71. The Goats of Christmas Past

71. The Goats of Christmas Past

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

The Goats of Christmas Past

What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.

~Nelson Mandela

Over the years, my three children have asked for and received plenty of “typical” Christmas presents. In younger years it was baby dolls and metal cars; now as teenagers they prefer an “alphabet soup” of technology: CDs, DVDs, Mp3s, iPods. But I know nothing will ever mean as much or be as well remembered as the goat that defined Christmas for us several years back. A simple barnyard critter embodied the true spirit of the season for us.

Our goat-centered holiday started at the mailbox on a gray afternoon in early November. Along with the usual junk mail, the postman delivered a very unusual catalog. Unlike the glossy brochures from the big toy stores and outlet malls, this little magazine came from a charitable organization dedicated to helping the poor in Haiti, and it offered page after page of items to give to the less fortunate. Selections ran the gamut from simple things like a week’s worth of rice for ten dollars to an all-inclusive kit for building a two-bedroom house — complete with mini kitchen and bathroom — at just over $2,500. But the entry that caught our attention was a fuzzy little farm animal for the bargain price of only forty-five dollars. My children, ranging in age from eight to eleven, were mesmerized by the notion of purchasing a goat for Christmas.

“Your generous donation of a goat will provide a needy family with milk and cheese for years to come,” the catalog blurb promised. “This life-giving gift could mean the difference between going hungry every night or having enough food for weary parents and growing children.”

We were sold. That very day we cut out the goat’s picture, taped it to an empty pickle jar and set it on the dining room table so everyone could drop in contributions. Our goal was to collect forty-five dollars by mid-December, making our Christmas goat dream come true.

The children immediately began referring to our sponsored goat as “Cheddar Bob.” (Like most things my kids come up with, the logic of their thought process is foggy and elusive. The only thing I can figure is that “Cheddar” refers to the fact that goats’ milk can be made into cheese, and “Bob” — who knows? Male goats don’t give milk — let alone cheese — so that remains a mystery to me even now.) Whenever any of them were asked, “So, what do you want for Christmas?” they answered, “We want to send Cheddar Bob to Haiti.”

The “Cheddar Bob Fund” grew at first by dimes and quarters; then paper dollars began showing up in the glass jar. My husband would forego his beloved Starbucks coffee and put the money toward the goat instead; the children took on extra chores to earn money toward meeting our goal. When Christmas cards arrived with cash inside from aunts and uncles and grandparents, the children gleefully stuffed the loot into the ever-filling jar, determined to purchase Cheddar Bob in time for the holidays.

Two weeks before Christmas, we dumped out the jar’s contents and counted the money. To everyone’s delight, our total was $91.25, more than double the amount of the required forty-five dollar donation! Ecstatic, my daughter immediately declared, “We can send the family two goats — a boy and a girl! Then they’ll have goat babies!” Within seconds, the goat-bride was dubbed “Colby Jane” and plans for the furry couple’s Haitian honeymoon were being made.

That was nine years ago, and I don’t remember a single gift the kids got for Christmas that year, and I doubt they do either. I’m sure we received lots of lovely things, given from truly loving and generous hearts. But the lasting memory of that holiday will always be of two goats we never saw, who live on in our imaginations to this day. Every Christmas, we say a prayer for the Haitian family who taught us that it really is better to give than receive, and we speculate on Cheddar Bob and Colby Jane, and their happy adventures on a distant farm. By now, they surely must have quite a large family of goat children, whose names I won’t offer, but you can probably surmise they would be cheesy!

~Miriam Van Scott

More stories from our partners