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“A gift from the heart”

DSC_0210There’s a new post coming Monday from my Huffington Post BC blog, but sitting here this evening – a beautiful Fraser Fir sharing its scent and the fireplace sharing its warmth and glow – I knew it was time again to share a post that has become a personal tradition. It’s made an appearance here on my site every Christmas for years, and will continue for years to come, in hopes of thanking my secret Santa. Many of you will have read it, many will not have yet, but either way…

I hope you enjoy.

“A gift from the heart”

As an adult, I think I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong – I really love twinkling Christmas lights at night, the joy of seeing my children enjoy the magic, good times with friends and all the cooking…but I’m really bothered by the commercialization, obligation and fake sentiment that for many, seems to go with the entire season. How did we,as a society, become so shallow and self-absorbed that what is for some, a very sacred time of year, has been reduced to the amount you spend on gifts – or the number of them – to prove your love or affection ? And what kind of gift is one given out of a feeling of forced obligation, rather than the spirit of love and generosity?

For me, gift giving has never been about how much a gift costs, but about what is special to the person receiving it, and the intent of the person giving it. Every year, I share this story that touched my heart forever, in the hopes the person behind it reads it, and knows exactly what it meant to me.

One Christmas,many years ago, I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a gift that came from the heart of someone I’m sure I must have known – but someone whose identity remains a mystery over 10 years later.

It was two years before I left my abusive ex, and money was very tight. At the time he wasn’t working and I was the only income earner, and my credit cards were nearly maxed out trying to keep the family afloat. I didn’t share how bad things were with anyone at work,or my friends, but those who cared and knew me well, obviously could see how hard I was trying to keep it all together.

Even now,looking back at photos taken that year, the stress shows clearly on my face in each one. As most parents do,or have done, I would always go without to make sure the kids had what they needed, but that year I had to actually glue the soles back onto my winter boots, and double up sweaters instead of buying a winter coat to make sure something from Santa arrived Christmas morning.

Indeed,Christmas did arrive on a crystal,cold Saturday morning, and the kids were not disappointed. Wonderfully appreciative of their humble presents, they were playing with their new toys quietly,my ex was doing whatever he would do off in his little office, and I finally moved slowly around the house to open the curtains to a new day. As I pulled back the drapes on my dining room window to enjoy the rare sight of Christmas snow on the coast, I saw a basket on the railing of the patio fence outside.

Completely caught off guard by this unexpected sight, I stood there for a moment, simply absorbing this discovery. I shook my head, as if to shake off doubts, grabbed my house coat and ran outside on the deck anyways.

There before me, nestled in the crystalline snow on the railing,was a brightly decorated basket with my name on it.

Catching my breath, stunned, I looked around – left, then right – but could see no one. It hadn’t been there long, because it remained untouched by that sparkling diamond like frost that covered every surface not touched by snow, and I could see fresh foot prints in my garden leading to the fence. In puzzled excitement, I ran back inside the house to see what it was, and who it was from.

I sat down alone at the dining room table, slowly taking in the lovely wrapping and ribbons, but also worried my ex would come down and wonder where this came from. With slow motion precision, I pulled back the tissue paper that encased the contents, and suddenly the sweet smell of  satsuma mandarin orange wafted from the basket, hit my nostrils, and overwhelmed my battered soul.

Inside, were three jewel like bars of soap from The Body Shop, in my favorite fragrance.

I held each one in my hands as if they were the most precious gems, with tears trickling silently, oh so silently, down my face, wondering who would do such a nice thing for me.I took every single piece of tissue paper out,looking for a clue, but there was no card; only a gift tag with my name written on it in handwriting I did not recognize.

Completely overwhelmed by the sheer grace -and timing – of this most cherished gift, I ran quietly outside again and looked around in the snow, thinking another card must have fallen off. I followed the footprints back to the curb where someone had obviously gotten back into their car, but nothing. No clues, no names, only me – standing there alone Christmas morning on the sidewalk in front of my house, oblivious to the curious stares of passers -by, in my natty old terry cloth house coat and glued up boots, tears streaming down my face … happier in that cold, cold moment than I had been in many, many years.

When I returned to work later that week, I asked everyone if they were my secret Santa, but no one seemed to know anything. From beneath lowered lids, I surreptitiously watched everyone go by my office for a look, a smile, something to show that someone was keeping a secret from me… but nothing.

To this day, I have no idea who was thinking of me in such a thoughtful way that Christmas. That one gift meant so much to me because I would never have spent money on something as frivolous as mandarin scented soaps for myself,ever,during those times, but more-so, it helped me through what was an exceedingly tough time in my life.

Just knowing that there was someone who cared enough to pay attention to something I had perhaps mentioned casually in conversation over coffee, someone who then took the time to actually bring it over on an early Christmas morning… it left me with hope. It was an incredible act of selflessness and compassion on the part of the secret Santa. But the funny thing was, and still is, was that I couldn’t ever recall ever mentioning this was my favourite scent to anyone…

I didn’t use that soap for a long time, a couple of years actually, but kept it hidden deep in my bedroom drawers.

When I was feeling hopeless, or having a particularly rough time with my ex, I would steal away upstairs – just for a moment – and sit on the edge of my bed to open the drawers where the soap was safely hidden. The scent of satsuma would suddenly rise to envelop me, flooding all my senses …and it would always give me strength and courage to go on.

To the gift giver, it may have been just nice soap, but to me it was everything.


The scent remains my favorite, symbolizing the will to go on, survival…renewal, hope… and when I come across that scent again,even for the briefest moment, it overwhelms my soul with joy. I still don’t often spend money on things like that, although I can-I guess old habits die-hard.

And so, as we enter the season that has become so commercialized that we forget the true meaning behind the celebrations,I urge you to re-connect with your loved ones,your neighbours, and even complete strangers in the true spirit of  compassion and love.

Everyone knows a person who is going through a rough time for one reason or another. Maybe they lost their job, maybe they are caring for a sick family member, or maybe they are just always struggling to get ahead. Christmas can be incredibly hard for those who are dealing with life’s troubles. Do something special for them,keep it secret and supply them with the same faith and hope and memories that I have. It doesn’t have to be costly, just from the heart. You  may never know what a simple gesture may mean to someone else.

But I do.

Peace everyone.


  1. I love your Christmas experience Laila. I too have felt the loss of a kind and caring tradition where gifts were from the heart and well thought out. My husband and I started over last year and are trying to lead by example how Christmas should be. Big Hugs, Candi


    • Thank you Candi, it’s so nice to hear you’ve started over – I think if more people just let go of the expectations and guilt others impose ( and we impose ourselves at times) it becomes truly a spiritual time of year, even if one is not religious. Hugs to you and yours as well my friend. Be well!


  2. I tear up reading this simple story of kindness and hope every year, the message will never get old. It truly is a gift from the heart.

    Thank you Laila.


  3. Love your x-mas story Laila.

    In the midst of your chaos and despair…Someone said, you really mattered. That is the most wonderful gift of all.

    Have a great x-mas with your loved ones.


  4. Hi Laila,

    I love this post and how you express your Love for Christmas as we you experienced it.

    Like you growing up in the Swiss Alps on a Farm was the most magical thing ever, it truly was my favorite Time of the year, not because we got lots of Gifts but because we got all together and enjoyed the real Candles on the Real Tree that my Dad got us from the Deep Winter Forest.

    Magical it was, thank God I got the Memories left to warm my Heart once more for another Christmas. Sitting around with family and drinking “Glühwein” (hot wine or Glögg) and home made food, how much warmer can it get :)))

    Much Love from my family to Yours Laila,

    PS: Thank you very much for sharing 🙂


    • Hi Maggie! I am so excited to hear about your childhood traditions – very european! And you are very right that the memories we create warm our hearts for many Christmas’s to come as we get older. That’s everything.
      Much love to you as well my spirited friend 😉


  5. Great story, glad you shared it.

    Anonymous, selfless, giving ………

    A trait, sadly, most people these days have forgotten……

    Enjoy the time off with friends and family( if you can) and relax.


  6. Hey Laila, I love your story. I cried. It brought me back to my own journey, when I was married to a very abusive man. Alcohol, was his drug of choice. It took every ounce of self I had to leave. I had four children to look after. But, I did it! Every Christmas was a nightmare, when I was with him. After I left, I got a good Union Job, that saw me through their growing up years. From that time foreward, Christmas, became the Best Time of the Year. Through your Darkest hours will come your greatest growth. God Bless.


  7. Thank you Irene, and bless you too. We all have more in common than we sometimes know… and perhaps it is those little parts of ourselves we sometimes share that draw us all together. I am so glad you are here.


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