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Editor’s Take

The Christmas code


Every year, since our kids were old enough to read, the presents have gone under our Christmas tree without tags.

Instead, my wife Lee Ann and I come up with a code to identify which gift belongs to which child. We’d write the code — either a letter or a number, or a combination — very lightly on one corner of the underside of each wrapped gift. The rationale was simple: if the kids snooped under the tree, they’d have no way of telling which gift belonged to whom.

Times have changed, of course, since our kids have grown. At the age our three are now — Zach’s 31, Addison is 29 and Karis will soon be 27 — the volume of presents has significantly decreased. There’ll be lots for our 9-month-old granddaughter, Charlotte (and for our soon-to-be-born grandson), but as for our three, there are no more toys. The gifts we do give reflect their more adult needs and wants; as time has passed, we’re spending more money on experiences with our children as opposed to things.

But we still talk about “the code,” and the presents we’ve wrapped and placed by our tree again this year bear no tags or names — just a barely legible notation in one corner.

Coming up with the code was usually my job. It started off as something pretty simple — for instance, taking the third letter of their first name and writing that down (“c” for Zachary, “d” for Addison and “r” for Karis) faintly near a corner of the gift. As the children got older, the code got a bit more complex and usually involved substituting numbers which corresponded with letters in the alphabet (1 for a, 5 for e, etc.). We might take the last letter in each of their middle names, for example, go back five letters in the alphabet, and work the code from there.

That would occasionally make for some interesting Christmas mornings at our house when Lee Ann and I would have trouble remembering exactly what the code was. More than once, perplexed over the code we’d created weeks and weeks before, we had to identify one gift as belonging to a particular child, then find the faintly-written letter or number somewhere on the gift — and then work backward to extrapolate the code.

One year, a long time ago, late on a Christmas Eve, after Zachary and Karis had gone to bed, Addison — our musician and mathematician, the kid who taught himself how to read at age 2 (unbelievable, except to the people who know Addison) — puzzled over the letters on the various gifts for a few minutes, then broke the code.

When at last he figured it out, he was surprised the code was so easy. That year, if I recall, the code was a letter — the letter coming before the last letter of their name in the alphabet...X for Zachary (written so that it could be seen as an “X” or a “T”), M for Addison (written to that it could be seen as an “M” or a “W”) and an R for Karis.

The code’s purpose was partially to confuse a wayward child, but ultimately it was to provide identification.

It got me thinking about the puzzle that is the birth of Christ, which for us is what Christmas is about. Some people get so caught up in trying to figure out all the permutations of life’s code — a creation coming from a Creator, a divine path, the prophecies, a miraculous birth, a sacrificial death, a redemptive plan — they forget that the point of it all is a gift, the gift of God’s Son. It’s a personal gift. Each of us has been given a gift, a gift with our name written plainly on the tag.

There’s a mystery, surely, but it starts with the gift — and at some point simply making the decision to accept the gift.

This Christmas, I hope you do. Unwrap with joy. And Merry Christmas.