Christmas is still a special time even for a 70-year-old like me, and it is still fun to receive and open gifts during this holiday season. But it is nothing like the sheer joy and excitement of opening Christmas presents as a kid — wondering what each wrapped box might contain.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing the old saying “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I thought that meant “it is better to give than to receive” and as a youngster, I felt that was definitely not true — it is so much more “better” to receive than to give! As a little kid it seemed so obvious that it is much more fun to get than to give.

When I got older, and was more able to earn money and give gifts to people I cared about, I began to experience and understand the wisdom of that old saying — it really is more blessed (and enjoyable) to give than to receive. I realized that there is a deep human joy and gratification that comes in blessing other people and making them happy through giving that you just cannot experience in any other way.

Speaking of gifts and since we are in the Christmas season, I do remember some gifts that I got as a child but the implications of the gift and its blessings I did not realize until many years later.

Years and years ago, for several Christmases, I would get the most wonderful gifts from a certain family and each year I couldn’t wait to open these wrapped gifts that were sitting under the Christmas tree. These were very costly gifts — one year an elaborate electric train set with a locomotive that puffed fake smoke, another year an expensive telescope or a fancy microscope, and another year, a top-of-the-line steel toy truck (which is still in good working condition today over 60 years later). I didn’t know why I got these top-of-the-line gifts — I thought perhaps because I was “good” or somehow deserving of it — but then I figured, why question a good thing? You hope it just keeps on coming.

Many decades later, I attended the funeral for the father of the family who was so generous, and as I thought about the man and the gifts he gave me each Christmas, I finally came to understand the flow of blessings that had taken place on those Christmas mornings of long ago.

When I was about five years old, my parents took in and cared for this man’s daughter, a girl about my age.   The mother of this family came down with TB (not uncommon back in those days) and the father, who was a gardener, could not care for their daughter, so she came to live with us for a year or two while her mother recuperated in a sanitarium. After the mother regained her health, the daughter returned home. It was this family that gave me such amazing toys — far beyond what might be expected from a gardening family that was not wealthy.

My parents gave of their love and time to care for their young daughter and it was out of appreciation to my parents that this family gave generously at Christmas time in the form of wonderful gifts for me. I, who had done nothing to deserve these gifts, was the unwitting beneficiary of my parents’ act of kindness. This connection I did not realize until the funeral so many years later.

The story of Christmas is about Jesus of Nazareth being born on Earth as a gift and a blessing to mankind from God, and not because we deserve or earned this gift in any way. The word “Nativity” has its roots in the meaning of “God’s gift” — and it is my hope we can all experience the blessings of what it means to give and what it means to receive gifts, especially those we did nothing to earn but are simply the expression of love and appreciation from the giver.

Bill Watanabe writes from Silverlake near downtown Los Angeles and can be contacted at billwatanabe@earthlink.net. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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