“Don’t touch!” my mom gently scolded as I stretched out my hand towards the kitchen table. But the eight-year-old me was so fascinated by what I saw. It was hard to resist. I wanted to touch all the shininess laid out before me.
My family loved Christmas. We went all out with decorating, presents and traditions. It was the mid 1970s and like most families, there was no swipe-of-the-credit-card to get through spending season. My parents had five stockings to fill, five piles of presents to wrap, a mountain of eggs to scramble, and plenty of cinnamon rolls to bake for Christmas morning.
So, each year we’d make something special by hand. This particular year, Mom and Dad were working over a hot stove – literally. I wasn’t aware of the entire process but I knew it involved boiling hot water, and a high risk of cracking the balls. The cooling process was on the kitchen table, tempting little hands to touch the glossy spheres. But I knew how hard Mom and Dad were working on these very special Christmas presents. These shiny resin balls would eventually be a beautiful cluster of grapes. The acrylic grape clusters were all the rage. People were putting them on their coffee tables above their shag rug carpets with their dark wood paneling in the background. Mom and Dad needed to make three sets of these and then, maybe one for themselves. Beyond 70’s cool.
That Christmas was one of the years we would pack up the two-toned green and wood-paneled station wagon. We were driving from Reno to Phoenix – a long, desolate trip. We’d stay with Nanny and Grandad while we were there. Mom’s two sisters, their two husbands and all the cousins would be there too. We were going to have a blast.
But before leaving, Mom and Dad needed to finish this grueling project. All the resin balls were formed, uncracked and cooled off. They wired them around a gnarled piece of wood that would act as the stem of the grape cluster. The grapes were carefully placed in boxes, then wrapped in Christmas paper. The boxes were loaded into the green and wood-paneled station wagon, along with all the other efficient packing decisions. Then we headed for Nanny and Grandad’s house.
I still remember the evenings after dinner there. All the adults would be sitting in the living room. They’d be talking and. . .laughing. Oh my, the laughing! I think Dad was mostly responsible – provoking and participating. I thought for sure someone was going to wet their pants. They’d wipe tears from their eyes as they tried to regain their composure. Even though I had no idea what they were laughing about, I thought it was wonderful.
This particular night was Christmas Eve. Everyone was stuffed with good food, complained and rubbed their stomachs. The adults were sitting around having dessert and drinking coffee. The conversation turned to what’s in style. Someone brought up “those grapes.”
“Have you seen them?” the conversation began.
“The glass balls – I think they’re acrylic – tied around some driftwood.”
“They’re supposed to look like grapes.” Chuckle.
“Resin hospitality. Welcome to our home. Here, have a grape!” They teased.
“Yeah…people are putting them on their coffee tables.”
“I’ve seen them. They’re really tacky.”
“Yeah. I won’t put anything like that in my house.”
Mom and Dad didn’t say anything that night. They went on through the evening as if nothing was wrong.
But as they were climbing into the fold-out couch bed, Mom said to Dad, “What are we going to do?”
“What can we do?” Dad replied.
“The presents are already wrapped and under the tree.”
The next morning after the kids went through all their gifts, the adults sat down to open theirs. Now, I should explain. We aren’t the “rip everything open all at once” kind of family. We take turns, youngest to oldest. It’s been a tradition for years. It usually takes hours. From a kid’s perspective it’s a little bit of a torture. But for an adult, the giving and receiving is rotated on a rotisserie throughout the morning.
So, as the story has been retold dozens of times, it was Nanny’s turn. She picked up the wrapped box. Mom shifted nervously. Dad was not cracking any jokes. When she opened it and saw what was inside, she immediately looked up at my mom. Her face dropped as she remembered the conversation the night before. The rest of the audience jeered her to let them see.
With lips quivering, she pulled the grapes out of the box. Then the tears started. The other two couples looked under the tree only to realize that there were two more boxes, the same size, same wrapping, waiting for them as well.
By now, all the women were crying. Everyone told my parents how sorry they were for what had been said the night before. Mom and Dad were, of course, gracious and forgiving. The morning was a little jaded. But overall, nothing was ruined for the day or for the trip.
But the story is legendary in my family.
Each Christmas, commercials would start to play, catalogs would come in the mail. And we’d all start to chatter about presents and what we hoped for. As we’d get closer to Christmas Day, you could always hear one of my parents saying, “Remember the grapes!”
We’d ask for the story to be told over and over again, even though we knew it so well. The husbands and a wife joined the family. Then the grandkids. The story was told again for new ears.
People always say that Christmas is about giving.
But I push back.
I think it’s really about receiving.
Christmas is celebrating the greatest gift we’ve ever been given. The gift of Jesus Christ. And isn’t it all about receiving Him? Receiving Him with gratitude and humility?
If I don’t receive Him, then Christmas really is just about the giving. Just that God gave His son for us. That’s it. End of the Christmas story. Awesome, by the way.
But when we receive this gift – or any gift – that’s when the real magic of Christmas begins.
It’s in the receiving.
Beautiful in and of itself.
The receiving is surprisingly life-changing.
Just like the grapes, I can critique the gift.
It doesn’t suit me. It’s not my style.
It’s just not “my thing.”
It’s too restrictive, too boring, too hard to understand. But if I would just stop. Just open the gift and put it on the coffee table of my life.
I might love it. . .
It might look great at the core of my life – against the backdrop of my “style.”
It might just be the greatest “look” I’ve ever gone for.
I may even appreciate it more because it was made just for me.
Because of the blood, sweat and heartache that went into the gift, it would mean …
…well, it would mean everything.
I’m so grateful for this little story in my family’s history. I still catch myself every now and then starting the pre-Christmas gift judgments. But I can usually stop short – my parents’ voices ringing in my head, “Remember the grapes!”
“For unto us, a child is born.” -Isaiah 9:6
For unto me, a gift received.