The gratitude of a little girl teaches us the true meaning of Christmas.
When I was a kid, growing up in Brooklyn, my family didn't celebrate Christmas Eve. But my best friend Karen's family did.
They were Italian, and, according to tradition, they had a huge meal on Christmas Eve with 13 different kinds of fish. Then they opened presents. I always spent Christmas Eve with Karen's family, as she would celebrate Christmas day with mine.
The year Karen and I were 17, her 11-year-old sister, Mary Ann, asked for a Christmas stocking that was as tall as she was. Karen's mother told her friends and everyone in the family to buy small presents for Mary Ann, things that would fit into a Christmas stocking, and to wrap each of them individually.
When I arrived at Karen's house that Christmas Eve, there were packages under the tree for everyone—everyone but Mary Ann, who was poking around, clearly wondering where her present was.
Then her father called her out to the back stoop where the Christmas stockings always hung. And there was an enormous stocking for Mary Ann which her mother had made out of red furry fabric with a white furry top. It was huge—probably five feet tall and two feet wide. Her father and her brother made a show of how heavy it was as they carried it into the living room so she could open it.
As Mary Ann's mother had instructed, every single item in the stocking was wrapped. Mary Ann probably had at least 100 presents to open, silly little nothing presents—a pack of gum, a candy bar, a headband.
But what impressed me more than anything was that, as Mary Ann unwrapped each pair of socks, or candy, or envelope of bubble bath, she'd cry out, "This is my favorite thing in the world!" Or, "This is exactly what I wanted!"
When she got down to the toe of the stocking and found her "big present" (a birthstone ring) she liked and appreciated it. But she was no more excited by that than by all the small things. She just adored this incredible bounty. I've never seen a kid so overjoyed by any gift.
Karen and I have stayed friends, and whenever we reminisce about the holidays, we always bring up the year that Mary Ann got the Christmas stocking that was as big as she was.
The message of that Christmas, to me, is that the smallest gifts can bring the most joy. The very humble gifts mean more than expensive ones. And I also think that Mary Ann's joyful response to these simple gifts exemplified how we should feel about all our blessings, no matter how small.
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