This Christmas was my first spent away from home.
I’ve spent many Thanksgiving’ away, as well as Birthdays. But never a Christmas.
For our family, Christmas is full of tradition. Christmas cookie decorating with mom. Stringing gingerbread ornaments made in my childhood on the tree. Christmas singalongs whilst driving around the neighborhood to look at lights. Big family get togethers. And an elaborate Christmas morning breakfast brought in with the sound of clinking mimosa glasses.
When I chose to travel full time, I knew I would not be spending Christmas 2018 at home. While, I knew I would miss all the traditions listed above, I felt most torn up about a Christmas Tradition many of you aren’t familiar with.
This tradition began in our family with a newspaper clipping that shared a story about the true meaning of Christmas.
The newspaper story was entitled: White Envelope
And it goes like this (it’s a tearjerker so be ready for a lengthy emotional read)…
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 10 years.
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 the 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 weight helmet designed to protect a wrester’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. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish 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 of this 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 has done and this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in 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 who’s home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on. The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was a always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipated 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 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 one another had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide eye anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.
- Author Unknown
Well, what Mike’s family might not know is that their tradition has spread. Much further than they might have imagined. It has become our families tradition too. And now I have the privilege of sharing it with you.
Each year our family donates our time to support folks in my Grandfather Bob’s name.
I remember sitting at my kitchen table in Elementary School helping my mom choose farms animals to donate to families in need through Heifer International (that was over 15 years ago and I still remember the name of the organization, it’s a kind of tradition that cannot be easily forgotten).
Years later I watched my grandfather tear up as he read the letter we wrote detailing that years donations.
Last year, my family made their way around downtown Seattle to hand out “Bob Bags” filled with hand-warmers, chapstick, tissue, McDonalds gift cards and so on, to folks who found themselves without homes.
And this year, I felt myself torn up about missing my favorite Christmas Tradition.
Low and behold, my mom, my step-dad and myself ended up in the same place for Christmas (with a fair amount of persuasion on my end).
While, we all made it to one place for Christmas it wasn’t quite the same. Instead of breakfast, we had Christmas dinner. Instead of cookies, we ate cake. There was no tree decorating, no light gazing, and no mimosa clinking.
But there was the White Envelope.
As we sat down around a wood burning stove in the French Alps late Christmas night, my mom read the same letter from the newspaper clipping transcribed above.
We cried, as we always do, argued about who would the letter, because none of us can make it through in one piece. And rejoiced in the tradition we all loved.
About the same time, back at home in Washington State, my Grandpa was reading the same letter, and another letter addressed to him to explain what had been done this year.
So even though, this years Christmas was unlike any I’ve ever known before, my most valuable tradition was carried on, 5000 + miles from home.
The tradition of the White Envelope has not only been carried with me to the French Alps, it comes with me in the back of my mind through all my travels. When I handed a freshly purchased sandwich to a man living on the streets of London, or when I shared my beignets with a man sorting cans in New Orleans.
Tradition, especially tradition filled with spirit, love and intention is incredibly easy to carry along with you as you roam the world. It takes up absolutely no room in your backpack (or suitcase), it reminds you of home when you feel far away, and it allows you to share something near and dear with others around the globe.
So in the spirit of the White Envelope I wanted to share my family’s tradition with you.
I have immense gratitude for my mother who keeps the tradition alive year in and year out, some years with great support from the whole family, and other years on her own. I have deep love and appreciation for my Grandfather who has a spirit much like Mike’s, who inspires me to be grounded in the true meaning of holiday tradition.
This year has been a whirlwind, a Christmas unlike any other, but I feel so lucky to have a little bit of home here with me, in the form of tradition!
May you always bring your traditions with you, may they inspire your wanderings and wonderings, and keep you company as you roam!