The White Envelope

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The White Envelope  

by Nancy Gavin

Editor’s Note: This is a true story that is provided to us by the family of the author. Even though Nancy passed away two years after her article first appeared in Woman’s Day Magazine in 1982, her family continues to keep alive the tradition of the white envelope. This article has also inspired The White Envelope Project and web site.

It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree at this time of the year for the past 10 years or so. It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it. You know, the overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma, the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner city church. The kids were mostly black. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without head gear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously couldn’t afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.”

Mike loved kids – all kids. He understood kids in competitive situations, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner city church.

On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition – one year sending a group of mentally challenged youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas – on and on… The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. Still, the story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike several years ago due to cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. Yet Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further, with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation, watching as their fathers take down their envelopes. Mike’s spirit, like the spirit of Christmas, will always be with us.


  • Pat: November 30, 2023

    As I listened to this message, the tears just started running. I was on my way to visit my mom and as soon as I got there, I looked this up on your home page and read it to her. I honestly couldn’t get through it without crying. I hope all who read your letter are move to the point of making a donation or two to those who need it most.

    I have learned so much about our faith through you, your books and am so grateful that you do what you do.

    Happiest of holidays to you and your family.

  • Harry Young: November 29, 2023

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful message, I have tears in my eyes. I just came back from an hour of adoration and his was the topping to the cake.
    God bless you and thanks for bringing me back to reality.

  • Carl: November 30, 2022

    Thank you and God bless you!

    I have the great blessing of being married to my best friend and terrific role model for how live a life that is pleasing to Jesus. A donation to our local food pantry was just made in her name and will be in that white envelope!

  • Leticia King: November 29, 2022

    I was listening to your program while delivering meals to home bound adults. You inspired me to buy items for our family white envelope Christmas tree.
    Purchased a goat & soccer ball – granddaughter, donkey – daughter in law, 3 piglets for my sons, the remaining items were in honor of deceased husband. We both came from humble beginnings so he would appreciate 20 chicks, feeding a child, clothing &
    Shoes for child, and rice & beans. Can’t wait to execute. Love your show. Thank you!

  • Carmen Renfrow: November 29, 2022

    Beautiful story, thanks for sharing and reminding us what Jesus would find so satisfying!

  • The Licea Family: November 29, 2022

    This is now part of our family tradition, thank you Gus for introducing us to this beautiful ministry
    May God continue to bless you and your beautiful family

  • Beth Harder: November 29, 2022

    I want to know how to go about participating in this….I don’t see that information

  • Cindy Turski: November 29, 2022

    I called on the radio today to make a donation and have not received a call back to make the payment. Who can I reach out to? Thanks!

  • Dave Lepri: November 29, 2022

    Great story. very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  • Teresa: November 29, 2022

    Can you please send me the info for
    Food for the poor ….I wanted to make a donation today and missed the contact info on the radio.

  • Yolanda Sanchez: November 29, 2022

    Just love the story and the entire concept of the White Envelope is so inspirational, especially during these hard times for so many people. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Deborah Smith: November 29, 2022

    I absolutely love this. Thank you for sharing it!

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