From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

The Right Spirit

Our happiness is greatest when we contribute to the happiness of others.


As the mother of four children, I had my hands full. Christmas was a busy, hectic time. My four children were sprawled across the living-room floor, watching television and writing down their lists of Christmas presents they wanted. My three-year-old, Ally, had the Sears catalog open and was picking out toys for Santa to bring. Joshua, the ten-year-old, was describing in great detail the different “cool” toys from the popular Men in Black movie. Twelve-year-old Matthew had his worn baseball mitt in his hand and was showing his father and me how he needed a new one. And Chad, our nineteen-year-old son, was writing a long list that included everything from a leather jacket to a new set of golf clubs.

On the six o’clock news on television that evening was a special feature about families who needed help at Christmas. These were families who didn’t have enough money for food, let alone Christmas presents. I noticed that all four of our children were glued to the story.

Joshua said, “Why don’t we pick a family and help them out by each of us giving up one of our presents?”

“What do you mean?” I asked him, looking over sideways at my husband, to make sure he heard this, too.

“We always get so many gifts,” Joshua said. “Maybe we could share some of our gifts with others.”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” I said, somewhat surprised. Then, I turned to the other children and said, “What do the rest of you guys think?”

“Well, we are fortunate,” Chad said. “It’s hard to imagine that there are families out there who don’t even have food. I think it’s the least we could do, and I’m kind of ashamed we haven’t thought about it before.”

After a brief discussion, everyone agreed that giving to a needy family was the “right spirit” of Christmas. We telephoned the television station and told them we wanted to help out a family, preferably one with several children. We found the perfect family—one with four children ranging from a two-year-old girl to boys, nine, ten and eleven years old. The plan was for each of our children to shop and pick out a present for one of those children and give up that gift on their “wish” list.

The next night my husband and I took the children to a huge toy store. I had never seen them so excited about shopping! Ally headed directly for the play dishes, dolls and paint sets. She lovingly and carefully went through the items, searching for “just the right gift,” and finally settled on a baby doll wrapped in a blanket that you could feed and cuddle.

She said, “Mommy, I know that little girl will love this baby because it’s just like the one I wanted Santa to bring me.”

My heart went out to her as I watched this kind, unselfish gesture.

Joshua found the display for the Men in Black toys and picked out a fierce machine gun that could blast aliens. It was one that he desperately wanted to have, but he agreed to give it to the little boy of the needy family, instead.

“I’ll get plenty of gifts,” he said, “and that little boy will love this!”

Our nineteen-year-old picked out some toy trucks and cars that he had loved when he was a boy—a red fire engine and an ambulance. He tested them in the store to make sure they made real siren sounds. What good was an ambulance or fire engine if it didn’t have sirens? And Matthew found the perfect baseball mitt.

“All children need a baseball mitt!” he exclaimed. He couldn’t imagine growing up and not playing baseball.

They all proudly marched up to the cash register with their gifts in their hands. I had never seen such joy in their faces as they put everything on the counter.

My husband and I watched our children that night with pride and love. When did they get to be so wise and giving of themselves? We weren’t sure how, but we were raising four children who had discovered the “right spirit” at Christmas.

Merilyn Gilliam

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