The Most Precious Gifts
Which was your favourite present?
by Rebecca Parkinson (revised, originally published in 2010)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To reflect upon what makes something a precious gift.
Preparation and materials
- You will need to be familiar with the story of the Christmas truce. Information about it is available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_truce
- Optional: as the students enter the room, you may wish to show some of the following images of life in the trenches during the First World War:
- trenches, available at: https://tinyurl.com/yckcn9y2, https://tinyurl.com/y9dexg5m and https://tinyurl.com/yb2txdpv
- a flooded trench, available at: https://tinyurl.com/zk3wywy
- injured soldiers walking through a trench, available at: https://tinyurl.com/ybzuuy3z
- Christmastime has just passed, and many of us will have spent it exchanging gifts with our families and friends. Many people will have spent hours wondering what to buy, hoping that they managed to find something that a particular person would really like.
In 2016, UK Christmas spending was predicted to hit the record amount of £77.56 billion! But what makes a present extra-special? What was your favourite present and why was it special?
- In a recent survey, it was found that people thought a present was special if:
- it was something that was actually wanted
- it was expensive to buy
- it was made by the person who gave it (untrendy jumpers knitted by grandmas weren’t mentioned!)
- it was considered that a lot of thought had gone into choosing the gift
What do you consider to be a special present? (You may like to take a vote (by a show of hands) as to which of the above the students think is the most important thing about a present.)
- Many of you will have heard about the Christmas truce that took place during the first winter of the First World War. (If this isn’t known, explain about the ceasefire in the trenches on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day in 1914. Explain about both sides coming together into no man’s land and exchanging small gifts such as buttons, and playing a football match.)
- I want to tell you a story about a man who was at the Christmas truce, but who received another special present that Christmas.
It was September 1914 when an 18-year-old boy called Alfred said goodbye to his parents and set off to fight in the trenches of the First World War. As he was leaving, his mum gave him a small parcel. When Alfred opened the parcel, it contained a small Bible. On the Bible were inscribed the words, ‘September 5, 1914. Alfred Anderson. A Present from Mother.’
When Alfred arrived in France, the conditions in the trenches were terrible. For months, it seemed to do nothing but rain, and everything the soldiers possessed got covered in mud. Alfred treasured the little Bible and tried his best to keep it safe; somehow it gave him hope and reminded him of his family back home.
As Christmas approached, the soldiers all missed home dreadfully, but a few days before Christmas Day, small parcels arrived for each of the men. Inside each was a brass box with the profile of Princess Mary embossed on it. The box was filled with cigarettes and contained a card that said, ‘With best wishes for a happy Christmas and a victorious New Year, from the Princess Mary and friends at home.’
Alfred didn’t smoke, so he had no use for the cigarettes. However, to his delight, he discovered that his mother’s small Bible fitted perfectly in the box. Some of the men saw no use for the box and did not think that it was a good present, but for Alfred, it was the perfect Christmas present! Alfred kept the brass box and Bible in his breast pocket throughout his time at the front, so his precious Bible survived the war.
Eventually, Alfred returned to Scotland, where he died in 2005. He was the last surviving soldier who was present at the Christmas truce. Alfred was stationed a distance away from the front-line action, and his clearest memory of the truce was the silence that day. Having heard nothing but shooting and cries for help for so many months, it was this silence that lingered in his thoughts.
- Alfred survived the war and received the most precious gift of all: the gift of life. Many men were not so lucky. Whether we were happy or disappointed with our Christmas gifts, let’s remember to be grateful for the gift of life that all of us have received.
- Christians believe that Christmas is the time to remember God’s gift to the world: the gift of Jesus. They believe that Jesus was the greatest gift ever given and that he was sent to bring light and life to the world.
Time for reflection
All of us have been given the gift of life. Let’s pause for a moment and think of those who are not as fortunate as us. Many people, even today, are living in places that have been torn apart by war, places devastated by disaster, places where there seems to be little hope. Let’s not forget them, and let’s be thankful for what we have.
Help us never to forget that, at Christmas,
We celebrate the greatest gift given to the world: the gift of life.
Thank you for our memories of Christmas and for our hopes for the year ahead.