Posted by Ronan Scully in Features.

I heard the following story from a friend about a family who decided a long time ago that, rather than buying presents for one another at Christmas, they would buy something more meaningful that would fit into the spirit of a Christ-filled Christmas.

The Real Spirit of Christmas

“It’s just a white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name or no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for many years now.

It all began because my wife Siobhán hated Christmas. Not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it. Knowing she felt this way, one year I decided to bypass the presents. I reached for something special just for Siobhán. The inspiration came in an unusual way. Our son Kevin, who was twelve that year, was boxing at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by a church, mostly asylum seekers.

These youngsters, dressed in runners so ragged that shoe-strings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their fancy sportswear and new boxing shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was boxing without proper headgear that protected a boxer’s head. It was a luxury they could not afford. We beat them in every weight class. Siobhán shook her head sadly.

“I wish just one of them could have won,” she said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” That’s when the idea for her present came.

That afternoon, I went to a local sports shop and bought an assortment of boxing headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the church team. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Siobhán what I had done and that this was her gift from me. Her smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year.

Every Christmas that followed, I kept the tradition, one year sending a group of seriously unwell youngsters to a Gaelic football game, another year a cheque to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had just burned to the ground, and so on. The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children would stand in anticipation as their mother opened the envelope to reveal its contents.

Over the years the envelope never lost its allure. We lost Siobhán last year. 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 mother. The tradition has grown and some day will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their parents take down the envelope. Siobhán’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.”

Thought for the week

As your thought for the week, always remember to give in a Christ-like manner at Christmas. After all, he is the reason for the season and the true Christmas spirit.