You may have read in one of our other posts that a Crouch family tradition growing up was to read Christmas stories throughout December together. We would gather together in our living room and select various short stories to read out loud.
One of my favorite stories from the collections we chose from was called “For the Man Who Hated Christmas”. To understand the White Envelope tradition, you really have to know the story. I have included it here for any of you who have never read it. Warning: it may induce some salty droplets to fall from your eyes.
“For the Man Who Hated Christmas”
by Nancy W. Gavin
It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas–oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it—overspending…the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma—the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears.
It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids- all kids – and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in the succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition—one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn’t end there.
You see we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down the envelope.
Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.
Editor’s Note: This true story was originally published in the December 14, 1982 issue of Woman’s Day magazine. It was the first place winner out of thousands of entries in the magazine’s “My Most Moving Holiday Tradition” contest in which readers were asked to share their favorite holiday tradition and the story behind it. The story inspired a family from Atlanta, Georgia to start The White Envelope Project and Giving101, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating youth about the importance of giving.
Having been particularly touched by this story for years, I decided a few years ago to make some White Envelopes myself. We do not often give gifts to everyone in our family, but this year I wanted to. I wanted to give them all a gift of service.
I sat down and thought about each person in my family and what act of service would be particularly meaningful to that family member. I tried to put myself in their shoes and the things they value, treasure, or even just like. On Christmas morning I snuck to the tree and placed the white envelopes in the branches. Just as we were finishing opening presents, I handed each person their own White Envelope. It was one of the best Christmases ever. Spending so much time serving others as gifts to my family was one of the best experiences I have had.
Another great way to carry on this tradition is to do so as a family. Throughout December, family members can all do secret acts of service. As they finish them, they can add a white envelope to the Christmas tree. The goal is to have the tree full of white envelopes by Christmas morning! This keeps the whole family focused on the true meaning of Christmas through the whole month of December. It also adds a special element to Christmas morning as you can read the anonymous acts of service out loud either before or after opening presents.
This is easily one of my favorite Christmas traditions! It’s not too late to get a few white envelopes on your own Christmas tree before Christmas this year.
Best of luck with your own White Envelope Christmases!
Check out more Christmas Traditions here!