The Christmas Coats – The Symonds Family Favorite Christmas Story

Hi Friends and Family,

This was a story I submitted this year for a contest. It was a loser to everyone but our family. This was the experience that changed us all forever.

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The Christmas Coat

It was an unusually cold snowy winter and I thought we were very poor. I knew our 6 children would want toys for Christmas, but was grateful my mother had offered to buy them new coats, gloves and hats. This year, coats would be their big gift.

Christmas Eve at Grandma’s, I wrestled my two boy’s beloved old leather bomber jackets away from them. They complained as I put on their new “Grandma” approved practical coats, knit gloves and hats. We went out into the freezing air and loaded everyone into our frigid old Volkswagen Van.

We drove our rattletrap on salted slushy roads into Salt Lake’s Temple Square to see the Christmas lights. It was so cold the heater couldn’t keep up. The A.M. radio was crackling Christmas Carols when the local D.J. made an important announcement. Due to record cold temperatures and snowfall, local homeless shelters were bursting at the seams. Residents were in dire need of coats and blankets. They listed several addresses. One of the homeless shelters was only a few exits away.

We quickly decided we would take the children’s old coats to a shelter and donate them. I explained to my children that we were going to make a detour and donate their used coats. I watched my 3-year old and 7-year old boys burst into tears at the thought of giving away their ragged, but well-loved bomber jackets.

I gave them a minute to calm down, and then I reminded them that everything we had was a blessing from Heavenly Father. It was important that we share all the blessings we had with others in need. They wailed, having heard me say it before. No new toys were allowed into the house, until we donated the old ones. No new clothes purchased, until we shared the old ones with those that were even poorer than we were, if that was possible.

We slid down the icy off ramp and putted to a stop next to a snow bank that was higher than the van in the shelter parking lot. The shelter looked like it used to be a supermarket. I decided it would be a good experience for the kids to carry in their own coats. It was with great reluctance and even a little belligerence that they gathered their old things and got out of the van. We trudged toward the shelter doors, which looked like automatic doors on a grocery store.

The doors to the shelter slid open and a man in a lightweight shirt came out towards us pushing a grocery cart full of sheets of newspaper. “All full! All Full!” He shouted at us as he waved one of his arms, warning us it was not to try to check in. “They are totally full,” he explained. “But not to worry. They are serving Christmas dinner under the freeway. It will be hot and good. I can take you.” Then he turned and waved his arms motioning us to follow.

My heart caught in my throat as I realized he thought we were homeless like him. Not only that, but here he was homeless, alone and willing to take care of a family of 8 people. Without a thought, he was caring for us.

“No,” I stopped him. “We aren’t staying, we are just bringing coats.”

He startled, stopped and paused long enough to truly take us in. My children, as shocked as I was raised their coats to show him.

“Look kids, its coats!” He exclaimed. With that, the newspapers in his shopping cart parted and two of the thinnest children I had ever seen emerged wearing only short-sleeved t-shirts. Time stood still, my gut wrenched and I felt my heart tear as tears stung my eyes.

Before I could respond, my children began throwing their old coats into the basket as the small children inside squealed with joy and put them on. Then my kids threw in their new hats and gloves. He thanked us, and hurried off to get in line for dinner under the freeway.

Slowly we turned and were changed forever. We have all talked about it again and again. We learned two great lessons that Christmas. First, no matter how poor you are, you always have something to give, even if it is directions to a dinner being served under the freeway. Second, never judge anyone. You never know who the next angel you meet will be. Just when you think you are working on your wings, a homeless man pushing a shopping cart full of precious cargo will show you the true spirit of Christmas.

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The Symonds Family First Christmas Memory

Many Many years ago I found myself a twenty seven year old single mother with five children. I moved to a tiny house, and met the boy next door. Luckily for him or for me, he thought I was amazing and we fell in love. We hoped that our first Christmas together would be special. He took a job at the local steel mill and immediately worked his way up to an excellent salary. We were even able to put a motor in our old Volkswagen Van.

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It was two weeks until Christmas when we learned that the mill annually laid all the new employees off for a month, beginning two weeks before Christmas. There we were, and no packages for the family. The mill adopted us and the other men promised a sub for Santa we wouldn’t forget. I would like to say that we were grateful, but in truth, we just wanted to be able to buy our own Christmas. And never mind Christmas, how were we going to pay the rent.  I worked and earned top dollar for the year, four dollars and twenty nine cents an hour. The rent and bills added up to more than that.

Christmas Eve arrived and our community was having the coldest winter on record. Snow was piled so deep around our house it was meeting the first story eves. Roofs were collapsing around town, and a local mall roof collapsed. The pity party was on! We loaded up the van to go to my parents to watch my wealthy siblings and their children unwrap gifts and to watch my children get coats from Grandma because they needed them so badly.

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On the way to my mother’s we passed a woman and a man under a freeway overpass, with an open suite case, snow blowing all around. We should go back, I thought.  And then I though, It’s not safe. I wrestled with myself the whole way there. The kids ungratefully unwrapped their new Walmart coats and removed their little leather bomber jackets they had outgrown long ago and their beautiful coats I had purchased in wealthier times. They were less than grateful.  We thanked my mother and loaded the van to go into Salt Lake City to see the lights on temple square.

As we were driving into Salt Lake and listening to joyful carols on the radio, the kids complained about their new coats. Then over the radio came a special announcement. It was so cold outside people on the streets were dying. The shelters were over flowing. It was plea for coats and blankets at the shelter and an address to drop them off at. I realized that as pathetic and needy as we were that Christmas there was still something we could do for someone else.

I turned around and announced to the kids that we were going to take their old coats to the shelter. “Not my leather bomber jacket!” my son cried out and then tears ran down his face. My oldest daughter just folded her arms, looked down her nose and hated me. The old van chugged along until we pulled off the freeway. Amidst piles of snow higher than our van we finally found a street sign and stumbled on the shelter.

We pulled into the solid sheet of ice called a parking lot and parked in front of the old grocery store turned shelter.  I realized my kids needed to learn that their lives were actually pretty good. I told them to get out of the Van and get their coats. They complained and grumbled loudly. Finally I had them all lined up, wearing new coats, hats and gloves and carrying their old coats. We headed form the double glass doors.

The Shelter door opened and a man without a coat came out pushing a shopping cart full of newspapers. He was very very thin.  He stopped me, “The shelter is all full up.” He told me. “But don’t worry they are serving a hot meal under the freeway. I am on my way there now. I can take you.” I realized that even though this man had nothing he had stopped to take care of me. He had looked at my old van and thought I was homeless. He hadn’t hesitated to help someone else in need when he had nothing.

“No,” I said, “we just came to bring coats to the shelter.” My kids held up the coats and looked at him silently and in shock.

“Coats!” he exclaimed, “Look kids’ coats!” The newspapers parted and a tiny boy and girl sat up. They were both in dirty short sleeved tee shirts and so very thin and cold. My kids threw their coats into the basket and watched as the small children joyfully put them on. Then they threw in their new hats and gloves and I watched with pride as they learned the most valuable lesson of their lives. They learned that no matter how poor you are and no matter how bad your world is or seems you always have something to give to someone else.  You always have something to offer, even if it is simply being a good receiver.

Many years have passed and every time one of my children were assigned to write a Christmas story at school, this is the story they wrote. They have grown up to be nurses, scout master, police officers, park rangers, social workers, soldiers and to serve in every capacity possible in their community.

I guess I share this story with you because it is my pleasure to be able to share whatever I can with you this Christmas. We are still not rich. My husband runs a business, teaches a class and we both work full time and still every month is house payment countdown, but we are rich. We are rich in love and rich in family. We are rich because God blesses us tenfold for every act of service and everything we offer in absolute love and in his name.

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My husband adopted my five children and we had a sixth. We moved out of the snow and to the seaside where we live in a drafty hundred year old house and have a loving family that includes people like Jeff. We have a strong testimony of God’s love for us and this country and we believe the way to make it great is by changing one heart at a time. We hope you have the best Christmas in your memory and do something every day in the following year as you already do to go above and beyond your duty to serve.

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