Friday, December 17, 2010

The Best Part of Christmas

by Mari Freeman

The best part of Christmas is the giving. Right? I know. It is. But there was this one time, this one Christmas, where receiving was pretty darn good.

It was the first Christmas I spent with Allen. We had been dating about eight months and had recently moved in together. There was nothing elaborate in the gift (which was actually several gifts). He didn’t buy diamonds. There was no new car in the living room. It was so thoughtful and so romantic, I know I’ll remember it all my life.

We were at his mother’s house. He’d told me that their tradition was that one at a time, each person was to open all their gifts at once. Everyone would gather around and enjoy watching family members tear into the presents. Sounded like a long morning to me, but who was I to mess with a family tradition?

After his mother and his stepdad had opened their gifts, Allen handed me a card. He gave me strict instructions to open it and read only the first line he’d written on the inside.

I hesitantly read aloud:

Merry Christmas Sweetheart,

The presents you receive tonight are not the true gifts.

He handed me a wrapped box and asked me to read the next line.

One will represent our common interests and the time we will spend developing those interests.

In the box was a bridle from my horse. We had a small bit of land and a couple of horses at the time. I had an unmatched saddle and bridle set. The new one matched the saddle perfectly.

I read the next line.

One will represent the beauty I see when I look at you.

That box held a simple silver bracelet with a heart shaped charm. Very pretty. I was tearing up already and there were four lines and three gifts left on the floor in front of me. I looked around at the gathered family. They were all smiles. I wondered if they knew everything about what was going on.

One will symbolize the quiet hours we will spend together.

He pointed to the side door. The whole family trailed behind me as I peeked out. Nothing. I had to all the way out the door to see anything. When I got all the way out I could see there was a new porch swing with a big gold bow on it sitting by the truck.

One will symbolize the warmth we feel with each other.

I tore open this box with no more of a clue as to its contents than I had any of the others. Months earlier I had commented how much I liked the huge white faux fur-lined hood on a coat we saw in a catalogue. He’d remembered and found one with the same fuzzy look. Such a simple thing really but it said so much. I hear you. I listen.

The last gift was rather large and oddly shaped. I read the words,

One will symbolize the pride that I have in you and your accomplishments.

I pulled paper away to find that Allen had gotten my college diploma, honor braids and tassel from my mother. He’d had them beautifully framed. It was huge. I don’t mean in size. With my dyslexia, earning that piece of paper had taken eight years and a lot of effort and tears. He knew that. He said he wanted me to be reminded everyday-- I can.

They were each the perfect gift. Not so much for what Allen bought me, but for the thought and the intention in which he gave them.

Today is Allen’s birthday. He would have been 47. I lost him to cancer nine years after that Christmas. I still have the card. I’m grateful that I have an understanding of what it really means to give from the heart. I also have the coat, the bracelet. I wrote my first novel swinging in that porch swing. (And several since).

I wish you all the best of the holiday season. May you give and receive with heart. Tell me your favorite gift, whether sentimental or fun, and I’ll send one of you a gift. How about a $10 gift card to The Body Shop so you can pamper yourself for a few minutes? Or who knows? You may decide to pass it along as a heartfelt gift for someone else.


~Mari Freeman

Find Mari:

Twitter: @marifreeman


  1. Wow, awesome share, Mari. I don't have anything to share of such sentiment.

    But my husband put some real thought into my 25th Anniversary present. I was on a Mediterrean cruise with my family and he was home in CA. (It was the only date that had the itinerary we all could agree on.) At dinner that night, my parents handed me a card and small gift from my husband. Diamond earrings.

    He's a good man.

  2. One of my favorite gifts was the year my daughters gave me Grinch house shoes. They used to say I was the Grinch around Christmas and it's always been my favorite holiday movie. Unfortunately I lost them sometime when we moved and I've never seen a pair like them. Wishing you a happy holiday season and a very happy new year.

    seriousreader at live dot com

  3. Mari, thank you for sharing such an inportant part of your life. Your story touched my heart. I agree with you about the intention and the thought behind a gift.

    When my husband and I were first dating, he surprised me one morning with a case of spring water and a package of warm, cozy socks. He took notice of how I was always cold and how much I loved to drink bottled water. I knew at that moment he was a keeper. It was the little things he noticed about me that made it so special.

  4. aww that was so sweet had me tearing up.
    sorry for your loss of such a great man :(

  5. I have been out of work and am now in the process of applying for disability. My desk chair had been getting more and more wobbly but I hadn't mentioned it to my partner because I hate making him feel like I expect him to furnish me with everything I need. One day, he just came in with a brand new padded desk chair and set it up for me without a word. It wasnt a special occasion and he made me feel so loved. He said he had been noticing that my chair was in bad shape. :)


  6. What a wonderful man. Thank you for sharing with us. It really touched my heart.

  7. A touching story! A meaningful gift from my past: the holiday when my (then) boyfriend had no money to spend. He so wanted to please me, he rounded up all the green stamps he could find (anybody remember those?!), and redeemed them for a wood sewing box. I still use it. Actually, I ended up divorcing him, and I've remarried....but I still use the sewing box!

  8. Mari, what a blessing to have such an incredible man in your life; I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful gift with us!

    A favorite gift? A friend noticed that someone had stolen the insignia off the back of my car; it wasn't a big deal but it bugged me that was missing. He got me a new one for Christmas--not a huge,extravagant gift, but perfect and showed me that he'd been paying attention :)

    f dot chen at comcast dot net

  9. Thanks for sharing such a memory!!

    Anytime anyone asks me my favorite gift I tell them when I was 18 and my now husband and I had been dating about a year. We went to his sister's house for Christmas (first time I had not been at my own home) and my main gift was an engagement ring.

    Now it is about 17 years later and we are still happily married. I have been very blessed!!


  10. Maureen - Long Distance Diamonds! Now THAT is thoughtful.

    Linda - No sign of Grinch house shoes but check out the Grinch Chucks.

    Kathleen - That's exactly what I'm talking about! Keeper.

  11. Jennifer - Thank you so much.

    Jason - That's sweet. Thoughtful for no particular reason. Even better.

    Crystal - You're welcome. Have a great holiday season.

  12. Shelia - I LOVED Green Stamps. (thanks for making me show my age!) You crack me up! Some things do outlast diamonds.

    flchen1 - Perfect gift. That sort of thing would drive me bonkers.

    Judy - Awwweee.. I got my engagement ring for Christmas two years later.

  13. Oh, Mari, what a heart-warming story. Thank you so much for sharing it.
    I too am dyslexic--so nice that another Decadent author has the gift.
    Happy Holidays

  14. Leanne - The Gift <=== Love it.

    I'll be talking a lot about it on my writer's journal (on my web site). Would love your comments from time to time.

  15. Mari, dang it, I just did my eye make-up!
    You made me tear all up and smile at the same time. Your man was a good one; and still is because the gift he gave you so long ago was re-gifted to us today in the form of this wonderful story.


  16. Heather - I've been very lucky with the men inmy life. Still am today.

  17. Aw, Mari. I read this earlier and started crying. I had to compose myself before I came back to answer. What a truly wonderful gift you had in just having him in your life. I went through a bitter divorce and never thought I'd find someone who truly loved me like that. But ten years ago, on the day after Christmas, I met my husband. And while we may not have the money for extravagant gifts, he gives himself 100% to me and our kids. And that's the best gift I've ever received. Thank you for sharing yours.

  18. On our tenth anniversary my husband gave me a birthstone(yellow topaz)ring with a diamond set on each side of it. My older children gave me guard rings for it set with their birthstones.

    kissinoak at frontier dot com

  19. Hi. My favorite gifts are when my girls make me something. It means sooo much to me.


  20. Mari, You've got me tearing up here! What a wonderful story and memory. You speak of Allen often -- I love how he still lives on in your heart. Love ya, sweetie :)

  21. Mari~Allen knew what a gift HE had in you. :-) The first Christmas my now-husband and I were dating we spent apart. My best Christmas gift was realizing over that holiday that I had fallen in love and wanted to spend all the rest of my Christmas's with him.

  22. Sam, that is so sweet! Love it. :-)

  23. My favorite gifts are always the ones my children made for me when they were little. theyare usually ornament sand I put them up every year and remember.
    debby236 at att dot net

  24. Hand made gifts from my nieces and nephew. Those are really sweet. On year my niece wrote a book about me and her and cooking and baking. lol

  25. What a perfect gift. Thank you so much for sharingI can't think of a single thing to even compare.

  26. I cried reading this, both for the sadness of losing him but too for those beautiful memories that you will have forever. When I lost my mom before Christmas, a dear friend of mine gave me an angel off her tree that she had from her sister and told me it would help me get through. So every year I have that angel to hold and we add a new angel to the tree in memory of her and others each year.

    Thanks for sharing your story Mari.

    cathiecaffey @

  27. for me would be a huge scrap book of me and my family. i love looking at pics of my son and my hubby.

  28. Amazing! Sorry for your loss of such a wonderful man! For me, every year I love getting the silly gifts from my daughter that she makes in school. When growing up, I never realized just how much they must have meant to my mother. I always thought it was so silly to adore the ornaments and projects we'd come home with. Another mommy lesson learned! I adore each and every one of them! Happy Holidays!

  29. Oh, man. You made me cry. To loose so special a man so young. I am so sorry.

    This year may be my most special so far. My hubby got me a kindle and gave it to me early. Not that big a deal, except that I am an avid reader. And he gave it to me earily because I just became a reviewer. Not even a paid position, except in free ebooks, thus the eairly gift. And he is super supportive of me doing this even though it takes time away from him. But he knows how it boosts my self-esteme. I too have dystlexia and was never good at English in school, so doing this really makes me feel good. He even insisted on the higher end Kindle for me! This man is always so good to me, but his support is just great! Esp over something he doesn't really care about (not that he would ever say that, but still). And it doesn't hurt that I love the kindle, either.


  30. Thanks to all for the warm wishes. Your stories have touched me. I love the way we reach out for each other this time of year. I hope the spirit of the holiday season lasts all year round for each of you!

    Amy S., You've won the gift card! Send me an email addy and I'll get it to you.