The best gifts of Christmas

More than a decade ago associate editor Ken Knutson and I covered one of my favorite Christmas stories of all time.

Hinsdale's Wes Gibson and his elves - or rather, employees - from Gibson Consulting Inc. visited homes in this village, Burr Ridge and Willowbrook to bring Christmas to six families who were clients of HCS Family Services. They baked cookies, brought and decorated trees and left a host of gifts to be opened Christmas morning. One family received a new car, another a minivan. I still tear up reading the story and column I wrote after having the privilege to witness what happened that day.

Another moving experience was attending the Hinsdale Junior Woman's Club 25th annual Gifts of the Season event at Grace Episcopal Church in 2015.

Club members collected $22,000 in donations of cash and toys to create a shopping area where 130 parents - who sign up to participate through HCS - could choose about $50 worth of items for each of their children and some extras, like wrapping paper and a grocery gift card. I couldn't tell who was more grateful to be there - the moms and dads receiving the help or the club members who were able to provide it.

Two years later I was present when Assistance League Chicagoland West passed out new winter coats to more than 200 low-income students at Anne M. Jeans School as part of its Operation School Bell program. I saw the joy on kids' faces as they tried on their new coats and saw the smiles as they realized they were receiving new hats and gloves as well.

In my 30-plus years of reporting, I've covered dozens of stories of people reaching out to help others - and not just during the holiday season. Following the tragedy of 9/11, sharing stories of people helping others was one of the things that kept me going. I'll never forget the one elementary school that collected $2,000 - in nickels - to help victims of the terrorist attacks.

The stories at Christmastime, though, seem to resonate even more. I'm reminded of one of my favorite holiday stories, O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi." The tale is about a young husband and wife who each give up their most prized possessions to buy the perfect Christmas gift for the other. The reader soon learns Jim has sold his watch to buy Della jeweled combs for her hair and she has cut and sold her hair to buy a gold chain for his watch.

"The magi, as you know, were wise men - wonderfully wise men - who brought gifts to the newborn Christ-child," Henry writes in the closing paragraph. "They were the first to give Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were doubtless wise ones. And here I have told you the story of two children who were not wise. Each sold the most valuable thing he owned in order to buy a gift for the other. But let me speak a last word to the wise of these days: Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise. Everywhere they are the wise ones. They are the magi."

That is the miracle of Christmas - we can love so deeply that we are willing to give up what is most precious to us.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

What a gift to witness and write about so many magi.

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean