“For 10 Christmases now, a small, white envelope sat on a branch of our Christmas tree. It began because my husband Mike loved the traditional Christmas and its true meaning, but hated the commercial Christmas: overspending, the frantic running around and gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.
“Knowing how he felt, one year I decided to bypass the usual shirts, ties and so forth I searched for something special just for him.
“The inspiration came in an unusual way, at a wrestling match. Our son Kevin was wrestling at the junior level at school and just before Christmas, they had a match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church.
“These youngsters were dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be all that held them together. They were in sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue-and-gold uniforms and new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I realized the other team was wrestling without headgear, a light helmet designed to protect the wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team apparently could not afford.
“We walloped them, taking every weight class, yet 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 wouldn’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.
“The idea came at that moment. I went to a local sporting goods store that afternoon 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, with a note inside telling Mike what I had done and this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and every year after.
“It became a family tradition. One year I sent a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a cheque 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 Dad read the note aloud.
“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. We lost Mike last year to cancer and when Christmas came I was so wrapped in grief I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. In the morning, I found that three more had joined it. Each of our children had acted independently and placed an envelope on the tree for Dad.
“The tradition continues, and we hope it will expand with our grandchildren standing around the tree watching as their fathers take down the envelopes, and read about each special gift. Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.”
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