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Here’s to hoping

I was involved in an essay contest recently. My role was middleman and chief cajoler. Someone else had the hard job of judging.

As far as themes go, this one was forthright — the gift I’d like to give this Christmas. Beyond word count requirements and age categories, the rules were few: Mind your grammar. Stick to your focus. Be original.

The entries arrived by mail, neatly typed and double-spaced (most of them). One fourth-grader’s mom told me he sequestered himself in his room and typed, typed, typed his himself. (I sort of guessed that by the bold font and healthy dose of exclamation points.)      

A first-grader wrote about when her father was away on deployment. “The gift I’d like to give this Christmas is to bring all the papas home. It is important to bring the papas home because their kids miss them just like I missed my papa when he was gone. There are lots of military kids who have papas gone like my friends, Lillian and Lizzie. Their papa was gone for a long time, even when their baby sister was born. That’s why I’d bring the papas home for Christmas.”

Another first-grader focused on her mom. “I love my mom. I got my mom a Christmas tree dress because it is almost Christmas. The dress is so cute. It looks like a Christmas tree. It was ten dollars. My mom can wear Christmas tree shoes with her dress. She can wear red lipstick with her dress, too. My mom will like her new dress. My mom is so special. She is cute. I love my mom so much.” 

A sixth-grade girl is concerned about her cousin. She wants to give him the gift of Jesus Christ. “He needs to know that there is more to life on earth. I want to give him the gift of thinking about others instead of himself. I want him to know he has a Father he can talk to and who watches over him.”

“The gift I’d like to give this Christmas is joy,” wrote a first-place award winner. “One way I can share joy is by a gift, wrapped with love and care — a gift that will make a person happy. Another way that I would l like to give joy is through a smile. You never know how much a smile might brighten someone’s day.”

A junior-high student would like to give his friend’s family a bigger house. It seems they’re big on babies and short on space. “Despite all these issues the family never complains and is never sad. They are kind, loving, generous, and are always helping others.”

And while we’re on the topic of babies, a new big sister in the bunch of entrants wrote about gifts she will give to her brother — a rattle, a blanket and a teething ring. “I love my baby brother, and he loves me.”

Mr. B would give his cousins a litany of things — a Bible, gas, a video game, a bow, diapers. He made sure to personalize his conclusion with a direct word to the judge: “Thank you for reading.”

Miss H. wants to give folks the opportunity to hear the Gospel: “Can you believe that 70 percent of the world doesn’t know about Jesus? That is over half the world. Being a missionary will be hard but if it’s part of God’s plan, I will do it.”

A sixth-grader wrote about saving money to buy bikes for an orphanage. “When we arrived, to our surprise, all the kids were awake. They had silly string spraying us saying, ‘Thank you.’ As the kids come and go, the bikes will always be there. This is the gift that keeps on giving.”

Taking top place for the high school was a piece focused on world views. The author would like to give her friends the gift of a Christian education: “A student with a Christian worldview can think rightly about the evil in ‘MacBeth’ or ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’ Christian education seeks to produce graduates who understand both the world and the One who created it.”

One young lady plans a Christmas celebration for her dolls each year. “Gifts that we’ve been working on for months are opened, such as pretty necklaces, embroidered handkerchiefs, and all manner of delightful trifles. And more precious than the party and homespun pleasures that we will give our dolls, are the memories we are making. And that’s the gift I would like to give this Christmas.”

My top pick didn’t win a prize, though. As I told the crowd gathered to congratulate the writers, I wanted to give that unparalleled paragraph the “Keeping It Real Award.” It seems Mr. S wants to give his friend a hover board.

“If I gave it to him he would be so happy there would be tears running down his leg,” the author wrote. “He would scream out loud, ‘Best Christmas ever!’ But the sad thing is it will catch his house on fire. Or even worse, it will cut his face off. Here’s to hoping he has a good time on it.”    

Here’s to hoping. And like Mr. B, I thank you for reading.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at