For me, charity defines Christmas, and I like Christmas. A lot! All of my Christmases have been memorable (my choice), and some have been exceptional. Like the Christmas of 1978 in Tustin, California.
I was serving as a counselor in the bishopric at the time—my fifth go-around for that call. I’d heard the two most popular clichés that went with that kind of recycling a thousand times:
“You’ll do it until you get it right.”
“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”
There wasn’t much I hadn’t experienced in that position, but that was about to change. I was assigned to work with the Young Women and Young Men. All that year we emphasized service, and in that spirit the young people decided to forego their Christmas party and replace it with a meaningful act of service. They would provide the whole Christmas for a needy family. An ad hoc youth committee was organized, and a family outside of our ward was prayerfully selected.
The divorced mother in the single-parent home lived with her three children and her own aged mother in a small, one-bedroom house that was scarcely bigger than most peoples’ living rooms. No furniture to speak of, and the family’s sole source of entertainment came from a small black-and-white television set—remember, this is 1978. The woman worked nights to provide meager sustenance for her family, and she didn’t have the means to purchase either a Christmas tree or presents for her children and their grandmother.
Our youth wanted to go all out for this family. The Priests purchased the Christmas tree and presents for the young boy; the Laurels provided the food, including a turkey for Christmas dinner; the Teachers bought presents for the mother; and, on it went until an unforgettable Christmas was assured. To make this an even more meaningful experience for our young people, we encouraged them to earn the money they would be contributing. Mom and Dad were off-limits as a resource.
The gifts, beautifully wrapped, the tree, and the food were all taken by the youth committee to this special family several days before Christmas. That was not a dry-eye event. The tears of the mother, the children, and the grandmother were a poignant thank-you that our youth would never forget.
But the giving experience was not over. Now, it was time for charity.
Christmas morning, as I was ushering my young family into the car to go over to my brother’s for Christmas dinner, our Young Men’s president pulled up in front of the house. “Did you hear what happened to the family we provided the Christmas for?” he asked.
My puzzled look told him I hadn’t. He went on. “While the mother was working Christmas Eve, someone broke into the house and stole all their Christmas presents; even took their old TV set.”
My turn to cry. Then I noticed that his car was filled with presents. Smiling, he continued.
“This is the second batch going over to the family this morning. When we found out about the robbery, we called a few kids in the ward, and before we knew it, they had contacted others. All these kids and their families donated their own Christmas presents to our Christmas family.”
Sitting on top of the pile of packages in his back seat was a beautiful TV set. He saw me looking at it. “One of our young men donated that.”
He drove off. I got into the car with my family, and one of my children asked, “What was that all about, Dad?”
I swallowed a couple of times, then answered.
“Let me tell you a Christmas story.”