THE MYSTERIOUS CHRISTMAS GIFT
NOTE: This article is being reposted due to a major error on the first posting. I apologize for the mishap. Carolyn
As I drank my morning coffee my eyes glanced over to the bookcase across the room, to a post office envelope sitting on the shelf, partially hidden by an a red poinsetta and an 8 x 10 picture of myself as a child in my mother’s arms, before my father beat and choked my her, almost killing her. That the picture frame had a cracked glass was appropriate, symbolic of the broken family that resulted from my father’s final attack on my mother, who was aided by a woman’s shelter in reframing a life without violence.
The envelope was addressed to the United Way of Westmoreland County in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Janelle, a friend of my neighbor, was taking the envelope and mailing it in a community unknown to me. The intent was to prevent the envelope being traced to me.
As I listened to my favorite Christmas carol, Adeste Fideles, I reflected on the envelope and the strange circumstances in which its contents came to me.
Ten days previously I’d been at a party where Santa Claus was a special guest. I couldn’t discover who this jolly old man was, and with so many men impersonating Santa this white-bearded white-haired gentleman wearing the traditional red costume it was difficult, if not impossible, to discover his true identity. The good Lord knew I tried, but no one seemed to know who he was, and no one admitted to hiring him for the party.
Santa mingled among the adults before approaching me. He asked me what I wanted for Christmas, so, playing along, I requested more time.
“What would you do with the gift of extra time?” Santa asked.
“I’d work harder to make the world a safer place for women and the elderly,” I said.
Smiling, Santa handed me an envelope wrapped in festive Christmas paper.
“Inside this envelope is a coupon for one gift. There is no price restriction. You must choose the recipient,” he said. “However, you must give the gift anonymously. Should you reveal that you are the giver of the gift you will be required to repay me the money you paid for the gift.”
“Thank you Santa,” I said, accepting the envelope but thinking he was a nut case. A few minutes later I decided to return the envelope to the Santa impersonator, but he was nowhere to be seen. It was even stranger that no one else at the party claimed to have seen Santa.
The envelope sat on my kitchen table for several days. I was mysteriously drawn to it, and somehow realized, knew, it was harmless. Finally I dared to open it with shaking hands. And sure enough, out slipped a coupon and a slip of paper containing the same instructions Santa gave me.
I considered all the needs of my friends and family, my community, my church, before settling on the who, the recipient. I had a tender spot for women caught in domestic violence, and for the elderly who needed help to remain in their homes. These concerns led me not to a human person, but to a corporate person: the United Way of Westmoreland County. I would earmark my gift to support two of their programs which I consider very valuable.
Their Faith in Action program is designed to extend the length of time older adults can live safely and securely in their own homes by matching participants with trained and compassionate volunteers. Volunteers provide a variety of free, non-medical services to participants. As a person entering the twilight years of my life I see the importance of provided services to those who don’t wish to live out their lives in an institution.
The second program is the Blackburn Center, which is a partner of the United Way. The partnership works to develop long-lasting solutions to community problems, joining in the United Way vision of advancing education, income and health. Never again do I want women to endure what my mother dealt with. Too many women are not as lucky as she was. They die at the hands of the men they try to love.
I was skeptical about having no price restriction. Why not take the offer and make the price of my United Way gift a million dollars, the money to be split between these two programs.
Having chosen the gift’s recipient and price I pondered ways to deliver the gift anonymously. Obviously, a gift this large will gain publicity.
I picked up the envelope at a rack at the local post office, being careful to wear my winter gloves as I did so. I wore the gloves as I wrote the recipient and price on a piece of paper, sealed it in the envelope, and placed it next to the photo on the bookshelf.
The next morning I noticed the envelope had gained in thickness. With gloves on I picked it up, squeezed it, turned it different ways. It had definitely gained girth. Did the paper I slipped in the envelope turn into cash?
I spoke to Janelle, telling her I needed to mail a gift to a secret sister I had in my church, but wanted it to arrive from a strange town. She agreed to mail it from some city she expected to pass through en route to her Oklahoma home, and to allow me to learn which city when the envelope arrived.
Plan made and executed successfully. I heard about it on the local news. Everyone was seeking the identity of an anonymous donor who sent a large amount of cash to the United Way to support two programs.
That gift to me changed my life. Yes, there is a Santa. He is real.
As I look back at the events of that Christmas season a decade ago I smile. I still don’t know the earthly identity of the Santa which enabled me to help my community, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is the love and charity that fills the Christmas season.
NOTE: This story was written using two WordPress prompts:
- Final Trio—write about any topic you wish, but make sure your post features a bookcase, something cracked, and a song you love (December 20, 2014)
- Secret Santa—You get to choose one gift — no price restrictions — for any person you want. The caveat? You have to give it anonymously. What gift would you give, and to whom?