My father-in-law was in his late teens at the time of the Great Depression. He was a driven young man who always worked hard and never settled for second best. When he graduated from high school, he earned a full scholarship to the University of Toronto.
But he couldn’t take it.
There was no social safety net then—no employment insurance, or universal health care, or welfare.
His parents were not able to work, and they were a poor family in Cabbagetown. My father-in-law passed up the full scholarship to university to take a job stamping sizes in underwear, so that his family could have a place to live and food to eat.
He was working the evening shift one Christmas Eve in the mid-1930s.
After midnight, in the early hours of Christmas morning, he walked home in the dark. He passed a Christmas tree lot, closed for the night. There was no tree at his house that year. In downtown Toronto, Christmas-like trees in their natural setting were not to be found, and the family could not afford to buy one.
He pondered the trees leaning there. They were unwanted now that Christmas was upon them. He picked one up, carried it home and spent several hours through the night decorating it. When his parents woke up the next morning, their gift was a decorated Christmas tree.
How many of us take our Christmas trees for granted now?
Could we imagine a situation where a Christmas tree would be out of reach for us? How much things have changed.
I think of this story often at Christmas. My father-in-law did something wrong—he took something that belonged to someone else without paying. And yet, he did something so right. The love and devotion he had for his family he gave to them in the guise of a Christmas tree that year.