The Simple White Envelope


I did not write this true story but it has touched me deeply and it even brought me to tears. I am going to print it out and ask our families if they’d like to start participating in this beautiful tradition.

“For the Man Who Hated Christmas”

by Nancy W. Gavin

It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years or so.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas–oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it–overspending… the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma—the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears.

It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.

Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids – all kids – and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition–one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn’t end there.

You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.

Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down the envelope.

Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.

Powerful, isn’t it? Having been duped many times before I was curious if it was a true story and it is. The story first appeared in 1982 in Women’s Day Magazine for a contest on The Most Moving Holiday Tradition. In fact, an organization known as, “The White Envelope Project” was created in honor of the story and exists to help organize those who want to give with those who are in need.Here is a link to that organization:

The White Envelope Project

No matter how someone chooses to actually go about giving in their community I really love this idea. When I was growing up I went to Sehome High School in Bellingham, Washington and the school had a wonderful tradition of hosting a program called, “Bring Joy to a Child”. Local teachers would identify children and families in need and each classroom would sponsor a few children. We would all raise money or find gently used items that fit the children/families needs and gather them before the Holidays. For the money that we raised the school had a field trip to the local Fred Meyer where we bought the children items from their wish list. Their lists were more often than not simple and heart wrenching. A coat, some gloves, a blanket … simple things. I remember one year we had a little girl that, along with wanting the typical coat and gloves, was hoping for a bike and her siblings wanted some other items that were also costly, budget wise. Nonetheless we were able to put our heads together and get everything on their lists by using ingenuity and cooperation. We found a bike that was a bit ugly but painted it to look new and added a bike bell to it and tied it off with a huge ribbon. We were able to get one of her brothers a gaming system by each of us hunting around and donating pieces of our own until we had a full video game system. Finally with the money we came up with we were able to buy all of the children new coats, gloves, boots and things for their stockings. What Bring Joy To A Child also did was provide the family with Christmas dinner. Each family received a turkey along with all of the ingredients to complete the meal. To end the program our school would have an assembly where we celebrated the event with music and even a local elementary class would come to sing Christmas songs with us. The highlight was listening to the speakers. Often a child who was helped in the past or the  mother of one of the children would speak about how much the program had meant to them. I am writing about this because of everything I ever did in High School this program sticks out to me the most. It is definitely the  most memorable and I can still tangibly feel how wonderful it felt to help those families. Also, I couldn’t tell you any other presents I gave to anyone else that year or even any presents I had received but I fondly remember shopping and collecting items for the families I helped durin those 4 years. Sadly,  for a few years after I graduated Bring Joy To A Child stopped because of the whole political correctness of celebrating “Christmas.” Luckily, by googling I was able to discover that Sehome is again conducting this wonderful program.

The Simple White Envelope really touched me because several times with various family members we have discussed what we could do instead of exchanging presents among the adults, since none of us really need anything. Sure there are always things we want, but we seldom actually need anything. This seems like such a simple and fun alternative to giving gifts for the adults. Personally, I’d still like to prefer to do a mini Bring Joy to a Child program and adopt a family for the Christmas but this envelope idea allows everyone to find their own unique way to give in a way that resonates with them.

If any of you have Holiday traditions of giving I’d love to hear your stories.

Merry Christmas!



  1. KJ · February 26, 2009

    Hi, as the current coordinator of the Bring Joy Program at Sehome I can assure you that everyone responding has been fed quite a bit of misinformation about the current Program. It still meets every single need that families have in 2009, just like it did in 1988 when it started (by the way I was at Sehome as a student, so I am good on the history of the Program). I am happy that the Program has stuck with you! Please “pass it on” as it were.

    PS… the plastic bins are for families to keep as storage storage, as opposed to having a high garbage/recycling bill from all of the waste of wrapping donations.

  2. journeytocrunchville · December 22, 2008


    That is so sad. I am so tired of all of this being politically correct. To me, it has gotten to the point of silliness. Students should be allowed to opt out of the program if they’d like or if a group of students would like to take it upon themselves to support a family celebrating a different Holiday in need, great! They could also speak up at the program. But for everyone to pretend that Christmas doesn’t exist in the fear of offending others isn’t right either.

  3. maggie · December 22, 2008

    Actually, to the best of my knowledge, the BJTAC program was never discontinued and sadly remains “political” to this day. The assembly now occurs a week before thanksgiving and “holiday” wrapping is frowned upon in favor of “practical” plastic storage bins. I am pretty sure that far fewer families are benefiting from the program. Unfortunately the administrators have a difficult time seeing past the “joy” part of the program and are instead focused on the fear of offending someone.

  4. chandra · December 20, 2008

    I’m learning a lot this Christmas about being humble. We’ve been blessed to be very poor this Christmas (I know that doesn’t sound right) but God has truly used people in our church to minister to us. You do not appreciate what you have or other people until you are in need and those needs are met. We have had several people in our church, some un-named, give us monitary gifts this month. One person had someone hand us a $150 giftcard to Walmart. What a sweet and MUCH appreciated gift!

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