Ribbons and bows, paper and string; packages under the tree come in all shapes and sizes and colors. Gifts that show that we care for the person receiving and that we are cared for. Some presents have a personal sentiment attached that is not so much about the object in the box but the reason behind it. Some gifts are not in a box at all, but given with a look or a hug or a snugly held hand – these are often the best kinds.
As a young boy there were many things that I looked forward to and many hopes and wishes I had on Christmas morning. I remember in my younger years finding several Tonka trucks under the tree; trucks or cars of all kinds were always favorites. I remember a race track one year that provided hours of fun until I broke the tiny pins under the cars that kept them on the track. Board games and puzzles and scarfs or mittens or socks were always under the tree. And at the time they all meant something to me at the time. There is one gift, however, that I will never forget.
It was mid November of that year when I came home from school and found mom busy around the house getting dinner ready and cleaning up from what seemed a very busy sewing day. Bits of scrap fabric and thread were strewn all over the kitchen and her sewing machine was still warm from the whirring of the motor. My curiosity was peaked because for weeks before I had been telling my mom that I had wanted a sock monkey for Christmas. I had seen a picture of one in a magazine and thought it was the cutest stuffed thing I had ever seen. Plus it was made out of soft, warm, fuzzy socks so it must be great to cuddle with. While mom was in the other room I snuck a peek around the sewing scraps and found bits of sock monkey socks and a part of the wrapper that the socks came in. I could barely contain myself! My wish was going to come true! I managed for the next few weeks to keep a lid on my excitement, but this was the one gift I was most looking forward to that year.
I was the first one awake that Christmas morning and when my sisters came downstairs I was sitting there in front of the tree staring at the packages and bows and ribbons and lights, wondering which one the sock monkey was and just waiting for the go ahead from mom and dad. We tore into the pile spewing ooh’s and ah’s at what we were discovering. A game here, a pair of mittens, a puzzle or two, underwear, (really? Who gives underwear for Christmas?); but something was missing. After a half an hour or so, when all the gifts had been opened and we sat among ripped paper and packaging, there was no sock monkey. I was crushed; I was sure mom had made me one; how could I have been wrong? I spent the better part of an hour fiddling with the gifts I had gotten trying to hold back tears over what I had not. I heard mom and dad muttering in the kitchen about something so I got up and went into the kitchen trying to get up the courage to ask about the sock monkey. Mom noticed me and asked if I had found everything and I nodded. She asked if I were sure and that I might want to look again…maybe a little higher. So I went back to the tree and slowly scanned the area finding nothing left under the tree. I walked around to each side and even tried to crawl behind the tree but all I found were some needles that had dropped off the tree. As I stood there in front of the tree, with nearly tear-filled eyes, I looked up and there, deep within the branches at my eyelevel was the most perfect sock monkey I have ever seen. The floodgates opened – I reached into the tree and put my tiny hands around the toy, pulled it out and held it to my chest.
I have thought a lot about that sock monkey over the years. Such a silly thing to fret about, but I have learned something. The best gifts are not found among the shiny, glittering packages of men, but hidden within the heart of the Giver. Still today we snuggle small stuffed animals deep within the branches of our Christmas tree, barely visible, as a reminder that just because you may not see the Gift, He is there, and often in the most unexpected places.