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Ann Voskamp writes, “It’s almost a dozen years now, nothing under the Christmas tree here. Strange, the way children teach adults. It started at bedtime one year, I do remember that. Smoothing back hair, kissing foreheads, pulling up the blankets over my kids. Tucking them in. Prayers said all in a rush because I had gifts to wrap.. And then, when I’m at the door, one hand on the doorframe, resting in the light of the hallway, I turn to close the door a bit on the dark. And the oldest boy, he stops me with just one question: “What does Jesus get for His birthday?” The words hung… strung me up. I say the words into the black. Um… A cake? Our love? I can hear him turn again in the bed, roll over on the pillow. Restless…“But Mom…. if we get wrapped presents for our birthdays. If people give up other things to give something to us for our birthday — then why don’t we do that for Jesus’ birthday?” I stand at the door looking into all that light cast down the hallway… and I grope for the answer that could change the world… And the boy says: Why don’t we give up things so we can give to Jesus for His birthday?”

Is it always this way, that a little child will lead them? He was five that year, I think…I just know that now he’s seventeen and we all stepped out into some light that year and we’ve done all the Christmases since this way — giving away. It’s not at all wrong to do it differently, but just for us… all the Christmas gifts — are gifts for the Christ Child. I shamefully confess I thought it would somehow make me sad. I am a very slow learner. Only love under the tree can unwrap abundant joy. And the Birthday Child tells us what He wants: Give to the least of these and you give to Me. So this is how we do it: If any extended family doesn’t feel it’s Christmas without gifts, we honor and exhange gifts. And we make lots of love packages of baking for the neighbours and the excitement is about reaching out with His love. And we draw names in our own family and give only one handmade gift the week after Christmas, to each other on New Year’s Day, a way to celebrate the blessing of a New Year.

Maybe that’s the choice our Christmas needs to make: feed our own wishes or feed the real hunger of Christ? Nothing can be claimed, taken, received, had; everything we have is a gift to us from heaven. “All that we have has no other source but the hand of God (Jn 3:27). And that gift is always meant to be given.” When we pass our gifts on — the gifts from Him remaining a gift and being given again — we are the ones given even more of the source of all gifts — more of God Himself. When we give to Christ in the hungry, He satisfies our own hunger pangs.

A decade of this, our little family turning the Christmas tree upside down and letting gifts all fall into the hands of the poor. Sure, some thought it too strange, all this with no bows under the tree and really, I understood. But we couldn’t stop seeing just this, Him hanging on a tree. It’s just the way He’s just spoken to us, that’s all, and there are a thousand ways to do Christmas well. And then the unexpected happened — my Dad stopped by and stood in our kitchen with his hand on the counter, his farm coveralls still on, and he said it quietly, “I think this year — we shouldn’t do gifts as a family.” He looked up at me. My eyebrows arched. He did understand? “I was thinking that this year — maybe we should just all go together — and see if we can help drill a well in Africa.” And that one boy who was once five but is now pretty much grown up, who asked a question on a night long ago that answered so much — he turns to me and he smiles. His smile lighting the room and all the world.

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