Jake and the Christmas Surprise (for kids)


My favorite time of the year is Christmas. If I close my eyes real tight, I can smell Christmas six months away. I can smell evergreen branches and a fat turkey sizzling. I can smell chocolate-covered peanuts and mustard on my popcorn. Yum. I love the taste of Christmas, too. The taste of eating soft candy out of my socks. The taste of special oranges, sugar cookies—and fresh dirt from one of my brother Jake’s incoming snowballs.

Christmastime is cold where we live. So cold that sometimes polar bears buy plane tickets and fly south to warm up. But I love the cold. There’s so much to do in it. There’s skating and skiing and slipping and sledding and snowball throwing. And there are doorknobs, too. Once Jake dared me to put my tongue on a frozen doorknob. He said, “Try it, it’s really cool.”

I examined the shiny metal closely.

“Why?” I asked. “What does it taste like?”

“Kinda interesting,” he said. “It’s like licking a battery. You won’t forget the taste. I’ll give you fifty cents if you lick it real good.”

So I did. I opened my mouth wide. I slapped my tongue on the metal and it stayed there. It wouldn’t budge. I said, “Thith ithn’t goog!” My eyes got water in them. I said, “Thith huuurts….heeeeep!”

Jake ran fast to get some warm water. Then he brought me two shiny quarters. I couldn’t drink hot chocolate for a week, but Jake was right. That doorknob sure was cool. I’ll never forget the taste of it. And I’ll never forget what happened to make this the second best Christmas ever.  


Once a year Jake and I stand in the airport waiting for Grandpa. He comes through the clouds in a big silver bird. So we press our noses against the frozen glass and jump up and down when we see him. Last year I forgot about the glass. My nose still hurts. We have good reason to jump up and down. You see, Grandpa always brings a gallon of maple syrup and a brown leather suitcase full of brightly-wrapped packages—some of them for me.

I love my Grandpa. He is like no one else on earth. For one thing, he is so bald I can see my reflection on the top of his head. I don’t need a mirror when he’s around. I can comb my hair in his head and he doesn’t mind at all. He is a big man, too. He wiggles when he walks. He jiggles when he laughs. And I like to watch his chins move when he snores.

My brother Jake says he is wider than he is tall, but Grandpa won’t sit still to let me measure him. He’s too busy laughing. Or eating chocolates. He always keeps them nearby. He says he is on a special chocolate diet to keep him from losing too much weight. I’m glad he is so big. We can hide behind him during hide-and-seek, and best of all both Jake and I can sit on his laps and listen to the Christmas story night after night.

One day when Christmas was barely a week away, I did something awful. I sneaked into Grandpa’s room while he was snoring, and stole an entire box of chocolates. Then I locked myself in the bathroom and ate both layers. They were so good. They almost made me wonder if it was better to ask forgiveness or permission. My mother wanted to spend some time with me when I came out of the bathroom. She said that boys who keep stealing end up in jail for Christmas and sometimes in the electric chair, but she wouldn’t put me there this year. She would put me in the kitchen instead. I could do dishes there every day for a week. And there would be no more chocolate until Christmas day.



Each December morning Jake and I sit on a living room heat vent inches from the Christmas tree, drooling at toys in a catalog. My tongue hangs out when I point at them. “What does this one do?” I ask. Jake always seems to know. “This doll’s head wobbles side to side,” he says, “Then it pops off. Too bad we didn’t have a little sister to give it to.” Then he showed me a dog that jumps four feet when it hears the word “Bob.” Jake is the smartest kid on our whole continent and the best big brother I’ve ever had. I guess he’s the only brother I’ve had, too.

     Once he told me that the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog” uses every letter of the alphabet. He also said that cats sleep fifteen hours a day and that the world’s termites outweigh us humans ten to one. I had to think about that one. “It’s true,” he said. “And did you know that the electric chair was invented by a dentist?” 

Near the back of the toy catalog is my favorite page. At the top, just above a dinosaur that glows sits a tiny plastic bow that shoots a real suction-cup arrow. “I want one of those so badly,” I told my brother. He shook his head. “Impossible,” he said. “Dad’s broke. And remember what you did to Grandpa’s chocolates? You’ll be lucky to get underwear this Christmas.”

          Deep down, I knew he was right. Deep down, I knew I didn’t even deserve Christmas. I wouldn’t get anything this year. I had stolen from my poor bald Grandpa while he was snoring. For the first time in my life I didn’t really want Christmas to come at all. 


One night three days before Christmas I took the catalog to my dad. I said real fast, “How are you doing Dad I sure love you may I rub your feet?” My dad smiled and sat me on his knee and gave me a bear hug. “What would you like, Son?” he asked. So I showed him. I showed him the most beautiful bow and arrow in the history of bows and arrows. I told him what it did and that I would be careful and that I wanted to be like Robin Hood but I wouldn’t steal from anyone, not even rich people, not even chocolate.

Dad took the catalog from me and gasped. “Ten dollars!” he exclaimed. “You want to put us in the Poor House?”

I wasn’t sure. I wondered what the Poor House looked like. What would we do there? Would Grandpa still come visit? Would he bring chocolate?

            “When I was a boy,” Dad told me, “I wanted more than anything else a kitten. I prayed and prayed then I decided to do something.”

         “What?” I asked, looking closely at my father’s whiskers.

         “On Christmas Eve I decided to put my shoe out the back door so the kitten had something to crawl into, and I fell asleep dreaming about that kitten.”

         “What happened?”

         “Well, on Christmas morning I woke up and ran to the door with just my socks on.”

“Really?” I said.

“Well, I had my pajamas on too,” laughed Dad.

“Was your shoe still there?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” he smiled. “I opened the door and there was a little black tail sticking out. It had a white stripe too. There was the cutest baby skunk in my shoe. An orphan skunk. I named him Punk. Punk the Skunk.”

         I laughed until I fell off Dad’s knee and hit my head on the floor. “Really?”

         “Really,” said Dad. “We got the stinker taken out of Punk and he was my pet for years. He was better than a watchdog. Or a watchcat.”

I grinned widely, then hung my head. “I haven’t prayed about the bow and arrow,” I said.

“It’s always a good idea,” said my dad. “But remember, sometimes we don’t get what we ask for. Or what we deserve. We get something even better. Now you brush your teeth and climb into bed.”

I couldn’t stop smiling for an hour. There are times when Dad is even smarter than my brother Jake.  



As December 25 inched closer, I watched the presents pile up like snowdrifts beneath the tree. There were blue ones and red ones. There were fat ones and skinny ones—but there was no bow and arrow. A shiny green package near the back was just the right size, but late one night while everyone was sleeping, I sneaked into the living room and crawled under the tree. The nametag said: “Jake.” In fact, most of them seemed to be for him. I squeezed the ones with my name on them. They felt like socks, toothbrushes, and underwear. Things you don’t tell your friends about on Boxing Day.

At least I’ll get something, I thought, feeling sorry for myself. I better remember to smile when I open these.

            On the night before Christmas, Jake and I sat on Grandpa’s great big laps in our big padded chair and listened to him tell my favorite story of all. “A star fell from heaven one night long ago,” he began, as we watched the lights on the tree twinkle. “It could have landed anywhere. In a palace or on the rich side of town. But it landed in a barn among the poorest of people. The star began shining brighter and brighter until the time came when the light made some people mad. So they buried it. They put it in the ground. But you can’t keep something that bright from shining. The dirt couldn’t keep it there. It rose into the sky and now it’s the brightest star in the heavens.”

            “I know what the star was,” I said. “It was Jesus.”

            “You’re right,” said Grandpa. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. Wonderful. Counselor. The mighty God. The everlasting Father. The Prince of Peace.”

            Then he asked me if I would run and get him another layer of chocolates.



The worst thing about Christmas morning is the waiting. My parents made us eat breakfast first. Then do the dishes. And sweep floors. And vacuum carpets. And memorize the Gospel of Luke in Greek. I’m kidding about that. Then we all sat in the living room and Dad read the Christmas story from the Bible. I was searching the presents, and hanging onto hope.

            At last the time came, but the more presents we opened, the sadder I felt.

On my lap I held a small red truck, three pairs of black socks, a shirt with pins in it, and a cowboy poster that said, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”

There were only three presents left beneath the tree now.

            I pulled the first one out and handed it to my mother. It was a compact disk with old people’s music on it. I handed the second one to Grandpa. It was a box of chocolates from my brother and me. The last gift was shiny and blue and it was huge. Jake grinned as I handed it to him. He looked at it and turned it over in his hands.

Then he handed it back to me.

“Open it,” he said. “It’s yours. I put my own name on it to fool you.”

            Mom wanted me to save the wrapping paper for next year, but it was too late. I ripped it off fast. Then I let out a Whoop! you could have heard in Africa and danced around the living room, holding the present high like the Stanley Cup.

            It was a crossbow. The greatest crossbow ever. It had six soft suction-cup arrows, a scope, and a trigger.

“You can shoot six arrows in six seconds with it,” said Jake.

Grandpa stopped eating chocolates and smiled widely. “It’s from all of us,” he said.

            “You be careful with that, Son,” said my mother.

            “He’ll be okay,” said my dad.



I think I’ll remember this Christmas if I live to be forty. I’ll remember sticking my tongue on the doorknob. I’ll remember ice-skating and carol-singing and candy-making and Grandpa’s story of a Baby whose tiny brow was made for thorns; whose blood would one day cleanse the world.

And I don’t think I’ll ever forget that crossbow. A gift I didn’t deserve coming along when I didn’t expect it.

            I couldn’t wait to try the gift out. I wolfed down turkey and my Mom’s special dressing and pudding so thick you could hear it hit bottom. And I watched Grandpa doze off in our big padded chair. Then I tiptoed after my brother Jake as he headed down the hallway that afternoon. I locked six arrows in place, took careful aim and pulled on the string until it was tight.

“Hey Jake!” I yelled.

He turned and grinned at me.

“Merry Christmas!” I said.

          And I wondered just for a moment if I should ask for permission or forgiveness.

Order a copy of the Jake CD. It has been known to fit perfectly in stockings!

about phil
small group