As I was listening to a radio show, the commentators were asking listeners to call in with their "worst Christmas gift ever" memories. Of course, the usual "wrong size," "ugly fabric or color," "not-my-style" and "various items termed useless junk" gifts were frequently mentioned. The conversation immediately took me to our annual Christmas party and gift exchange at our grade school, reminding me of what I had thought was "the worst gift I had ever received."
Students were asked to spend 50 cents on a gift, which would be anonymously given to a fellow student. Keep in mind this was the early ’60s and you could actually find a great gift for 50 cents. The gift needed to be gender-neutral — something that would be appropriate for either a boy or a girl.
My mom and I shopped for my gift and settled on a "Book of Lifesavers" — 10 rolls of assorted flavors of Lifesavers tucked away in a festive holiday gift book. It even contained an entire roll of Cherry Lifesavers — my absolute favorite! I was so thrilled with our purchase that if I could have chosen it as my own gift, I would have. But I knew that instead, one of my classmates would hit the jackpot when they opened my gift at our party.
We played games and ate treats and then when the time came, our teacher handed each of us one of the wrapped gifts from under our class Christmas tree. When we were finally given permission to open our gifts, the wrapping paper began to fly as each of us literally tore into our gifts. When I opened my package, I remember my heart sinking as I discovered three pieces of white chalk.
That was my gift. Three pieces of white chalk. That was what I received in exchange for 10 rolls of delicious Lifesavers in a beautiful holiday book. And the most difficult part: how could I possibly show genuine gratitude for such a gift, knowing it was the worst gift given to anyone in the class? Well, my mom always insisted that we be thankful for whatever we received, no matter what.
So, that's what I did. I pretended to be happy for my gift of three pieces of chalk, even though I wasn't. I pretended I actually needed my gift of three pieces of chalk, even though I didn't. I pretended not to mind that my beautiful holiday book of Lifesavers was going to someone else, even though I did mind. It probably took about 2½ minutes for the gifts to be opened and the festivities to end, but it was actually 2½ minutes of my life that I will never forget.
While I was "in the moment" of opening my gift, I didn't realize that someone was watching me. Actually two people were watching me. My teacher approached me after the party and thanked me for accepting my gift graciously, even though she knew my gift was a bit disappointing to me. That made me feel better. Later I found out my gift came from a girl in my class who had several brothers and sisters. They were a poor family and purchasing a 50-cent gift for each of their children to take to school was nearly an impossible task. Dividing up a box of chalk between their children who would then take three pieces each and give them as their gift to their classmates was a true sacrifice. That little girl was watching me as well as I opened her gift.
Fortunately, my mom taught me well and I passed the "how to express your gratitude no matter what you receive" test. I can now only imagine what it would have done to her had I not been gracious. I guess that deep down, I knew the gift I was given was just that — a gift. A potentially negative situation actually created a good memory I will never forget. I have come to realize my gift of chalk really wasn't my worst gift ever … in fact, I don't believe I ever have had a "worst gift." Why? Because the words "worst" and "gift" just don't go together in my book.
Gifts, decorations, lights, music, trees, candy canes, cookies, peace on earth and goodwill toward men will always be synonymous with Christmas. But the very best gift … the FIRST gift of Christmas … will always be Him, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Editor's note: For more than 100 years, the Deseret News has published original Christmas stories, eventually starting what is known as its annual "Christmas I Remember Best" writing contest. This is one of seven stories to be highlighted this holiday season.