Often people will ask what was the most important, or memorable, Christmas gift you ever received. Usually it’s something you have wanted for a long time, something that was purchased with you in mind, or perhaps from a special relative or person in your life.
My most memorable — and meaningful — Christmas gift was nothing I asked for. It was nothing I had ever really wanted. It was not even from a family member or what I considered to be a good friend. I just happened to be the lucky person to get that gift, and the circumstances surrounding that gift have stuck with me for about 50 years now.
The story begins when I was in fourth grade at Sibley Elementary School here in Grand Rapids. It was Christmas time and it was almost time for our class Christmas party.
A few days prior to the party, my classmates and I were grabbing our coats to head outside to spend 20 minutes on the playground for recess. As we were walking out the classroom door, my teacher tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would stick around for a few minutes. She had a question for me.
So, as the rest of my class enjoyed a few minutes away from class out in the winter weather, I stayed behind with my teacher. She had pulled me aside to ask me for a favor. Little did I know that this “favor” would be so meaningful.
My teacher explained the situation to me: As part of our class party, each student was to bring in a small gift (I think there may have been a limit of just a dollar or two). As the wrapped gifts were brought to school, they were numbered and put under the tree in the classroom. During the class party, every student would draw a number and get the gift that had that number written on it. It sounded simple enough.
The reason my teacher pulled me aside was that we had one student in our class who’s family could not afford the $1 or $2 for the gift. However, the student had taken upon himself to make a gift, and wrap it in tissue paper (because the family couldn’t even afford wrapping paper). My teacher was afraid that this student might be ridiculed for this gift because it wasn’t something that was store bought.
So my teacher asked me if I would be willing to “draw” the number for this gift. She said that she would make sure I received a different gift, that she would purchase, if I helped her out. I told her that I would be more than happy to help out (without the need for any additional gift) and we then devised a plan so that I would draw the appropriate number and receive the homemade gift.
The day of the party every thing went off as planned. No one in the class knew that the teacher and I had rigged the gift pairing so I would get a certain gift. Everyone walked away with something that day. I doubt that any of my class members remember what gift they got at that class party. I certainly remember mine!
What was that gift? Well the student made a ring made out of what we called “Indian beads” back then. The beads were strung on wire and the wire was put together to make a ring. I remember ripping through the Kleenex, opening that gift, and finding the ring. Even at the age of 9, I appreciated the time and effort that went into making this ring. This student did what he could considering the financial circumstances his family was experiencing at the time.
Because of this situation I really learned and understood that getting a Christmas gift doesn’t always have to be about the biggest, the best, or the most expensive gift. In fact, the gifts that come from the heart have so much more meaning.
I sure this student has no idea how long lasting of an impression that gift had on me. What turned out to be a favor for my teacher — to save a fellow student from possible embarrassment — ended up being a life changing lesson for me. One that I’m glad I had the chance to be part of.
I was never “best friends” with this student, he was just a fellow classmate. I do remember that he was always such a jovial kid — considering the home life he was probably experiencing. He moved away the following year. I don’t know whatever happened to him. I wish I knew, because I’d like to thank him for what turned out to be my most memorable…and meaningful…Christmas gift ever.
I think that may have been the same year I received a bank for Christmas. The bank looked like a small safe. It was metal and painted a blue/steel color. The bank had a red combination dial on the front of it. I stored all of my valuables (well, what a 9 year old would consider valuable) in that safe. I still have that safe…and inside that safe — that Indian bead ring that I received at my class Christmas party in fourth grade.