reported.
My parents invited the
missionary to Eskimos to our house for dinner. This man had all sorts
of wild stories about his ship, storms he had weathered, and the people
he wanted to reach. “Their needs are great,” he reminded us later,
“especially the children’s. Many of them will have nothing for
I looked at the large family
sitting around the table and thought our needs were pretty great too.
Besides, Christmas was coming. I’d already handed in my list, and now
dreaming about what I’d get was all I could think about. When it came
to Christmas and presents, it’s fair to say that I was, more or less,
just as selfish as the next ten-year-old boy.
The missionary went on his way,
and life returned to normal for the next few days . . . or so I
Then something more dramatic
than any of my dad’s films happened, and I’ll never forget it. Dad
called out in his loudest voice, “Family meeting! Family meeting!”
Anyone growing up in our house
knew that “family meeting” always meant that something big, really big,
was about to happen. We’d have a family meeting when it was time to buy
a new car, our first TV, when my dad received a big royalty check, or
we were going on vacation. When we heard “family meeting,” we nearly
broke our necks running to the living room. I slid into my place on the
floor and wondered if this was the year I would get everything on my
list. But I noticed serious looks on my parents’ faces. Sometimes in
family meeting, we had to talk about a difficult subject. Those times
were called Family Council.
“Mom and I have something
important to discuss with you,” my father began, “and your vote will
help us decide what to do.”
I swallowed hard, not sure my
ears liked what they just heard.
“You remember when the captain
was here and told us about the needs in the Eskimo villages?”
My eyes darted around to my
brothers and sisters. Most were staring down at the floor.
my mother added, “we
were wondering if our family shouldn’t do something to help.”
“Like what?” my older sister
My father smiled. “We thought
about taking the money we’d set aside for presents this year and
sending that to him for the children he told us about.”
My voice barely squeaked, “All
They both nodded. It felt like
my throat had just squeezed shut, and a sick feeling twisted my
this is Christmas, our Christmas.
“So, what do you think?” my
was sure they didn’t want to
know what was really going through my head at that moment. But we began
to talk about it as a family. And the missionary’s words came back to
my mind. “The needs are great, especially the children’s.
Many of them will have nothing for Christmas.”
We lived in Michigan where a
white Christmas was never in doubt. The smell of our Christmas tree,
already sitting over in the corner of the very room where we would cast
our votes, had no presents under it.
No Christmas presents! Then, one
by one, hands began going up to vote yes on mailing our happy Christmas
away to some Eskimo kids we’d never meet. I could hardly believe it as
I watched my own hand go up. The vote was unanimous. That money was
Christmas as far as the Anderson children were concerned, and it was
Then something else happened on
Christmas Eve day that we still talk about. Again we heard, “Family
meeting!” A second family meeting had never come so close on the heels
of the previous meeting. When we raced to the living room this time,
our parents had broad smiles on their faces.
“We have the most wonderful
news,” my dad said. He held up an envelope. “I received a check in the
mail today for a story I had long forgotten about.
My mother’s eyes glistened, her
voice cracked with emotion. “And it is exactly the same amount as we
sent for the Eskimo children!”
Well, you have never seen such
an excited bunch of people in your life. My parents rushed out to do
their Christmas shopping. And they were gone for a long, long time.
Our family had Christmas that
year after all. Of course, it would have been Christmas anyway, but the
presents just made it that much better. Around the tree that night, our
parents told us that because we were unselfish, and they waited to shop
until the night before Christmas, everything was 50 percent or more
off. We got twice as much that year as any Christmas before or since.
With the increasing commercial
hype surrounding Christmas, it’s easy, especially for children, to get
caught up in thinking about the presents they’ll receive. What my
family and I experienced that year, when we thought there would be no
presents, taught us that a greater understanding of the spirit of
Christmas can be found in giving.