The most meaningful gift I have ever received is currently worth $2.99. One year when I was a kid, my family was having a particularly tough Christmas financially. We lived in a 2-bedroom apartment with my Dad, Mom, 2 sisters and Grandpa. Needless to say, no one got an X-Box or an LED TV that year. We had a Charlie Brown sort of a tree and some simple decorations that my mom had cobbled together.
We don’t do the “one present on Christmas Eve” thing in my family. We do the “all presents on Christmas Eve” thing. That night, my youngest sister passed out the gifts around the tree to each person in the room. That was her job and it still is, even though she’s 34 now. My lone gift was an envelope. Taking turns, everyone opened their presents and it finally got to me. I tore open my little envelope and found a note. The note was just a piece of paper with a handwritten clue on it. The clue led me to another clue in a different part of the apartment. That clue took me to another clue. In my PJ’s, I scurried from clue-to-clue, covering all 700 square-feet of that tiny apartment.
Finally, I came to the end of my Christmas scavenger hunt. The final clue led me to a tiny cardboard box back where I had started, near the Christmas tree. I picked open the box and found inside a 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco rookie card. During my entire childhood, collecting sports cards was a hobby my Dad and I did together. We would go to the local shops and card shows together, then sit for hours sorting cards into sets and groups. We would trade with neighbors and scrounge up collections of our favorite players. My dad knew what cards I owned, what I needed, and what I liked.
I did not know how much that card cost my parents, I still don’t. I didn’t care. That year, my mom and dad couldn’t purchase much of anything. I’m sure that I had friends at school who got electronics and cool shoes, but that was just not an option in my family. What made that year so special was that my parents had thought about me and made me feel special.
For any parents heading into the Christmas gift-buying season, keep in mind: many times, the best gifts we give our kids are not the biggest or most expensive. Don’t get lured by the noise that tells us we must buy, purchase, and spend more than we ever have before. Our kids don’t need the highest priced electronic this year for us to prove our parenting superiority. They don’t need the best basketball shoes that Foot Locker offers for everyone to say a good Christmas was had. That may not be wise or possible for some families. What every child does need, however, is for us to think about them, consider them, and spend time with them. Each kid needs us to hug them, take them on a date, and have a conversation with them. These are gifts that take care and thought, but don’t wear out over time.
I knew I had gotten the best gift of anyone that Christmas, because it didn’t just carry a monetary value. It carried heart. It was more than a collector’s item. It was a symbol of creativity and making something good of a hard situation. I still have that card and I always will. I have received expensive items as gifts in my life and those are nice, but it doesn’t always take something pricey to leave an impression. Maybe it just takes a three-dollar baseball card.