...don’t ever let anyone tell you Christmas is not about “presents” – Christmas is all about presence, God’s presence in human form, God’s presence in this frightened young girl giving birth to her first child far away from home; God’s presence in a feeding trough, LOVE, present, in real life.
Phillip Gully, in his book Christmas in Harmony , tells a wonderful story about Christmas presents/presence: He says he remembers when his biggest decision at Christmas was what to buy with the ten dollars his grandparents gave him.
“The week before Christmas, my grandmother would walk up Marion Street to Vernley Stout’s window at the bank, where he would count out two crisp ten-dollar bills, one for my brother Roger and one for me.
She would arrange them in the money envelopes so that Alexander Hamilton’s face peered from the oval window with grim concern, silently admonishing the recipient to spend him wisely, and not blow him on candy.
Alexander Hamilton seemed the picture of frugality.
I would have preferred a fifty-dollar bill, with Ulysses S. Grant and his hippie beard, urging me to whoop it up.
Unfortunately, Vernley Stout and my grandmother were disciples of Hamilton. ‘Why don’t you bring those boys down and we’ll start a college account for them, [the banker] advised. ‘You’d be surprised to see how quickly it adds up.’
My grandmother made us save two dollars each Christmas. By the time I went to college, I’d saved thirty-two dollars and seventy-eight cents. …
The other eight dollars were mine to do with as I pleased. Each year my mother would hint that I should give ten percent to the work of Christian missionaries, which would have knocked down my take another eighty cents.
‘For crying out loud,” my father told her, ‘let the boy have his money. He’ll be giving it all to the government soon enough anyway.’
‘Well, it’s your decision, Sam,’ my mother would say, ‘I just think it would be a nice gesture, that’s all.’
I decided to let the missionaries fend for themselves. …
On Christmas afternoons, my mother would send Roger and me out to Grandpa’s workshop [in the barn behind their home] to thank him for our ten dollars. Grandpa would return our acknowledgement with a solemn nod, then return to his puttering. He smelled like oil and turpentine and was a hard man to get to know. I often had the feeling he’d rather be somewhere else. He died the week after Thanksgiving my first year at college. My grandmother rang the bell outside their back door for lunch, then went back in and was halfway through her sandwich before she realized he wasn’t seated across from her. She found him slumped over the push mower, a wrench in his hand. Johnny Mackey at the funeral home speculated that the strain of freeing a rusted bolt had done him in.
It fell to my father and me to clean out his workshop. I was sorting through a box marked lawnmower parts, when I heard a cough, and then a sob.
My father was standing by the workbench, his back turned to me, crying. I’d never seen my father cry before, and wasn’t sure what to do. I went and stood by him and laid my hand on his shoulder.
He spoke in a muffled voice. ‘All these years, all I wanted was for him to tell me he loved me, that he was proud of me, and he never did. And now he never can. It was the only thing from him I ever wanted.’
This was odd talk coming from my father, who’d never seemed inclined toward such sentiments. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, blew his nose, wiped his eyes, and then looked at me. ‘I don’t ever want you to feel this way. I want you to know I love you, son. I’m proud of you, awful proud of you. Have been since the day you were born.’
Then he hugged me.
It was the best Christmas present he ever gave me, those words.”