The Parable of the Christmas Mattress

Lately I’ve been asking friends and family to share their favorite Christmas memories! Here’s one of mine:

One of my most memorable Christmases was when I was about 11 years old. My mom was very sick that year, and while we never had much money growing up, that year seemed especially tight. I knew not to expect much for Christmas, but I remember asking my parents for my very own box of 64 Crayola crayons, complete with the built-in crayon sharpener. That Christmas morning, when I opened a package of brand-new crayons, that I didn’t have to share with any one of my siblings, I was thrilled. I also received a coloring book and a pair of gloves.

Knowing that Christmas wasn’t going to be very big that year, I was actually quite happy with my presents, until I saw my 6-year old sister open her gift.

Her present was larger in size than any other present under the tree, and my siblings and I all coveted it, because in our minds, bigger meant better. My parents had given her a foam, egg-carton mattress pad. I think it cost only a few dollars at the store, but in our childish minds, we were very aware that she got the best present that year.

My sister and I had shared a double mattress our whole lives, but I wanted my own bed. A few months before Christmas, I was rummaging through our basement and found a twin-sized mattress, box springs base, and two bed frames. At the time, I didn’t understand what a box springs base was. All I saw was two beds for two little girls… one soft mattress, and one very hard mattress.

After convincing my parents to let us change out our bed, I then did something that I still feel shame about. I wanted that soft mattress so much that I manipulated my little sister into taking the hard mattress… convincing her that it would be better for her younger, still-developing spine. She willingly followed my plan, and slept on the box springs without complaint.

I’m further ashamed to admit, that when I saw my sister open the biggest present on Christmas morning, a cheap egg-carton foam topper for her box springs bed, I was a little jealous. I saw the love my parents had put in to making my sister’s bed nicer, and I was aware that had I taken the hard mattress, I might be the one getting the foam pad for Christmas.

Later that day, one of my brothers asked why we all didn’t get foam pads for our beds. My mother, who had felt so bad about giving the mattress pad to her 6-year old for Christmas, lovingly explained that our sister had basically been sleeping on a wood and cardboard box, while we all had soft mattresses. And as I thought of this, I began to realize my mistakes. I had put my own wants and needs ahead of my sister, and had even tricked her into get what I wanted.

Christmas is a time of giving, but it’s also a time of getting, and it’s easy to let the entitlement creep in, making us dissatisfied and unappreciative of the love people put in to the gifts they give us. That year I had focused a little too much on what I was getting, rather than what I was giving. But when I saw the love my parents had given, my heart was changed.

After apologizing to my mom and sister, I helped place the foam pad on my sister’s bed, replace the sheets and bedding, and tried to help make it extra special by adding a few of my own stuffed animals. Later that evening, as I shared my new set of crayons with my sister, I felt peace, and I was glad that she, who had unselfishly let me have the softer mattress, had received the biggest present that year.

The best Christmas presents are the ones given with love. My parents used their limited resources on a box of crayons, and foam mattress, and while they weren’t expensive and shiny, they were thoughtful presents that my parents knew we’d love. And the lessons those two simple presents taught me about sacrifice and selflessness will continue to last throughout the years.

Now it’s your turn! I’d love to hear about one of your memorable Christmases!

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