By Natalie Rivera
As I remember it, I woke up on Christmas morning when I was about 10 years old, grabbed my little sister—who was sleeping in my room for the special occasion—and timidly crept out to the living room. My parents had told us that Santa wasn’t going to bring us very much this year. When we went to bed there were two presents under the tree, which my parents had placed. That morning, I expected to see perhaps two more.
I no longer “believed” at that time. I knew that “Santa” was experiencing the same economic strain that my family was experiencing.
Several months before Christmas, my mom lost her job and had been unable to find a new one.
I felt empathetic for my parents and could sense their sadness about our circumstances. I made sure not to express any disappointment regarding the lean gift pile under the tree. In fact, I was content with it. I was blessed to grow up experiencing REAL Christmases—White Christmases complete with sleigh rides, caroling, hot chocolate, and huddling by the fire. I always loved the entire season, but for me it wasn’t about presents on Christmas morning, it was about our family parties, twinkling lights, and Spirit in the air.
Although the receiving of gifts was not what Christmas meant to me, that morning I surely learned the value of giving and receiving.
When my sister and I walked into the living room we did not find a couple new presents from Santa under the tree. The tree was COMPLETELY surrounded by beautiful boxes covered in an array of lovely wrapping. There was a fireplace next to the Christmas tree and it was toppling full of presents, too. I stood still in shock. My 6-year-old sister ran to the tree and started squealing every time she found a present with her name on it.
At this point my parents heard us and came out of their room. I watched their reaction to make sense of what was happening. They both entered the room with a look of genuine shock on their faces. My mom looked as confused as I did and looked to my dad for an explanation, but he was as perplexed as we were. We all began examining the presents and found that they had our names on them and were all signed from “Santa.”
My mom began crying and I could feel both her joy and her pain.
My dad took the dogs outside and hurried back into the house, summoning us to come outside with him. Our home was passive solar, meaning it was built to take advantage of the sun’s natural heating and cooling. It was built into the side of a hill, and the roof was accessible from the hill in the back of the home. We all bundled up and my dad led us around to the hill in the back.
It had snowed recently and there were big and tiny footprints all over the roof. They lead strait to the chimney.
At this point I was in shock. Being that I didn’t believe in Santa anymore, I was experiencing a crisis of logic. In that moment I questioned—perhaps there really WAS a Santa Clause! My mom was even more shocked than I was. It seemed even SHE was starting to believe.
The best part was watching my little sister’s reaction. Wide-eyed and impish, she took it all in. Watching her open the heaping pile of gifts later that day was a major highlight from my memories of childhood. I was immensely grateful for the gifts I had received from this mysterious source; however, watching the joy experienced by my sister and mom is what touched me deeply.
That day I learned that giving to others really can have a powerful impact on the one who received. That night, my dad came clean. He told my mother about how on Christmas Eve, when my dad left from work, he found a giant black bag in his car, filled with gifts. The experience of shock and wonder we experienced standing by the fireplace that morning is what he experienced standing in the parking lot, realizing that his coworkers, who knew about my mom’s unemployment, had pooled together and given him a sac full of gifts to take home to his family. Touched, he decided to pass along the excitement and joy by keeping it a secret until Christmas morning. He snuck up to the roof to fake Santa’s tracks. He carefully placed the packages so they looked as though they’d fallen down the chimney. He used the heartfelt giving and support from his coworkers to create a lasting memory for my family to cherish forever.
Giving is not about presents; it’s about recognizing what would be meaningful for another and giving of yourself, your time, your money, or your gesture to touch another’s life.
Today, I continue to feel genuine gratitude for all of the men and women who worked with my dad and showed me what it means to receive a true Christmas gift.
Within the over-consumerism of Christmas in the 21st Century, there remains a spark of magic that ignites when we remember the true Spirit of giving… and give from the heart.