96: Just One Gift

96: Just One Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Christmas Miracles

Just One Gift

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.

~Jean Baptiste Massieur

It was the only Christmas gift I had ever received, and I remember it still. I was six years old, and my mother handed me the brightly wrapped box, explaining it was from her boss at the office where she worked. I nervously held the package in my lap, almost too afraid to open it. Why had a complete stranger given me a present?

My mother was a single parent and often worked several jobs to make ends meet. There usually wasn’t much money left for extras. But that wasn’t the reason why we never owned a Christmas tree or any gifts beneath it. I’d never received a Christmas gift because we are Jewish.

“He couldn’t believe you didn’t have anything to open on Christmas morning,” my mother told me. “He wanted me to give this to you.”

Although she explained to him that we celebrated Hanukkah and I’d received presents then, he insisted that all children should have a gift to open on Christmas. I could tell she felt uncomfortable, and I did, too. Still, I was only six and couldn’t wait to see what was inside.

I carefully unwrapped the box and found a Raggedy Ann doll. Her red yarn hair was soft, and her black button eyes shone. I held her close, and she soon became my favorite toy. I may not have been able to describe the feeling then, but now I know what I felt — it was the Christmas spirit.

Growing up Jewish in a world that celebrates Christmas wasn’t always easy. No colorful lights, decorated trees, or trips to see Santa Claus. Our Hanukkah celebrations were fun — lighting the menorah, spinning the dreidel, and having the benefit of eight nights on which to open gifts. Still, each December we were reminded of our differences.

But to my mother’s boss, our differences didn’t matter. What did matter were the magic of the season and the sharing of joy, and those don’t differentiate between Christian and Jewish children. He just wanted to share his joy with me.

So, even though I don’t celebrate the holiday, I understand what the Christmas spirit is all about. It doesn’t matter what religion you follow, or even what you call it.

It’s the spirit that prompts people to buy a toy for a child who may not receive any others. It’s the spirit that brings Jews into soup kitchens to serve Christmas dinners, or drop coins in a tzedakah box for the needy. It’s about sharing your own joy with others, no matter who they are.

I don’t remember if I wrote the giver a thank-you note, but I hope I did. More than thirty years later, while I don’t know what happened to that doll, I still have the most important gift he gave me — the gift of Christmas spirit.

~Ruth Spiro

A Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas

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