Best Christmas Ever?

December 7, 2023 | Jim Angehr

“Jim, did you get anything good for Christmas?” I was asked by friends after returning to school after Christmas break.


But yes.

It was like this. In third grade, I figured that it was time to go big or go home when it came to Christmas presents. As a veteran of many Santa experiences by that time, I decided to go to my parents and report to them that I was making a decisive pivot away from my previous gift-receiving strategy: instead of being given lots of small things, this year I only wanted one big thing.
I was going for my version of a Red Rider BB gun, namely a high end (at the time), off road, radio controlled car. It had shocks and springs, rubber tires that actually inflated, and a remote control range farther than the eye could see.

It was going to be the Christmas presents to end all Christmas presents. My little brother, Mark, undoubtedly on Christmas morning, was going to weep tears of salty jealousy upon beholding my new radio car.

And weep jealously Mark did, which gratified me deeply.

However, Mark sadly would have the last laugh. After we got through the unwrapping phase of 12/25 that year––running downstairs way too early, reading Santa’s note, tearing through stockings, pausing for breakfast, and then finally digging into the main stash–it was time for me to unbox my radio car, add batteries, take it outside, and let ‘er rip.

It was glorious. My radio car represented the absolute apotheosis of human ingenuity and engineering. Never before had such sheer power and dogged ruggedness been combined with so much blinding speed and uncanny style.

But then, the fateful words were uttered by my brother, “Jim, when is it my turn?”

“You don’t get a turn. It’s still Christmas morning, so go play with your stuffed animals,” was my sagacious reply. For his part, though, Mark seemed not to appreciate my point of view. He ran inside.

Five minutes later, Mark reemerged with my father in tow, and my dad pronounced, “Jim, let your brother have a turn.”

“No! He’s going to break my car,” I rejoined.

“Mark,” my dad asked, “will you break Jim’s car?”

Mark: “I promise I won't!”

Reluctantly, I handed over the control box to Mark, who proceeded straightaway to break my car.

The efficiency with which Mark rendered my one big Christmas present inoperable was quite breathtaking, actually: he seized the radio wheel and then ran my car at full speed into the the foot of our garage door. Three seconds total, tops.

Memory is hazy at this point. I believe that Mark survived the day, but I spent a fair amount of Christmas day banished to my room.

All in all, it wasn’t a great Christmas for me, but there’s a silver lining. A couple days after Christmas, my dad and I after dinner drove aways to the Sears mega-center in Metairie, LA, to see about an exchange for my car. Once we hopped in the minivan, I could tell that my dad was in a pensive mood. I don’t know if it was something that he had been planning on doing for a long time, or if he happened simply to seize an opportune moment in an unscripted way, but he intimated to me, “Jim, you’re about at the age I was when my own father died. I figure that since we’ll be in the car for a while here, it’s time for me to tell you more about him.” And he did.

My dad’s dad died when he was only eight years old, and many of the most precious things I’ve ever learned about the grandfather I never knew came from that ride to Sears. Because Mark broke my car.

So, my Christmas gift didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, but I got something better.

At Liberti Collingswood this past Sunday, I was talking about how although Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way for us. Often around the holidays, difficult circumstances cluster together, whether particular stresses, family crises, or old sadnesses coming back around.

The good news in the midst of our not-so-great Christmases is that our mixed bag of holiday experiences turns out to have a place within the real Christmas message itself. The “Christian Christmas” much more resembles Charlie Brown’s beat up tree than Rockefeller Center.

The center of the Christmas story is the birth of a possibly bastard child to poor parents in a backwater town. No light show, no ice skating, no music, no grandeur. If there were, I’m not sure that we’d be able to sing about the birth of Jesus, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee [i.e., Bethlehem] tonight” (italics mine). The first Christmas has plenty of room for your holiday fears, your Christmas anxieties, and your New Year’s depressions.

And so, even if your Christmas isn’t great, the main point isn’t what’s under the tree anyway but the consolation in Christ that follows along after it. The living Lord holds you in your sadness and through the advent, crucifixion, and resurrection of his son is committed to love you through it.



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