One of my brother-in-laws called the other day from his home in Canada. He wanted to let me know that my Christmas present was in the mail.
    I wasnít excited. Every year itís the same thingówool mittens, or furry slippers, or a knit cap. Iíve tried to tell him not every place is as cold as Canada in the winter, but his ears were probably frozen shut.
   "No mittens this year," he said excitedly. "Instead, we bought you a goat."
   Great. Now he expects me to make my own mittens out of goat hair. Canadians may be resourceful, but Iím not, and I told him so.
   "First of all, youíre thinking about lambs, not goats," he replied. "And secondly, the goat is not for you, itís your gift to a family in the African country of Sierra Leone."
   I didnít know much about Sierra Leone other than it seemed like a strange name for an African country. It sounded more like a ski resort. I worried that my brother-in-law might be sending mittens along with my goat. I told him that would be inappropriate.
   He was done with the mittens reference. "Weíve adopted a village in Sierra Leone, and instead of buying you some Christmas present you donít need, weíre taking the $50 we would have spent on you and weíre buying a goat in your name, which will help feed one of the families in the village."
   I was impressed. First of all, I never knew he spent so much on those worthless mittens. Secondly, I couldnít think of a more gratifying Christmas present than having my own goat feed an impoverished family.
   "Do I get to name it?" I asked.
   "No. But I might be able to get you a picture if you really want one. The organization is called Free the Children. You should check it out."
   I thanked him again for my goat, hung up, and checked out the website. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of goats still available for sale, and I had just the customers in mind.
   "What do you mean youíre buying me a goat for Christmas?" cried my wife when I broke the news to her at the dinner table that night. "I donít want a stinking goat."
   I looked across at the two teenage boys wolfing down their meal. "Donít laugh," I said to the boys. "Youíre getting one, too. And so are your sisters. Goats for everyone."
   One of the boys looked up, his mouth full of noodles. "What does goat taste like," he mumbled.
   "Youíre not going to eat it, you knucklehead. The milk from the goat is going to help feed a poor family in Africa. And you donít need any more Christmas presents for yourself."
   They both shrugged, knowing it was true. My wife had to almost beg them to come up with something they wanted, let alone needed, for Christmas. There wasnít a lot on their "wish list," and thatís not necessarily a good thing.
   The girls, who are in their 20ís, were no different. They certainly appreciate whatever they get, but itís not as though theyíll be screaming with delight on Christmas morning.
    As for my wife, her parents carelessly and absent-mindedly conceived her in March, meaning her birthday is in December, 11 days before Christmas. In other words, I just gave her a present last week, and enough is enough. At least I was smart enough to be born in June.
   "Itís too late," said my wife. "Iíve already bought the kids most of their Christmas presents for this year."
   In the corner of my eye, I saw the boys do a little fist-pump. "Iím not suggesting we forego Christmas entirely," I replied. "Iím just suggesting we sacrifice a few things so we can buy everyone their own goat and give them to families in Africa."
    No one could argue that one. It was agreed we would buy enough goats for each of us to give to a family in Sierra Leone.
    Love filled the room. The teenage boys shrugged and went off to play a video game. The girls were never there. That left just me and my wife.
   My heart was warm. I thought about buying her a second goat, but decided against it. Maybe if her birthday wasnít in December.


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