The Christmas Gift

I carried it in the house in a dark plastic bag so no one would know it’s from me. It’s our yearly gathering much like the ones in the past. Or, is it the same? Wrapped in bright, shiny, red paper with a fancy bow on top. 

It’s been under the Christmas tree forever. Only a few hours. The waiting kills me, always has. Will she like it? Why didn’t I shop a while longer? All these barriers between now and then. We still haven’t eaten. Dessert takes forever. I sure hope that no one wants coffee. That only drags it out with your choice of decaf/regular, mocha, sugar and what type of milk. Whatever happened to just a quick cup of black coffee?

A gift, any gift is special. It’s the surprise. Unspoken communication between the giver and the receiver. The only control I had was its purchase. What happens when it’s opened … is open to anything.

The place is full with constant laughter and the chatter (some you hear, others you overhear). A suspension of time in this small, allotted time. It’s time spent with family that becomes even more precious as the years pile up. My young nephew corrects me because I missed adding 1/2 to his 7 years. Politics, of course runs its length with no resolutions. Biden, Trump. Trump, Biden. Along with a sprinkling of Bernie thrown in from the one family member we’ve always been suspicious of.
And, there my gift remains. It’s still there under the Christmas tree. 

Oh wait! Just now, someone put another gift on top of it. That means a further delay. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that cup of coffee. I’m getting nervous. The family told me what she wanted. They all said, appearing to be humble and unassuming,“Nothing fancy, just small things is fine.”

One only gets one shot at gatherings like this. No gift would have been all right but we were expected to bring one to exchange. (Remember the theme? “Family?” Let’s hear that sentence once more.) If you, for instance, chose for one year not to bring a gift you then you’d become the retold story for endless years, complete with laughter. “Do you remember the time when everybody brought a gift to share except Joe?”

Have you ever reached a point in time when time just stops? The family are all mingling and doing their party-type thing but you somehow find yourself stepping back and observing it all. In your mind, you are filming this gathering, like a director only without you directing. It’s happening before you and it is happening now. It will never be duplicated. It may try to repeat itself but it can never be duplicated. I see my gift now. Now, mine is four gifts deep under the tree. I should have come late like everyone else.

Time finally resumes. Bathroom visits are completed and people seem ready for what I wanted since I arrived. What? Is that a fifth gift on top of mine? Now they’ll never see it. It’s what I’ve been waiting for. Does mental telepathy help as I transmit my gift’s description to the one in charge, the oldest? “It’s the gift wrapped in the bright, shiny red paper with the fancy bow on it,” I keep repeating to myself seeing that she’s over there laughing and missing my sonic message. The laughter grows louder as each gift is presented and quickly ripped open. Academy Awards should be given for facial expressions wondering whether the gift is truly accepted or merely acknowledged.

“It’s the red wrapped one,” I say to myself as more time passes and the family seems to grow restless waiting for the ending. “It’s the one on the bottom! I murmur to God, I’ll quit smoking if it’s handed out right now,” knowing He doesn’t believe me either. 

With the passing of all my anxious waiting moments since arriving, my moment is captured and contained in a single moment. Presented by the oldest. Carefully unwrapped by the recipient. Her surprised look looks authentic as I felt a warming in my heart. She looked up at the family and smiled. She liked it.

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on
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