Some of the best Christmas presents aren’t wrapped. They are not found under the tree. They don’t come from a store, UPS, FED EX or Amazon. They don’t cost money and yet they represent all of the gifts that are given each Christmas. The giving of a gift is a showing of the love we feel for our individual family members, friends or others. Even better than a physical gift that is often transitory, is the spiritual gift of giving oneself, through doing a favor or spending time with another.
One Christmas in the early 1980s is illustrative of what the Spirit of Christmas is all about. As a young uniform patrolman, I had six or seven years of seniority on my shift. This enabled me to take a holiday on either Christmas Eve or Christmas day, but not both. Since I had two young sons, I usually chose to take Christmas day off so I could see their faces when they saw what Santa had brought them.
My regular partner had taken off Christmas Eve and that night I was assigned a partner who had a few less years on than I had, named Rory. He worked my watch, but I had never worked in a patrol car with him. Rory was a big, happy guy and I knew I would enjoy working with him. That night it was rather slow with only a few dispatches and no calls waiting. Around eight o’clock that night, we were dispatched to a residential burglary at an apartment building in an older neighborhood. Our knock at the apartment door was answered by a frail eighty-year-old woman.
She told us that she had gone out to visit her neighbor across the street. When she returned to her apartment a couple of hours later, her front door was ajar, and several food items were missing from her cupboard and refrigerator. While Rory took the report, I looked around the apartment and the kitchen. There was no sign of a forced entry, even though the woman said she had locked the door. The windows were all secured. The only food I found in the kitchen was half a box of saltines, a jar of pickles and some mustard in the refrigerator. She told us that her only income was Social Security, and she wouldn’t get her next check for a couple of weeks.
Back in our car, Rory and I had both come to the conclusion that there had probably been no burglary and that the woman had apparently run out of funds and food about the same time. She told us she had no living relatives, so we didn’t think that she had spent her money on gifts, but we didn’t know for sure. We pulled out our wallets and found that all the money we had totaled $28. We went to the local supermarket and with our funds we were able buy a small ham, bacon, eggs, bread and a several cans of beans, vegetables and fruit.
We took the bags of groceries over to the woman’s apartment. We told her that we got the money from a police emergency fund for just this type of situation. She thanked us profusely, but we told her it was nothing and left happy, filled with the Spirit of Christmas. Later that cold December night we were dispatched to an injury accident, (minor injuries), and arrested one of the drivers for DUI. We normally got off about 2:15 AM, but we worked another half an hour filing our reports.
Driving home, I was exhausted and kept thinking that I wasn’t going to get any sleep, because I still had to put together a bicycle, a rocking horse and some other gifts that Santa was leaving for our boys. I figured that by the time I finished putting everything together, my sons would be awakening earlier than usual to see what Santa had brought them. I would be watching with tired, bloodshot eyes as they found Santa’s gifts. I would see them noticing that Santa had eaten some of the cookies and milk they had left for him and that the reindeer’s carrots were gone. My long day of sleeplessness was just beginning.
When I entered my house, however, I was elated to find that the bike, rocking horse and other “some assembly required” gifts had already been put together. My sister-in-law, Debbie, and her husband, Steve had come over to spend Christmas Eve at our house. Steve, who was much more mechanically inclined than I was, had assembled everything that needed to be put together, before he went to bed. Since then, I have always considered that gift of three and a half hours sleep that Steve provided me, as one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received.