The Gift I Didn’t Ask For


nicole t walters -gift i didnt ask for2

I didn’t know how much I would miss the “feeling” I have come to associate with Christmas. It starts when the air turns crisp and the leaves crackle under your feet. It’s this intangible excitement that comes along with the lights and the parties, the stories to be read and cookies to be baked. It’s this atmosphere of anticipation when people say, “It feels like Christmas.” 

There are no lights this year around town nor any signs of the season. We have moved to a country where Christmas isn’t celebrated in the same way. It’s celebrated under brightly colored canopies hung in the courtyards of the few churches that meet together, in advent candles and carols sung. It’s celebrated quietly in homes where the few Christ followers meet. As I’ve been dreaming of a white Christmas (as I longingly looked at pictures of snow from friends online, in awe because we rarely get snow this early in the year in my deep south American hometown), I’ve been given something of a gift. I’ve been given a small Christmas.

It doesn’t feel much like a gift at first. The ache for the familiar felt like it had a vice grip on my heart as others said, “Oh you’re so lucky you are escaping the commercialism that has taken over Christmas and advent.” Maybe that’s true but is it wrong to just want a peppermint mocha and some pumpkin pie to get me into the spirit? And don’t get me started on the mental hoops I jumped through explaining how Santa would still visit even though most people in our country don’t celebrate Christmas at all. I felt like I was missing something vital to give my small children in this place.

So, I don’t know who was more excited when we saw it, the kids or me. We turned a corner in the mall and there it was, a shiny beacon of all things Christmas. There were Christmas trees and ornaments, twinkling lights. I don’t know how one tiny store in the massive shopping center caught onto the holiday but I’m grateful it did. We returned home with a tiny tree in tow, sparse but ours. A little piece of magic, a place to sit and read the story of Jesus’ birth on Christmas morning. A little piece of home.

I hoped it felt to them like Christmas morning opening the little box that made it 8000 miles and packed away in a suitcase for months. A couple small manger scenes and ornaments emerged, some coloring pages for the kids. My husband commented that we didn’t have a tree topper and I ran to my son’s backpack. He had just decorated a paper star for his international school’s Christmas program. I taped it to the top of the tree, it’s blue glitter glinting in the lights. One tiny corner of our flat looked like Christmas had arrived. I wondered if the kids felt sad that there wasn’t more as I whispered a prayer of thanks for this much.

A few minutes later my daughter sauntered in with an excited look on her face that tells me, “I have an idea.” She laid out her detailed plan for secret Santa where each of us would draw a name and we’d buy a present for the person whose name we’d drawn. She had our names already written on little scraps of paper. When I returned to the living room to clean up after tucking them in, I found another paper she’d been working on. I sunk to the floor as I read, “Things I might get my parents for Christmas” and on the list were items like “No complaining” and “Help around the house.”

I felt like the grinch in that moment, who needed a little child to remind him that Christmas doesn’t come in packages, boxes, or bags. It had come and I hadn’t noticed it. So like the stubborn child I tend to be, I am taking the gift I didn’t ask for but needed all along. I’m taking the time to slow down and redefine what it feels like to anticipate the coming of a Savior, what it looks like to wait for Him to come in unexpected ways.