Nancy Gavin’s husband, Mark, hated Christmas. He didn’t hate family coming together, spending time with loved ones, or celebration. He just hated the shopping, overspending, fretting about the right gifts, and ending up giving a close relative an awful gift.
So one year, Nancy decided not to celebrate Christmas as most know it.
No gift sweaters, no stocking stuffers. Instead, she gave him one white envelope. “The inspiration came in an unusual way,” she wrote in an op-ed.
One of her three children, Kevin, was 12 at the time and had joined wrestling at his school. Just before Christmas, there was a match sponsored by the inner-city church, she wrote, and she saw a bunch of children her son’s age in “sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together.”
By contrast, the children from her son’s school team members were decked out in “spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.”
“As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear,” she wrote.
She explained it was “a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears” that she was used to seeing on her son’s school mates. “It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.”
But that wasn’t the biggest revelation. After the match—and the ragtag team had lost every single one—they still got up and swaggered with a type of pride “that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.”
Then, it was something her husband said.
“I wish just one of them could have won,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.”
Mike had coached little league football, baseball, and lacrosse, he loved kids, and knew what sports could mean to them. And this gave Nancy her idea for a gift.
That same afternoon, she went out to the local sporting goods store and bought wrestling gear in spades, donating them anonymously to that church. And when Christmas rolled around, there was nothing under that tree except for one white envelope, which detailed what Nancy had done this year with Christmas presents, instead of purchasing them for Mike.
“His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year.”
His happiness gave way to a new Christmas tradition, and Nancy kept it up for about a decade, donating hockey tickets to a group of mentally handicapped children one year, and writing a check to help two elderly people whose home had burned down right before Christmas, and so on.
Their children came to love the envelope gift as well. It was always the last gift opened in the household, and with much fanfare. Even as the children grew up, the sentiment remained, Nancy thought.
But then Mike passed away, lost to cancer. Still grieving his loss, Nancy found it hard to even celebrate Christmas that year.
“I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up,” she wrote. But she found the strength to go through with it, and even decided to make her white envelope gift in his memory.
But Christmas morning rolled around, and what she saw there in its place showed what her children really felt.
Along with her white envelope were three others. Each of her children wanted there to be something for their dad—and each had done it unbeknownst to the others.
“The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down the envelope,” she wrote.
“Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.”