My wife, Julie, and I are the parents of six children. During the month of June 2004, we asked our children, ranging in age from 6 to 20, if they could tell us what gifts they had received the previous Christmas. We weren’t too surprised when none of our children could remember the gifts they had received six months earlier. Because of that experience Julie and I decided to try a different Christmas idea.
After several brainstorming sessions, we decided that rather than give toys for Christmas, we would try and give our children the gift of a treasured family memory. We were a bit nervous about telling our kids there would be no typical Christmas gifts that year. We agreed that we would take the gift money and spend it on a vacation house rental so that we could ensure a lot of family time together. We also set aside some spending money for each child.
As our plan evolved, we decided to ask each family member, including our new son-in-law, Bryson, to write a letter to each of their siblings and to Mom and Dad telling them how they felt about them. These letters would be our Christmas gifts. We then decided to invite each family member to write their feelings about the gospel of Jesus Christ so they could also give each sibling and parent a Christmas "testimony gift" along with their letter.
Julie and I nervously presented our plan a month before Christmas and all of our children were on board! We couldn’t have been happier with their reception of the idea. As the weeks passed and Christmas Day approached, each child was busy writing their letters to each sibling and parent.
The week prior to our departure for the vacation home, all the letters and testimonies were gathered and placed into separate Christmas folders. Each Christmas folder contained a cover page with the family member's name.
All the pieces of our plan were in place but we were still nervous about what Christmas morning would be like. Would we be perceived as “Grinch-like” parents who had decided to eliminate toys from the Christmas celebration of their children?
Dec. 24 arrived and we had a wonderful Christmas Eve together as a family. We read together from Luke 2 and had time to think about the Savior and His birth. Unlike other years, not much was said about Santa and his reindeer.
The next morning we enjoyed a delicious Christmas breakfast. We then gathered as a family to share our “Christmas Folders” with each other. Everyone received their folders and began to read the letters from their brothers and sisters. Shortly thereafter the tears began to flow. A wonderful spirit of love enveloped the room. We then invited each family member to read their own testimony out loud to the group. More tears were followed by more love.
Our son, Joseph, who is now serving a mission in Malaga, Spain, looking back on that Christmas morning when he was 9 years old, wrote, “I know that everyone was feeling a lot of love.”
Our daughter, Laura, who was 18 at the time, remembered that Christmas in 2004 this way: “The gift I received that year I have never forgotten. It was the gift of our letters and testimonies. I keep my Christmas Folder with each letter and testimony in my Christmas box and every year I get it out to read. I can remember all of us sitting around on the couches in the living room reading through our folders. It really meant a lot then but it means even more now because it connects our family to each other and to Jesus Christ.”
As that holiday came to a close, Julie wrote, “Not one of the children even mentioned the fact that they didn't get gifts and no one was sad that there weren't any toys. When we were leaving our vacation home they all said it would be a Christmas they would remember forever.”
Christmas 2004 will always be sweet to me because that was the year I received a treasured gift — my Christmas Folder — a collection of letters of love and testimonies from the people who are most dear to me in this world. Even today, as I read through my folder of letters and testimonies, my heart fills with gratitude and love for my dear wife and each of my children.
The following year, we reverted back to our regular Christmas traditions, but that Christmas without toys will forever remain in our memories because that was the Christmas when the spirit and love of Jesus Christ was most fully felt in our young family.