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The year we gave up Christmas to give back
tis the season
Mom looked at us kids with the most apologetic look as the tears flowed faster now. "I wanted to ask you guys what you thought about giving up your Christmas this year 'for them.'" - photo by KSL

It was summer when Mom had first mentioned the idea of our going as a family to Disney World. We were ecstatic. Because we were a family of 12, trips that necessitated hotels and plane rides were extremely rare. This would be a first for many of us. Before we got too excited, Mom explained to us that the only way this trip would be possible was if each of us worked hard and saved up money to pay some of our own way. We weren’t worried about that, though.
Mom and Dad had taught us from a young age the value of hard work. We jumped right in with baby-sitting, paper routes, odd jobs, lawn mowing and anything else that got us closer to our goal, until one day we made it.
Not too long after that, Mom gathered us all into the living room. I sensed that something was wrong when I saw tears in her eyes.
“We just learned that your bus driver’s 11-year-old daughter had a heart attack recently. She’s been in the hospital and I’m sure the bills are piling up. I can’t imagine that there’s much left over for Christmas.”
I wondered why Mom was telling us this. My bus driver wasn’t very friendly. He even yelled at us sometimes. I wasn’t very fond of him and neither were my siblings. Still, I was surprised to hear that he had a daughter just a few years older than me.
Mom continued, “And, there are some kids that are in a rough situation that attend your school.” The tears started to roll from mom’s cheeks. “Then there was that boy at the junior high who recently committed suicide. His family needs money for a gravestone …,” Mom’s voice trailed off.
I couldn’t understand what was happening, but some of the older kids had started to cry too.
“There’s so much need.” Mom shook her head.
She looked at us kids with the most apologetic look as the tears flowed faster now. “I wanted to ask you guys what you thought about giving up your Christmas this year … for them.”
It was silent for a few seconds until one of my siblings spoke what we all wondered. “You mean, give up Florida?”
Mom nodded. She looked heartbroken.
Even as a young child I could see how hard this was for Mom. She almost looked like she wanted us to say no so that she could appease her conscience, yet still give her children the Christmas they had earned.
Although difficult, it didn’t take long for us to come to a unanimous decision.
We also understood that with our decision Santa would not magically appear on Christmas morning and reward us for our good deed. Mom made sure we knew what was at stake. This would truly be giving up our Christmas gifts — all of them.
Not long after that, I remember the envelope of cash anonymously left on the bus driver’s seat and my brothers and sisters excited faces as they shared their experience of leaving Christmas gifts, food and money on the porch of their various school mates’ houses and then hiding and watching their reactions from a distance.
I also remember gathering up my courage months later to ask my bus driver if his daughter was OK. He nodded and then thanked me for asking. After that, he was no longer just my bus driver, but a dad with a daughter close to my age.
Mom was wrong about one thing that year, though. Santa did come. I received a paint-by-number set and a baby doll. My brother received some Legos and a game. My other siblings, received clothes and ski paraphernalia. The gifts meant everything to us because we hadn’t expected them.
It wasn’t until years later when my brother and I, now adults, were reminiscing about that Christmas, that Mom disclosed to us who Santa was that year.
My oldest sister, just 22 at the time, had worked long hours in retail, saved up all of her money for weeks and spent every last dime on her eight younger siblings.
That was the year we all gave up Christmas to find it.
Kate Rose Lee is a mother of three and author. You can read more of her writing as well as her books at
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