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.

christmas tree 2013

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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