God never meant for children to receive underwear for Christmas. The Wise Men did not bring Jesus underwear as one of their gifts. Christmas is for toys and joys. Underwear falls into neither category.
Yet, every year of childhood, one of my aunts seemed designated to give me underwear. One year it might be Aunt Mildred, another year Aunt Lola. At least those years were better than Aunt Bill's year; she would give hand-me-downs from her son Bob (and yes, I have an Aunt Bill. Her name is Billie Jean. It's a Southern thing). I never knew if this was orchestrated by my mother or not.
There was less money those days. Mama knew I needed underwear more than toys. I already knew enough Bible to know Adam and Eve didn't wear underwear. I told Mama I didn't need any either, but she told me they sinned and God made them wear underwear. Then she informed me I had sinned also, so I needed to wear underwear, too ("Let him who is without sin among you not wear underwear?").
One Christmas, my underwear frustration reached its peak. I think it was Aunt Iris' turn to buy me underwear. I opened the package and saw six pairs of white Fruit of the Looms. In disgust, I threw down the box and exclaimed, "I hate getting underwear for Christmas!"
The crowded room of aunts, uncles and cousins went quiet. In a low lethal voice, my mother approached. Hissing through clenched teeth, she told me to go outside with her.
My previous experience taught me going outside would be detrimental to my backside, since last year's Christmas gift was not padded in that particular area. I shook my head "no" whereupon my mother seized my ear, twisted it and led me through the living room and the kitchen and onto the back porch. Parents were more direct then.
Once the door closed, my mother began to instruct me on the finer points of etiquette. She told me Aunt Iris didn't have to give me a present, underwear was something I needed, and it was kind of Aunt Iris to spend her hard-earned money on me. Then to drive the lesson home, she applied her hand to my bottom and sent me back into the living room to tell Aunt Iris "Thank you."
My face was flushed red as the entire family watched me approach Aunt Iris, head lowered, ready to mumble my "thank you." Before I could stammer out any words, Aunt Iris said in her no-nonsense voice, "Look me in the eye, son, when you talk to me." Apparently, she was in on me learning this lesson, as well.
I lifted my head, looked at her steely eyes, and said, "Thank you Aunt Iris for the underwear." Then, she smiled, and said, "You are welcome." I thought I saw her throw a conspiratorial wink at my mother, but I'm not certain.
Mama and Aunt Iris taught me one of my most important life lessons about Christmas: Give thanks to the giver, not thanks for the gift.
Remember to look God in the eye and say, "Thank you." Still your soul long enough, and you might hear, "You are welcome."
Maybe you'll catch God winking.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church.