It was not exactly the kind of “white Christmas” about which crooners like to sing or children like to dream. For the bitter wind and cold whipped cruelly through the cracks in the walls as the harsh winter weather pushed inside the barracks where a young man sat silently shivering.
For weeks it seemed that he and his companions had been alternately starving and freezing to death in that P.O.W. camp. What a wonderful surprise it must have been thus when on Christmas Eve the first glimmer of encouragement in a long while for those survivors finally came. For in recognition of the holiday, their captors allowed them at last to receive the Red Cross boxes which had been sent from home. And in those boxes there was, among other things, a special treasure—a bar of chocolate candy for each man in the camp. Only somehow a mistake had been made and in one man’s box, the chocolate bar was not to be found.
Quietly disappointed, the young man went onto sleep. But later that Christmas Eve, he awoke to find that one of his fellow prisoners had taken his own candy bar and put it upon his friend’s pillow. Who had done it? The young man had an idea, but his presumed benefactor would not awaken to any of his fellow prisoner’s whispers. And when morning came, the giver likewise denied any knowledge of the gift, saying it must have come from St. Nicholas instead.
And indeed, perhaps it did. For if there truly is a spirit of Christmas it surely is summed up in the message of selfless and anonymous giving to others, a feat at which the legendary ancient bishop Nicholas clearly excelled. But had you asked him, the good bishop would likewise have told you that he was, in turn, simply following the example of the Wise Men, who left their gifts but not their names when they visited the Christ Child in Bethlehem so long ago.
It’s not too surprising thus that up until he died, the man who had received the gift of a Hershey Bar that night tried to do the same, sending unexpected checks to others in the mail, donating legal services to those who could not afford them, and even sending a candy bar across the country from time to time to his fellow former prisoner who had pretended to know nothing of that Christmas Eve gift long before.
But how do I know all this, some might wonder? Only by the rarest of God’s grace. For the particular gift to me from that man in the P.O.W. camp three decades after that winter in captivity was that of an even greater treasure, his youngest daughter who consented to become my wife.