One night, it seemed to appear… out of nowhere.

The security cameras recorded every movement, but they had remained dark and still. There were no shadows and no evidence.

And yet, it rested there, nestled under the branches.

As sleep tiptoed away and the day dawned, the scoot of bare feet caressed the floors. Someone broke the silence.

“Hey, where did that come from? Is it mine?”

Soon, bright-eyed children elbowed their way toward the tree, each wanting to get the chance to shake it.

The gift stumped Aaron and his older brother and sister.

“There’s no name on it,” shouted one. It only heightened the intrigue.

Everyone swore it was theirs, left there by a caring benefactor. Each shook it, but it made no sound. No rattle. No glass. No noise.

What was this curious gift? The toy each kid dreamed he would “really” want? Was it money or a gift card? That made no sound.

Soon the mother swept the children away to dress for the last Monday of school before Christmas break.

The gift fascinated all but captured four-year-old Aaron the most. He would creep up to the tree as if to surprise it. He would touch the wrapping, acting as if it was a hot plate. Since he wasn’t yet in school, he returned to the tree many times when his mother took her watchful eye off him.

Aaron stared at his brother and sister mount their school bus, and envy arrived on the bus. Why couldn’t he go to school? Kindergarten was a secret society to which Aaron wished to belong. If he wished away enough days, perhaps his next morning step was a school bus doorstep.

The day passed in the same dull routine. All days did. Why couldn’t at least Christmas arrive quicker?

His siblings arrived home in the afternoon. Mom plugged him into his car seat in the minivan and dragged him from store to store, trying to withstand the last minute Christmas rush.

They would come home, and it was still there…that gift. Aaron sat close, hoping to hear a magical sound that would give him a hint to its contents.

Soon, with the last dinner plate, it was time to prepare for bed. Aaron put on his pajamas, but could not get is his mind off of the gift. As he drifted off to sleep, he wondered what was in it.

The next morning, the family emptied their beds and started their day. Shock greeted them as they stepped into the living room. A new gift had replaced the one from the day before. It was a different shape wrapped in different paper.

What happened to the old one? Why was it there in the first place? More puzzling was where it went.

Now, the children inched closer to the new present. They expected something living to pop out and startle them. But it was like the other. The glistening paper and oversized bow graced the box. It still bore no name nor revealed the sender. Mom swore she did not know anything about it.

Aaron was most puzzled. He wanted to know what was in it. He could not keep his pre-school mind from focusing on it. The puzzle was too much to bear.

Everyone ate breakfast. Aaron’s brother and sister made their usual trek to the bus stop, leaving Aaron behind…again. When would kindergarten get here?

The days ticked away, each the same as the last.

At night, the family would sit around the tree, and each wondered about the gift. Where had it come from? What was in it? Was it the same gift? After all, the shape and wrapping differed with each day.

It was now three days before Christmas. Even in the traditional Christmas hustle and bustle, a new gift appeared beneath the tree to replace the previous one.

Aaron became bolder. He picked it up and shook it. He carried it to another room to discover any movement inside. Yet, the wrapped box seemed to do nothing. It contained nothing at all, or at least it seemed.

On the night of Christmas Eve, Aaron wrestled with sleep. It wasn’t the advent of St. Nick that plowed his mind with thoughts. It was that gift.

Whose is it? Is it mine?

When it is opened, what rare treasures might there be?

And, who is the mystery giver?

His restless sleep tied the sheets into a knot until the first pink of dawn invaded his bedroom. He flew out of bed and to the tree. And there, a new gift but it was still not the same as before.

The family gathered, and eager children choked down a hasty breakfast. It was time to open gifts.

Everyone wanted to open the surprise gift, but it was off-limits until all other presents lay forlorn. With the fury of a bagged cat, the kids tore into wrapping and bow. What had been so beautiful, now was a pile of a wadded prelude. Gifts lay strewn about the room.

One gift remained—the gift.

But, today it was different. A tag addressed to all three children, Aaron included, graced the gift. Each child took a turn tearing the wrapping from it, with the last being Aaron.

But Aaron hesitated. He had grown fond of the mystery, and now, an open box would end it.

He lifted the lid with one finger. He waited for something to hop out.

In it was not a jewel, or a toy, or money. Instead, a letter lay at the bottom of the box.

“Dear children, I wanted to leave you a special gift. I could not afford much, but I wanted my gift to be lavish and grand. This letter describes the gift we all receive.

Each day, you saw this gift. You pondered it and handled it. And yet, it remained unopened and replaced by another each day.

In this season of Christmas, you wanted the days to fly by. Aaron, I know you wish you could skip forward and go to kindergarten. Don’t be so eager. Time passes by, and soon, you wish you had these days back. One day, you will look backward with either regret or satisfaction. That is a choice you have made before the feeling.

I asked your mother to be my partner in crime in this caper. She agreed to each night wrap a box and place it under the tree. And I know how hard it was for her to do this with a straight face.

My gift to you is a gift all receive. It is “Today.” As you experienced, you get a new gift each day. And at night it disappears and replaced by a new one. Don’t squander it or wish it away. Use it well and cherish each one. One day, you will want so many “todays” back. It will disappear and a new will come with the sun’s rising.

One day, the gift will no longer come, so care for each as the treasure it is.

So, my dear grandchildren, I give you the gift of today. Enjoy it. Use it. Love it.

With all my love,

Aaron and his brother and sisters did not know what to do with the gift, but they learned how lavish a blessing. Each day they had the chance to start over every day. And with each dawn, they saw a foil-wrapped gift in their mind called “today.”

And one day, the gift brought them an even greater appreciation. A year later, in a cold rain, they donned sport coats never worn to stand in a place they had not experienced. The canopy kept the rain from the heavens, but not the tears from their eyes.

They remembered the gift as men spoke of their grandfather. They read the inscription on the marble with his name. And below it, on the slab that would mark his final resting place, were the words “Today is a Gift.”