The man who hated Christmas

Published 3:05 pm Thursday, December 27, 2018


Religion Columnist

As you read this, all the gifts are opened, the wrapping paper is disposed of, the children are already bored with all their new stuff, and perhaps you may be wondering if the title of this article is about you.  We read about the simple manger that Jesus was born in and may sometimes wonder how we turned Christmas into the hectic, stress-filled event that it has become.  I offer you this simple story that first appeared in the Dec. 14, 1982, issue of “Woman’s Day” magazine. 

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Nancy Gavin writes, “It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years or so.

“It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas.  Not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it like overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry, and the dusting powder for Grandma. The gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

“Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears.

“It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. As each of their boys got up from the mat he, swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.

“Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, ‘I wish just one of them could have won,’ he said. ‘They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.’

“Mike loved kids — all kids — and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church.

“On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition — one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

“The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.  As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.

“The story doesn’t end there.  We lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.

“Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further, with our grandchildren standing to take down the envelope. Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit ,will always be with us.”

Most of us are really interested in keeping Christmas simpler and more meaningful.  It is not too late to give someone a late Christmas and start a similar tradition to this one in your family. Think of how many lives could be changed, beginning with your own.

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, see