Misty’s eyes search the tree—search its green plastic pine needles and green-painted metal branches—for something more, something hidden. She watches the colored lights flash on and off and counts the ornaments on the boughs, but she sees no packages left behind.
Her mom is in the kitchen, busy preparing scrambled eggs and toast—from the day-old bread they buy. Her little brother Nate pushes his new toy car along the brown matted shag carpet; old strands keep hooking around the car’s tires. Nate unravels them and continues the great race.
Misty counts her gifts: pink corduroys, a gray scratchy sweater, a pink sweatshirt and pants with ruffled trim that her grandma shipped, a few trinkets, and a plush puppy dog doll—a gift from an anonymous donor who had chosen Misty’s red paper angel—girl, age eleven—from the church’s charity tree. All the clothes her grandma sent her are two sizes too large and designed for a child two years younger than she. This is not what I wanted. I’ll get made fun of in school if I wear this.
Butter sizzles in the frying pan. The smell of bacon wafts through the air. Misty kicks the wrapping paper away from her small pile of clothes.
Her mom cheerfully reappears and says, “Breakfast is ready. Come and eat.” She has to repeat this three more times before Nate notices. He brings his new car.
Since Caroline has been busy working two jobs to support her children, she doesn’t usually have time to eat meals with her kids at the table. But, today is special. Today they will use the fine china and crystal.
Misty leaves her clothes behind and drags herself to her chair. Her mom smiles, holds up a glass of orange juice and says, “Merry Christmas. I know you both didn’t get everything on your lists, but money is tight right now. At least we’re together. Here’s a toast to our family. Here’s to peace, health, love, and tranquility.”
Misty and Nate clink glasses with their mom and guzzle down half of their juice. They don’t usually buy orange juice—generally they get powdered drink mix. But, today is special. Today they enjoy freshly squeezed juice.
Besides scrambled eggs, their plates are full with bacon, hash browns, and toast. They don’t usually buy bacon. But, today is special. Today they will enjoy the crispy savory meat.
Misty wonders how many more aluminum cans and recyclables she and her younger brother will need to collect from the nearby fields to help to pay for breakfast. Mom could have gotten me the video game or radio I wanted instead of this.
Nate shovels food into his mouth, while Misty savors each bite.
Caroline wipes her mouth with a napkin. “Today, we’re going to box food donations at the church and we’ll deliver the food boxes this afternoon.”
On the way to the church, Misty reflects on last year’s Christmas. Her mom’s last job paid well and she had purchased every item on Misty and Nate’s wish lists—trains, dolls, clothes, books, music, games, and play sets. Misty thought that should’ve been the happiest day of her life. On the contrary, she moped about the house in misery. She had nothing left to want; therefore, her excitement and joy disappeared. That’s when Misty decided fun was in the wanting, not the receiving—still, receiving was nice too.
Misty puts a small turkey and bag of stuffing into each numbered box. Nate skips around the yard, and drops cans of corn and peas into each cardboard container.
Later, Caroline parks her truck, filled with food boxes, in front of a plain house with a front yard of hard-packed dirt. “We have to drop it off on their porch, and go. Although we know this family needs food, the father is too proud to accept any handouts. This way we can offer help without the dad feeling ashamed by what he can’t provide.” Misty and Nate watch their mom deliver a Christmas dinner.
Once back inside to the truck, Caroline says, “Remember, even though we have little, others have less. To make someone else happy is the greatest gift of all.” She smiles at her kids and adds, “I love you two so much. I wish I could give you more.”
“Love you, Mom,” Nate says.
Christmas isn’t a day of store-bought gifts tied up in bows; it’s a feeling—a celebration of life, love, and goodwill. Misty grins and reaches over to hug her mother. “I love you, too, Mom. And you’ve given us more than enough.”