64: Nothing Under the Tree

64: Nothing Under the Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

Nothing Under the Tree

The best things in life are unexpected—because there were no expectations.

~Eli Khamarov, Surviving on Planet Reebok

“Don’t get me anything for Christmas!” my husband’s voice broke into my thoughts, which were full of all the Christmas preparations I planned to complete in the next few weeks. I looked at him and nodded, “You say that every year.”

“This year I’m serious. There won’t be anything for you under the tree or in your stocking, at least not from me. So don’t get me any gifts either. Put the extra money to more things for the kids,” he repeated.

I didn’t bother replying. We went through this every year. Most years I’d listen and get him a few little gifts so the children could enjoy watching him empty his stocking. Every year he’d have a gift under the tree for me and my stocking would have lots of surprises in it, sometimes costly surprises. Every year I wished I hadn’t listened to his instructions. This year I wouldn’t.

Days passed in a whirlwind of activities including baking, shopping, decorating and sending out Christmas cards and letters. My husband repeated his nothing-for-me message frequently. Each time I would look deeply into his eyes for the teasing glint that was sure to be there, yet he seemed more serious than in the past.

Finally, the gifts were all wrapped and under the tree, the items for stockings well hidden from prying eyes, and the children’s Christmas programs were done. Christmas Eve had arrived. I tucked the children in. Sleep would be delayed by their excitement so I curled up on the couch and settled in for a long wait.

“You know there’s no gift under the tree for you, right?” my husband asked.

“Yup! I checked.”

“Don’t have anything for your stocking either. So don’t be disappointed. I warned you. You listened and didn’t get me anything either—right?” he said.

I looked at him and smiled. I’d wait and see. Maybe this year he listened to his own rules and I’d be one up on him. Then I tried to shake those thoughts right out of my head. Since when had giving gifts become such a competition? That shouldn’t be what Christmas was all about.

I felt like I had barely laid my head on the pillow when I heard the children’s voices attempting to break into my sleep-fogged brain. “Get up. It’s Christmas! Get up!”

They pulled at our arms, urging us to hurry. They needed to see what Santa had put in their stockings. I pulled on my robe and followed them to the living room where I watched them eagerly empty all the treasures from the stockings. I loved to see their smiling faces. Then I turned to watch Brian empty his stocking. He leaned over and whispered for my ears alone, “I wasn’t supposed to get anything.”

I pulled a few chocolate candies and an orange from my stocking. He had been serious. There was no gift under the tree and nothing in my stocking. I tried to hide my disappointment.

Later that morning, we headed the few blocks to my parents’ house to celebrate with the rest of the family. As we entered their house the fragrant aroma of roasting turkey and pies filled our nostrils. Christmas dinner always provided a bountiful supply of scrumptious food. I quickly pitched in to help put the food on the table while the children ran off to play with their cousins.

Following the meal the children clamored for present exchange but first all of us women took on the mundane chore of kitchen cleanup while the men headed out to check the trucks and warehouse. With impeccable timing they returned just as we completed the last of the dishes and I looked forward to a relaxing afternoon of visiting. Brian looked at me and said, “Before we open the presents why don’t you take some of these leftovers to our fridge and bring back a couple of games for later.”

“Sounds good to me, but why don’t you go?” I replied.

“Nope, I’ll stay here. You go. Hurry back,” he countered.

I looked around but no one took my side. Frustration began building inside me when I asked him once more to do the errand and he again refused. I could not win this argument, so rather than creating an unpleasant scene, I grabbed my coat and jammed my arms into it. I pulled on my boots, grabbed some containers of leftovers from my mom and headed out the door, barely refraining from slamming it behind me. I mumbled and grumbled to myself all the way home and by the time I arrived in my own kitchen the frustration had turned to full-blown anger.

I yanked open the refrigerator door, shoved in the containers and slammed the door shut. I wheeled around, almost colliding with a huge dishwasher standing in the middle of the kitchen floor.

“A dishwasher? I don’t have a dishwasher!” I yelled into the empty room. My anger drained out as tears began to run down my face. I ran my hands over the brand new appliance. My present didn’t fit under the tree or in my stocking. I had been sent home to find it. Checking the warehouse had been an excuse to sneak in the dishwasher. I wiped my tears before heading back into the cold. My anger dissipated, only to be replaced by shame at my attitude. I slowly walked back into my folks’ house and sheepishly faced my family. Their faces were wreathed in smiles as they waited expectantly for my reactions.

I directed my comments to my husband, “You didn’t keep your word. You got me a present!”

“What present?” he said as he tried to keep a straight face. The twinkle in his eyes betrayed the losing battle he fought.

“The dishwasher in our kitchen!” I replied.

Laughter filled the room while everyone began talking at once. The laughter drove the last vestiges of frustration, anger and shame from me. That Christmas I learned a lesson or two. First, things aren’t always as they seem. Second, frustration and anger should never have first place in my life at anytime but especially at Christmas.

~Carol Harrison

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