It was the Christmas of 1973.
I had just celebrated my seventh birthday only days before. Up until 1972, my parents had been involved in a church denomination that didn’t celebrate Christmas… but this year was different.
This year, there was a Christmas tree, and a couple of presents under the tree. They weren’t wrapped in flashy red and green “store-bought wrapping”, as Momma described it. They were wrapped in leftover comic strips from the newspaper my dad read, and tied in string (not store-bought bows, because they were too expensive). There were no stick-on tags, either — just my parents’ handwriting and funny faces my dad drew with love. He was an architect, and a decent artist, and I knew he and mom loved us very much.
Since we’d never celebrated Christmas before, that blessed morning couldn’t come soon enough! It was awkward, to say the least, when all the kids at school received gifts at this time of year, and we had not. In hindsight, since we were so poor, it would have been nigh impossible for our parents to afford gifts — especially since there were five of us children, plus a few more.
The previous year had been horrendous for all of us, losing both of my grandparents within six weeks of each other. My mother was only 26, a mom of five little ones, and already struggling in her marriage with my dad. Now, she lost both parents, both of whom were only in their forties.
Not only that, but my mother took in her four youngest little brothers when their parents died (and took in my great-grandfather, who in his nineties), so she now had nine children to raise! In hindsight, I suppose that next Christmas in 1973 was their attempt to create some happiness, new traditions, and good memories after the nightmare we were all suffering through.
So on Christmas morning, we all ran downstairs as fast as we could. We tried to hold our blankets around us until we could reach the warmth of the fireplace. (We often got dressed in front of the fireplace, hiding under our blankets as we changed clothes.)
Next to the fireplace, we gasped with delight at what we saw.
My siblings and I could not believe our eyes!!
Under and around the Christmas tree were more gifts than we could count, but no all of them were wrapped. Some were too big to wrap!
If I recall correctly, I literally cried happy tears when I saw the hand-made doll cradle that my daddy had made for me, out in his shop! There were several hand-made gifts for us, including leather coin pouches and belts (my dad loved making things from materials he bought at the Tandy Leather store there in Tulsa). The leather was dyed in places to make colorful patterns, with our initials or full names on them.
My dad was very skilled both in woodworking and leather making, and he took great joy in every project. He also spent a lot of time with us kids, including my young uncles who’d moved in, as we worked in his shop. (I imagine it was very therapeutic.)
My little sister, Elizabeth, two years my junior, opened a box wrapped in comic strips. Inside was a “new” baby doll… but it looked familiar. Momma quickly explained that she’d bought and glued on new eyelashes and hair for the old doll (that I had played with for years), and that she couldn’t afford two new dolls.
Simultaneously, I opened a similarly wrapped gift, and it had a brand new baby doll in it for me! I was thrilled to have the beautiful new baby doll, with curly blond hair and blue eyes, but I honestly felt sad for my little sister, that her doll wasn’t “brand new”, but “refurbished” (although I didn’t know that word back then). Thankfully, little Liz was thrilled as she hugged her new doll, and I promised I would share the new baby cradle with her.
In another gift we opened, Elizabeth and I delightfully discovered several doll dresses that Momma had made on her sewing machine. Mom was always making things for us like clothes, curtains, and the like. Now we had baby doll dresses!! They looked better than “store-bought” clothes! We were so proud that our mom could make such pretty things!
Even as a seven-year-old, I had a realization that my parents had truly sacrificed to give us these gifts. Some were purchased at a store, but most were hand-made over several weeks period of time, but didn’t require a lot of money.
My parents’ time, talent and love were the most priceless gifts they gave.
Fast-forward about twenty years, and I found myself teaching music to seven hundred elementary school students. The old records and 1970’s era music books we used didn’t provide much variety for selections to perform for a Christmas program. So, being a songwriter, I wrote a few songs (and one poem) for my third grade students, mixed with traditional carols, for our program.
One hilariously funny song was called “Santa’ Claus’ Cookies” (“Santa Claus slipped on a plate of cookies that I left him under the tree…”). The poem was called “The Best Gift”, about giving ourselves at Christmas, or any time of year, “for God, my country, my family, my school”. The other song, which became the students’ favorite, was called “Sweet Baby Jesus”.
In this song, like a modern-day message of The Little Drummer Boy, a poor person (like me, as a child) who has no monetary gifts to offer the baby Jesus, asks this question:
Sweet baby Jesus, what can I give to You?
Sweet baby Jesus, God’s only Son!
Sweet baby Jesus, what can I give
But my heart, my life, my song?
I’d recorded a simple “home demo” of the song so my students could sing it while I directed. A few months later, I burned a CD with a few songs I’d written and gave copies to my parents and my two best friends, Trish and Cindy. Cindy was (and still is) a middle school teacher, and would often play music in her classroom during less structured times. Once her students heard “Sweet Baby Jesus”, they begged to sing it at their Christmas program at their school (Kindergarten through eighth graders). As of today, Norwood School has been singing “Sweet Baby Jesus” every year since 1996!
Three weeks ago, as of this writing, I finally professionally recorded that song (and “O Holy Night”, when I attended our missionary gathering of Artists in Christian Testimony, International in Nashville, TN). My “little gift” that I thought was only for 120 third grade students, spread to a couple thousand more students, and now is being sent out to radio stations around the world, with several already playing it! (Downloads of my music helps fund missions and ministries around the world through Wright Ministries/ Artists in Christian Testimony, International. That includes this blog, local foster care and crisis pregnancy ministries in Oklahoma & nationwide, assisting orphans/ orphanages in Chagallu, India and Zambia, Africa, sharing the hope of Christ, and giving FREE music & CDs away everywhere I go. THANK YOU for being a part of this life-changing mission! Donate here🙂
Here’s another GIFT just for YOU, my dear readers!
Becky’s Top 10 Low-Cost but High-Impact Gift-Giving Guide
- Framed family photo (or photo of kids or grandkids) Cost: < $10
- Photo album (even the $1 albums that hold 24 photos 4X6″) Cost: < $8
- Framed poem or letter written to someone you love or appreciate. (I have a framed poem my son wrote for me when he was 15. PRICELESS! Cost: $3 – $8 (depending on frame)
- Hand (or computer) made gift certificates for acts of service/ love (My hubby made me a book of twelve of these, one to be used monthly, for special date nights, other things we often fail to do. My daughter made some for foot rubs, various household chores “with a smile”, breakfast in bed, etc.) Cost: $1 … Just printer ink, paper, & scissors to cut apart
- Hanging plant (with or without flowers), or portable vegetable garden (like tomatoes, etc.) Cost: $8 – $20 (varies)
- Photo CD: I’ve put literally hundreds of photos (old and recent) onto CDs, burned for my mom and others. She LOVE it, treasures it, and looks at them on her computer frequently. Cost: $1 (the CD)
- Family video: Make even a brief video of you, your family, silly and/or serious (BOTH is best!). Share it online with those you love, and/or burn it to a DVD and give to perhaps grandparents or those who may not have internet access, but they own a DVD player.
Cost: $1 (the DVD you burn)
- Photo calendar, photo mug, photo mouse pad, etc. I use www.Shutterfly.com, but several companies make them. Cost: $10-20
- New bath or kitchen towels / oven mitts. These don’t have to be fancy or pricey, and most people (if they’ve lived at least 30 years) could use some new ones! Example: 2 bath towels, 2 hand towels & 2 washcloths. Or, buy low-cost kitchen t-towel, cut it in half, and sew a ruffle (or pleated fabric) on the bottom, handle with ties or a large button on top. I made these for years, sold them and gave as gifts. (Required skill to make custom towels: Basic sewing.) Cost: $5-$30
- Hand-made (with a sewing machine or serger) pillow cases. Everyone needs a fresh set of pillow cases, for extra pillows, or to freshen theirs in between changing all the bed linens. I’ve received these as gifts, and made and given many, myself. One-of-a-kind gift, especially with the myriad of fabric designs available (pet lovers, Disney characters, camouflage, Christmas designs, endless ideas!) Cost:$10-$20, depending on fabric chosen
Ahhh — and there’s always the AUTOGRAPHED CD by yours truly, Becky Wright! Seriously, from the countless comments and testimonials I’ve received, this music is a BLESSING that continues to impact lives around the world! And, your order helps us continue in our various outreaches worldwide. Order before Dec. 16th (my birthday!) and I’ll customize my autograph and message on the CD to whomever you wish! Here are 5 album choices. AND, if you order any CD by Dec. 16th, you will receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of my brand new Christmas song, “Sweet Baby Jesus”. Give a gift- get a gift!!!