Thursday, December 25, 2008

The White Envelope

When I was younger, my sister started a tradition with our family on Christmas Day. She realized there was usually a little bit of a letdown after all the presents were unwrapped.

As a result, she decided to have each family member write down on a sheet of paper an act of service that someone did for them and an act of service that they did for someone else that year and put it in a white envelope. At some point before Christmas morning, each family stuck the envelope in the branches of the tree. I wish I could say that the white envelope had some cool, symbolic meaning, but I think we started calling it the "white envelope" because it was just the easiest color of envelope to grab.

After the presents were all unwrapped, we would excuse any of the younger kids that didn't want to stay, and each family member would take their envelope from the tree and read or tell about both service opportunities. I was surprised at how pleasant this experience was, and it really set the mood for the rest of the day. It was a wonderful finale to all the gift giving, and it helped me see the kinds of things my siblings do on a regular basis to help those around them.

Unfortunately, after a few years of this, some of my siblings started complaining about the tradition. They said they felt uncomfortable sharing service they did because it felt like they were trying to show off. I was baffled by this, and I couldn't figure out why it would be a problem when they were simply sharing it with their other family members. These acts of service were particularly touching when they came from my mom. She loves to help everyone, but her recent health forces her to limit these efforts. This time of year, we are able to hear about some of the small things she has found she can do that still mean something to those she does them for.

As a result, the tradition has pretty much died in our family. However, being the stubborn person I am, I refuse to let it go. My wife and I like it, and wherever we spend Christmas (with her family or with mine), we warn everyone that we are going to continue with it. If they spend Christmas morning with us, they had better be prepared to share. Fortunately, everyone who has stayed for Christmas morning has been willing.

I'm excited to see what will come to my daughter's mind as she gets old enough to participate. It will be nice to show her that service is just another form of gift we can give. In many ways, it will mean more than anything we could have purchased.

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