The Gift of Giving

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Claxons blare and a red siren’s red light circles the room in earnest. The service dispatcher runs to the monitor, checks the screen, and says “Oh, my!” He picks up his microphone, depresses the button, and broadcasts, “We have a Christmas emergency over on Clayton Street. We still have a few hours before Christmas. Do I have a host that can run over there immediately?”

“What’s the nature of the emergency?” answers back an idle host.

“An old man writing down the ROI of his Christmas gifts.”

“Oh, my! What’s wrong with all these old men? I got this. I’m on my way. What’s his twenty?”


Ebenboozer sits at his desk in his Santa hat and pajamas. An intense desk lamp illuminates his pad of paper but little else. He has drawn a table of three columns: Gift, Amount, and ROI. The ROI column is what set off all the Christmas alarms.

He has several rows under the column headers. His donation to the children’s hospital is one thousand dollars. His ROI is listed as a thank you form letter. It’s better than his ROI from last year’s donation: a phone call every week and a letter every month asking for more money. He lists the gifts to family and friends: Twenty gift cards at a one hundred dollars a pop for two thousand dollars. The ROI is eight text messages saying thank you. A couple of misses he excuses because they are too young to have phones.

Ebenboozer doesn’t like his Christmas ROI. He takes a shot of whiskey. He gets comfortable in his easy chair. He turns on Netflix. He falls asleep watching Scrooged.


“Ebenboozer! Ebenboozer! Ebenboozer stirs thinking maybe he drank one shot too many, again. He squirms uncomfortably in the chair mumbling “Go Away, Bad Dream, Go Away!”

The bad dream slaps him across the face, puts her hands on her hips. She shouts “You stingy old bastard! What’s the meaning of this?”

Ebenboozer opens his eyes. The ghostly vision gives him a start. He looks around. “The meaning of what? How’d you get in here?”

The woman shakes the sheet of paper in front of his face. It’s his Christmas ROI list. Ebenboozer feels the acid of his stomach rise up in his throat.

“Good lord, woman, have you no decency? It’s Christmas!” He goes to grab her arm with the intent of escorting her to the front door but his hand passes right through the apparition of his ex-wife. He waves his arms at her but they pass right through.

She laughs. “You really screwed the pooch this time. Unbelievable! Evaluating the ROI of your Christmas gifts.”

“What’s wrong with that? I gave away a lot of money. I thought maybe I’d get something more than a Thank You out of it.”

“You moron. You gave money.”

“I don’t know what these kids want. It won’t go to waste.”

“You know better. Your ROI column says otherwise. It’s impersonal. You give an impersonal gift, you get an impersonal response. Moron.”

“You said that already. Ug, you’re even nastier than I remember.”

“And you are as cold as I remember.” She projects an image of all of his online accounts draining into hers, laughing ecstatically.

Ebenboozer shouts, “You already sucked the life out of me once.”

“You will be visited by a ghost, this is your last chance at Christmas.”

“How come I don’t get three?”

“Silence!” She turns into an older, uglier, meaner version of herself with a green apron, her hair up in curlers, pink fuzzy slippers, and a rolling pin. She lifts up the rolling pin over her head. She starts forward to implant it on his forehead, then disappears.


Ebenboozer wakes up in a cold sweat. “Oooooh, it was just a dream. Oh, thank god. That woman. To think she scared the hell out of me even more in real life.”

He starts to pour himself another whiskey. A rush of wind knocks the tumbler from his thumb and forefinger just as he is about to tilt his head back to down it.


The wisps of a ghost in flowing robes glides past oblivious to Ebenboozer’s complaints. “I am the ghost of the gift of giving.”

“I already donated. I give plenty,” says Ebenboozer pointing to the first row in his Christmas ROI table.

“You give the gift of money, not the gift of giving.”

“What do you mean?”

The winds whirl, the room twirls and then disappears.


Ebenboozer stands in a room next to the ghost. It’s a single room flat made of concrete and crumbling plasterboard with splotches of pink on the wall.

A young woman sits with her daughter at a small table with two chairs. The girl is too young to buy her mom a gift, but the mom has wrapped one for her to give. The two exchange gifts. The daughter slowly tears off the red Christmas paper from the box. Its a pair of silver earrings and a silver necklace. It’s her first jewelry. She beams. She will wear the earrings until her ear gets puffy and the necklace for a month before taking it off. The mom gives herself a handbag and a plastic watch. When they are done, they give each other a hug and say “Merry Christmas”.

The mom says to her daughter, “I’d really like to give some small gift to the street children. What do you think?”

“What street kids, mommy?”

“Kids that stay in the street and the public plaza. They don’t have a nice house, a warm bed like you and a school to go to.”

“How do you find them?”

“I know where they go, outside by the bake shop to beg for food. We could wrap up something like candles and biscuits, and wrap it up and make it nice.”

“But we don’t have those things, mommy.”

“I know. I really want to help poor people.”

“You are nice, mommy. Where are their mommies? Do they live on the street too?”

She doesn’t answer. She looks despondent.


The ghost whirls takes the wallet from Ebenboozer’s pocket and sends the young woman a hundred dollars. Ebenboozer tries to slap the wallet and card from the ghostly hands without success.

“Hey! Hey! Stop that! This better be a figment of my imagination.”


The little girl comes running up to her mom. “Look what I found! A hundred dollars!”

She hands the bill to her mom. Her mom stares. “It’s a gift for the street kids. In the morning, we’ll go buy some gifts and wrap them up and cook them spaghetti and deserts.”

They go to sleep, laying together on a small single bed.

“Great. So what’s the point of that? She’s not really giving them a gift, it’s my money, so I’m giving the gift.”

The ghost stares at him like he is an idiot.

“So now what?”

The ghost shuts its eyes and sleeps in the standing position.

Ebenboozer tries to do the same and falls over. He tries laying back on one of the chairs and falls through to the hard floor. He tries going outside. There is only void. He has nothing to do but stand and wait.


The morning sun breaks into the room. The mom and daughter awaken. They run down to a small corner convenience store still open on Christmas day to pick up styrofoam containers for food, gift wrap, toys, and groceries. When they get back, they cook with a purpose. Then prepare the food containers. A dollop of spaghetti goes in one compartment of the container, a couple of baked treats in the other. The wrap all the toys in the red wrap garnished with pictures of golden ornaments and green trees.

The mom and daughter and packaged goods and Ebenboozer and the ghost ride on a scooter toward the plaza. She doesn’t find street kids but finds an orphanage instead. She talks to the sister in charge, then she and her daughter carry in the gifts. They place the gift-wrapped toys on one side of a table and the food containers on another in a joyful display of colorful red wrapping and white styrofoam.

The kids line up. She hands a gift and serving of food to each child. The children cradle their packages in their arms with a smile. She hands a gift to the children and asks, “Do you like Christmas?”

One child responds “Christmas is our favorite! The loving and the giving of gifts/receiving of gifts, celebrating Jesus Birthday!”

Another, “Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year! It’s not the presents or food. It’s time spent with family. My family here in orphanage!”

“I love christmas it is my favorite holiday out of other days. Christmas is a happier time when jesus chrsit is born. And it is a time to gather around with family and have a wonderflu bleesed dinner on the table! And also at the end opening up of our gifts all together make it the most joyous holiday ever.”

“Christmas is the most fun, as we receive different gifts from different people, and we can eat our favorite food such as spaghetti and friendchicken.”

The mom and daughter pose for pictures with the orphaned children and the Sister. The smile on all their faces is ear-to-ear.

Ebenboozer starts to gush up on the inside but fights it off. He says, “Ok, giving gifts to kids was pretty cool.”

The ghost slaps him across the face.

Ebenboozer shrieks, “What is with you ghosts and the slapping?”

“Listen,” commands the ghost. He points in the direction of the mom.

When the last child opens her gift, a little tear falls from the mom’s eye.

Her daughter asks, “Are you sad, mommy?”

The mom says “I’m happy to give them a food and gifts to the kids who don’t have parents. I feel so lucky to receive this gift so that we can give. I see myself in the orphanage. I see myself without shelter to stand and food to eat. I am very blessed and would not ask for more.”

Ebenboozer starts to gush again. He turns to hide his tear.


Ebenboozer falls off his easy chair. It looks like the late afternoon already. He checks the time. Christmas day is almost over.

“I thought you ghosts where supposed to do this in one night.”

His wallet is out on the table and his credit card is next to it. His phone shows a hundred dollar charge.

He picks up his sheet of paper with the ROI table on it. He marks off a line for another row. Under gift, Ebenboozer writes “The gift of giving”. Next to it, he puts $100 dollars. In the ROI column, he writes priceless.