The Best Christmas Present in the World: Summary, Meanings and Answers Class 8 English, Chapter 1

The Best Christmas Present is the 1st Chapter of the class 8 NCERT book: Here get the Summary, Meanings and Answers to textbook intext questions as well as the final exercise questions.


In a junk shop, the author discovered an old roll-top desk for sale at a low price despite being in poor condition. Determined to restore it, he began working on it on Christmas Eve. While pulling out the drawers, he discovered that they had been damaged by fire and water. The seller had mentioned that it was from the 19th century and made of oak.

The last drawer was stuck, but with much effort, it opened, revealing a secret space containing a small tin box with the words “Jim’s last letter” on it. The letter, written by a captain in the English army named Jim Macpherson, was addressed to his wife, Connie, and described a remarkable incident that occurred on Christmas Day during a war between the English and Germans.

The two sides, standing in their trenches across no man’s land, exchanged greetings, and to everyone’s surprise, the Germans brought wine and canned meat as gifts. The soldiers played football and shared food and drink, and Macpherson and a German officer named Hans Wolf bonded over their shared love of Dorset and Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. The soldiers exchanged carols before parting, with the hope of peace and the end of the war.

The author of the story read the letter and decided to return it to its rightful owner, Mrs. Jim Macpherson. After a search, he found her in a nursing home, confused but overjoyed to receive the letter from her beloved Jim. She mistook the author for her husband and spoke to him as if he had returned to her. She thanked him for the best Christmas present in the world.

In summary, the story is about the discovery of a letter from a soldier to his wife during a Christmas truce in a war. It’s also about the power of love and the memories that connect people across time and distance.

Word Meanings

Roll-top deska desk with a flexible sliding cover
Far toovery much
scorch marksburn marks
was going forwas selling for
little moneycheap
riskexpose to loss
challengedifficulty in a job one undertakes
workroomworking place
Veneera thin layer of decorative wood on furniture of cheap wood separated
taken their toll ondamaged
struck fastshut tight
to easeto loosen
gentlywithout using much force
brute forcegreat force
fisttightly closed palm
shallownot deep
reached input hand in
grippingholding tightly
turned outhappened
long fordesire
easily enoughquite easily
wispywisp-like (like a thin mass)
went oncontinued
reached outextended the hand
scruplesthe appeal of conscience/ moral considerations
got the better ofwon over
it usually doesit happens frequently
trenchesdeep holes in the ground
crispbracing-invigorating (weather) all around
all aboutall around
frostycovered with frost
Orchestraa company of artists playing musical instruments
Fritza name for a German soldier
no man’s landan area between armies which no one controls
got overcontrolled
That would be thatthat was all
parapetthe wall at the side of the trench
Schnappsa German drink from grains
Sausagecanned minced meat
occurred tostruck
outstretchedheld out
rum rationallowance of wine (given to the soldiers)
Marzipancovering on the cake
long since run outconsumed long back
distantfar off
slippedput gently
boarded upcovered by wood
entitledhad the right
lopsidedbent on one side
conservatorya glass house made to relax (close to the main house)
pottedin the pots
bunhair gathered into a round coil or knot
vacantlywith blank stare
lit upbecame bright with happiness
Suffused with Glowcovered with shine
for mefor my sake

Comprehension Check Solutions

Check 1 (Page 10)

1. What did the author find in a junk shop?

Ans. The author found an old roll-top desk in a junk shop in Bridport. It was made in early 19th century of oak wood. Since, it was not in good condition, the junk shopkeeper was selling it at a low price.

2. What did he find in a secret drawer? Who do you think had put it in there?

Ans. In the secret drawer, the narrator found a small black tin box that contained a letter. On the box a note said that this letter was Jim’s last letter, received on 25th January, 1915. The envelope of the letter addresses Mrs Macpherson as the receiver of the letter; therefore it must be Mr Macpherson who kept the letter in that secret drawer.

Check 2 (Page 14)

1. Who had written the letter, to whom and when?

Ans. Jim had written the last letter to his wife, Connie when he was away on the war front fighting the war against the Germans. The letter was written a day after Christmas i.e. on 2nd December 1914. It reached Mrs Macpherson on 25th January 1915.

2. Why was the letter written- When was the wonderful thing that had happened?

Ans. Jim wrote this letter to his wife, Connie to describe certain unusual events that took place on the previous day. In the midst of the war, the British and the German soldiers had come together to celebrate Christmas.

They celebrated the day as the best of friends would, sharing their food and drinks and cake. It was unbelievable for Jim and perhaps for others too to think of enemies setting aside their hatred for each other and making peace. Jim shared with Connie all possible details of the day, for he was too happy.

3. What jobs did Hans Wolf and Jim Macpherson have when they were not soldiers?

Ans. Hans Wolf played the cello in an orchestra. He had come from Dusseldorf. Jim Macpherson, on the other hand, was a school teacher in Dorset.

4. Had Hans Wolf ever been to Dorset? Why did he say he knew it?

Ans. Hans Wolf had never been to Dorset. Despite that, he knew fairly well about the place. He had read a lot about Dorset and England in English books.

He also spoke good English. Jim was surprised to know this.

5. Do you think Jim Macpherson came back from the war? How do you know this?

Ans. Jim  Macpherson did not come back from the war. Jim wrote the letter to Connie in the year 1914 and because he was a soldier/ an officer, he must have been very young then. The story ends with old Mrs Macpherson, aged hundred and one, still waiting for Jim’s return. Clearly many decades have passed and contrary to his promise, Jim did not come back home. He was probably dead.

Check 3 (Page 15)

1. Why did the author go to Bridport?

Ans. The author went to Bridport to meet Connie and return her the letter. The tin box that contained the  letter had Connie’s message pasted upon it, “To be buried with me when the time comes.”

The narrator could not restrain himself from taking the letter to its rightful owner.

2. How old was Mrs Macpherson now? Where was she?

Ans. Old Mrs Macpherson was now a hundred and one years old. She was admitted to Burlington House Nursing Home after her house had caught fire.

Check 4 (Page 16)

1. Who did Connie Manpherson think her visitor was?

Ans. The narrator on seeing Connie called out her name and handed over the tin box and the letter to her. On seeing the letter, Connie began stroking the letter and thought the visitor to be her husband, who had finally returned from the war.

2. Which sentence in the text shows that the visitor did not try to hide his identity?

Ans. On meeting Connie, the visitor tried to explain to her how he had found the desk, the secret drawer and the letter, ” I explained about the desk, about how I had found it, but I don’t think she was listening.”

Textbook Exercise Solutions

Working with the Text (NCERT Page 16)

1. For how long do you think Connie had kept Jim’s letter? Give reasons for your answer.

Ans. Connie must have kept her husband, Jim’s letter for a very long time as she used to read it very often. Jim was a British officer fighting in the war against the Germans. The soldiers in armies are usually young men. This tells us that Connie must also have been a young lady when she received her husband’s letter on 25th January 1915.

When we meet Mrs Macpherson in the Burlington House Nursing Home, she is an old lady, aged hundred and one. The time-lapse clearly indicates that Connie must have preserved Jim’s letter for more than 70  years.

2. Why do you think the desk had been sold and when?

Ans. The narrator purchased the desk from a junk shop in perhaps the late 20th century. The desk was an old, early 19th-century desk made of oak and was supposed to be very expensive.

However, the current state of the desk was very bad, for it was recovered from Mrs Macpherson’s house after it caught fire. The remains of the household articles must have been sold after Mrs Macpherson was taken to the nursing home.

3. Why do Jim and Hans think that games or sports are a good way of resolving conflicts? Do you agree?

Ans. Jim and Hans thought that games or sports are good ways of resolving conflicts than going to war because war only leads to death and destruction. No matter which camp wins the war, loss of life is common to both armies, families too are ruined and children are orphaned and wives are widowed. I completely agree with this line of thought as no one dies during matches. Peace constructs society whereas war destroys it.

4. Do you think the soldiers of the two armies are like each other or different from each other? Find evidence from the story to support your answer.

Ans. There is enough evidence in the story to prove that the soldiers of both armies are no different from each other. The soldiers from both sides love the idea of peace and harmony. They lose no time in coming together to celebrate Christmas with each other, forgetting that they are each other’s enemies. They bring their drinks, sausages and cakes and unite in perfect brotherhood. Also, the soldiers on both sides become sad again when they were to again return to their trenches and continue with the war. Jim Macpherson also regretted that he was not the first one to initiate the peace truce.

5. Mention the various ways in which the British and the German soldiers become friends and find things in common at Christmas.

Ans. When the German soldiers waved the white flag and called out ‘ Merry Christmas’ from across the no man’s land, the British soldiers with a similar spirit replied,’ same to you.’ The soldiers on both sides galled together over alcohol, sausages and cakes that they brought together to make merry on Christmas.

They also played football and other games and even after having returned to their trenches, continued singing Christmas carols following each other in perfect harmony.

6. What is Connie’s Christmas present? Why is it ” the best Christmas present in the world”?

Ans. The letter that Jim wrote to Connie informed her of her husband’s happy state of mind, a rarity during the times of war. In the letter, Jim also promised Connie that he would be home before next Christmas. Jim’s letter carried with it a message of hope. Recovery of the letter despite the fact that her house had caught fire and mistakenly assuming the stranger, who bought with him the letter to be her husband,” the best Christmas present” for Connie was the fulfilment of her hopes on a Christmas day, the return of the letter and her husband, Jim.

7. Do you think the title of this story is suitable for it? Can you think of any other title (s)?

Ans. According to me, the title of the story,” The Best Christmas Present in the World” is quite apt, as all the events in the story revolve around Christmas. Each of the primary characters receives a present on the day of Christmas. Jim Macpherson and Hans Wolf rejoice in the merriment of Christmas along with their armies. Away from home and its gaiety they nonetheless get to be happy, even though temporarily.

The narrator manages to buy the desk, a desk he had been longing to buy but was too expensive for him. Around Christmas, he manages to acquire a desk that is in bad condition and therefore, relatively cheaper. Connie Macpherson recovers her special letter yet again and believes that on Christmas her husband has finally returned to her, as he had promised years ago n the letter.

Working With Language (NCERT Page 17)

1. Look at these sentences from the story.

spotted it in a junk shop in Bridport…. The man said it was made in the early 19th century…. This one was in a bad condition…

The italicised verbs are in the past tense. They tell us what happened in the past, before now.

(i) Read the passage below and underline the verbs in the past tense.

A man got on the train and sat down. The compartment was empty except for one lady. She took her gloves off. A few hours later the police arrested the man. They held him for 24 hours and then freed him.

Ans. A man got on the train and sat down. The compartment was empty except for one lady. She took her gloves off.  A few hours later the police arrested the man. They held him for 24 hours and then freed him.

Now look at these sentences.

The veneer had lifted almost everywhere. Both fire and water had taken their toll on this desk.

Notice the verb forms had lifted, had taken (their toll). The author found and bought the desk in the past. The desk was damaged before the author found it and bought it.

Fire and water had damaged the desk before the author found it and bought it.

We use verb forms like had damaged for an event in the ‘earlier past’. If there are two events in the past, we use the ‘had…’ form for the event that occurred first in the past.

We also use the past perfect tense to show that something was wished for or expected before a particular time in the past, e.g. I had always wanted one…

Discuss with your partner the difference in meaning in the sentences below.

When I reached the station, the train left.

When I reached the station, the train had left.

(ii) Fill in the blanks using the correct form of the verbs in brackets.

My little sister is very naughty. When she …………..(come) back from school yesterday, she had ……….. (tear) her dress. We …………. (ask) her how it had …………….(happen). She ………..(say) she ………… (have) ………………(quarrel) with a boy. She ………..(have) ……………(beat) him in a race and he ……………(have)………….(try) to push her. She ………… (have) ………..(tell) the teacher and so he ……..(have) …………..(chase) her and she ……..(have) ………….(fall) down and …………….(have)………….(tear) her dress.


My little sister is very naughty. When she came back from school yesterday, she had torn her dress. We asked her how it had happened. She said she had quarrelled with a boy. She had beaten him in a race and he had tried to push her. She had told the teacher and so he had chased her and she had fallen down and had torn her dress.

(iii) Underline the verbs and arrange them in two columns, Past and Earlier past.

(a) My friend set out to see the caves in the next town, but I stayed at home because I had seen them already.

(b) When they arrived at the station, their train had left. They came back home, but by that time I had gone out to see a movie.

(c) So they sat outside and ate the lunch I had packed for them

(d) By the time I returned, they had fallen asleep.


(a) My friend set out to see the caves in the next town, but I stayed at home because I had seen them already.

(b) When they arrived at the station, their train had left. They came back home, but by that time I had gone out to see a movie.

(c) So they sat outside and ate the lunch I had packed for them

(d) By the time I returned, they had fallen asleep.

PastEarlier Past
Stayed, Arrived, Came, Sat, ate, Returnedhad seen, had left, had gone, had packed, had fallen

2. Dictionary Work

By the end of the journey, we had run out of drinking water.

Look at the verb run out of in this sentence. It is a phrasal verb: it has two parts, a verb and a preposition or an adverb.

Phrasal verbs often have meanings that are different from the meanings of their parts. Find these phrasal verbs in the story.

Burn out, lit up, looked on, run out, keep out

Write down the sentences in which they occur. Consult a dictionary and write down the meaning that you think matches the meaning of the phrasal verb in the sentences.


(i) Burn out – completely burnt or exhausted

House number 12 turned out to be nothing, but a burned-out shell.

(ii) Lit-up – glow

That was the moment her eyes lit up with recognition and her face became suffused with a sudden glow of happiness.

(iii)  Looked on  watched

Hans Wolf and I looked on and cheered, clapping our hands and stamping our feet.

(iv) Run out – finished

The time came and all too soon, when the game was finished, the schnapps and the rum and the sausage had long since run out and we knew it was all over.

(v) Keep out  – prevent from entering

Hans Wolf and I looked on and cheered clapping our hands and stamping our feet, to keep out the cold as much as anything.

3. Noun Phrase

Read the following sentence.

I took out a small black tin box.

  • The phrase in italics is a noun phrase.
  • It has the noun-box- as the head word and three adjectives preceding it.
  • Notice the order in which the adjectives occur- size(small), colour(black) and material(tin) of which it is made.

We rarely use more than four adjectives before a noun and there is no rigid order in which they are used, though there is a preferred order of modifiers/ adjectives in a noun phrase, as given below.

DeterminerModifier 1
(opinion, feeling)
Modifier 2
(Size, shape, age)
Modifier 3
Modifier 4
Head word
A/ an / thenice/ lazy/beautifultall/round/old/youngred/ white/ light/ darksilk/cotton/woollenwoman/man/table/chair

4. The table below contains a list of nouns and some adjectives. Use as many adjectives as you can to describe each noun. You might come up with some funny descriptions!

circular, stripped, enormous,
multicoloured, round, cheerful, wild, blue,
red, chubby, large, medium-sized, cold


elephant, face, building, waterenormous, multicoloured striped, round, cheerful, red, chubby large,medium-sized, multicoloured blue, cold

Speaking (NCERT Page 19)

1. In groups discuss whether wars are a good way to end conflicts between countries. Then present your arguments to the whole class.

Ans. War is definitely not a good way of resolving conflicts between countries. Wars only lead to destruction and devastation. It leads to the loss of both human life and property.

Human loss in war is responsible for the death of trained, skilled, zealous and patriotic soldiers. It is a pity that people who are meant to protect us have to lose their life. The war hero usually dies on the battlefield and many times when he returns, he has injuries that are of a lifelong nature. This suffering is also extended to his family members who constantly mourn his separation, death and suffering. Children are orphaned, wives are widowed and parents lose their sons. War also affects civilians who fall prey to the war.

Economic loss

A lot of money is spent by the government on maintaining armies. Also during war, there is increased expenditure on maintaining weapons and ammunition that are essential in combating the enemy. This money could be spent on welfare programmes, infrastructural developments and so on. In a civilised society, discussions negotiations and peace treaties could be good alternatives to avoid war and live in a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere.

2. What kind of presents do you like and why? What are the things you keep in mind when you buy presents for others? Discuss with your partner.

Ans.  Presents are usually tokens of love and blessings. It is good to receive them. One feels loved and pampered. I like receiving painting materials and books as presents. I use them to create paintings to decorate my home. While buying presents for others, there are two points to be kept in mind which are as follows :

(i) The preferences of the person for whom we are buying the present. It is good to keep aside our personal likes and think of what would be suitable had that person been buying something for himself/herself.

(ii) The efficacy or the worth of the present. Presents are also good ways of inculcating and encouraging good habits in others. For instance, gifting books that could be read by people over a period of time and also be shared with others. It is also a good source of knowledge. Gifting potted plants is another good method of improving our surroundings and environment and aiming at creating cleaner and greener spaces around us. It is also good to buy and give presents to children at orphanages as they have no one who could give them this happiness.

Writing (NCERT Page 20)

1. Imagine that you are Jim. You have returned to your town after the war. In your diary record how you feel about the changes you see and the events that occur in your town. You could begin like this, 25th December 1919, it’s Christmas today, but the town looks…………

Ans.  25th December 1919

The war is over and I have returned home and today is Christmas, but Christmas didn’t have its usual cheer and gaiety. Hardly any people can be seen on the streets dancing, singing, and merry-making. It’s been more than a month since the war was over, but people are still terrorised and hesitant in stepping out. The joy of Christmas is incomplete without a community celebration.

The empty streets are not the same either. The buildings, the parks, and the fountains have been reduced to debris. The purity of the air has been replaced by the smell of blood and fire. I just cannot connect with this town. I get lost while wandering because all those familiar landmarks have been reduced to heaps of garbage. I feel so sad.

Connie is sad too. She is traumatised and gets lost in the web of her thoughts. I wish this war had never happened. How I wish that the last Christmas celebration should not have been further followed by the war. Things could have been different today. Things could have been normal today.



Suppose you are the visitor. You are in a dilemma. You don’t know whether to disclose your identity and disappoint the old lady or let her believe that her dear Jim has come back. Write a letter to a friend highlighting your anxiety, fear and feelings.


House No. 10,

XYZ Street,


25th December 1990

Dear Peter

How have you been my friend? It’s been a long time since we last met. I had come to Burlington for some work and encountered a string of strange events. My thoughts are all muddled up. I am sharing with you my feelings, hoping you could help. The string of strange events started with my buying a roll-top desk. It was in a bad condition, so I started working on its repair and while doing so I saw a secret drawer in it and it contained a letter.

The letter was written by Jim, an army officer, to his wife Connie, while he was away at the war with Germans. It was quite an old letter, dated 1914. Having read the letter I immediately knew how special and treasured this letter was. So, the next morning I thought of meeting Mrs Macpherson. with the help of the address indicated on the envelope, I reached there and got to know that their house had caught fire and Mrs Macpherson was now in a hospital. I went to see her in the hospital. She had turned so old and was sitting in a wheelchair. I tried explaining to her how I had found it, but she had become lost in her thoughts and somehow she understood me to be Jim, her dead husband. She kissed my cheek, held my hands, and asked me to talk to her and I animatedly did it all. I came back home after a little while, stuck up in my thoughts entirely as to what to do next. Should I tell her the truth and disappoint her? Or should I allow her to die peacefully thinking that finally, her husband had returned to her? Dear friend, please help me understand what should be the right course of action.

Yours truly


2. Given below is the outline of a story. Consider the story using the outline.

A young, newly married doctor………… freedom fighter ……….. exiled to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by the British ……….. infamous Cellular Jail …….. prisoners tortured ……….. revolt by inmates …………… doctor hanged ……….. wife waits for his return ………….. becomes old ……. continue to wait with hope and faith.

Ans.  A young, newly married doctor, who was also a freedom fighter, and a true patriot, was detained a day after his marriage and exiled to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by the British to the infamous Cellular Jail. All this happened so suddenly and discreetly that nobody got to know what had happened. In the jail, the prisoners were tortured and beaten up.

They were not allowed to write letters to their relatives. They were expected to silently endure all this, but one fine day there was a revolt by the inmates. They decided to get together and protest. The authorities did not know how to handle it and to suppress the revolt many inmates were hanged to death. The doctor too was hanged. His wife didn’t get the news of his death. She kept waiting for him to return. Endlessly waiting, she became old, but her husband never returned. Despite that, she continues to wait with hope and faith.

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