Imagine, on Christmas Eve, being visited by a terrifying and tormented apparition warning you that if you don’t change your ways, you’re headed for the same eternal torture that he endures. That would make your Christmas, wouldn’t it?
This happens to old Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when his long-deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, returns to haunt him. But Scrooge is not convinced regarding his warning; rather, skeptic that he is (and to change the subject), he challenges Marley as to why he’s bound in heavy chains.
“’I wear the chain I forged in life,’ Marley says. ‘I made it link by link and yard by yard. I gartered it on of my own free will and by my own free will, I wore it.” Marley sadly confesses that each link in that heavy chain represents a selfish or evil deed he performed while on earth—or a good deed he neglected to perform.
Scrooge is stunned. “’But you were always such a good man of business, Jacob.’”
“’Business!’ Marley cries. ‘Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business! The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”
Mankind is our business as well. And in the mass press of Christmastime when we’re up to our ears with shopping, wrapping, eating, and making merry, it’s easy to confine our concern for others to our own families and friends.
But what if we went further? What if we gave something of ourselves to those we don’t know well or even at all? Giving is, after all, the heart of Christmas. We’ve all experienced the true joy of giving to someone and watching their face light up in delight at our gift or visit or other act of kindness. So what if we did that for total strangers? I have to tell you—it’s a ton of fun.
There are lots of ways to surprise people with love and kindness at Christmas. I have a soft spot for people who are required to work outside in order to do their jobs—full-service gas station attendants (yes, they do exist), mail delivery people, and especially volunteers like the Salvation Army folks who ring the bells in the freezing cold. You know what’s really fun? Bringing them a hot chocolate from Dunkin Donuts or McD’s. They’re so happy!
There are all kinds of other things you can do, too. Ever have someone pay for your order in a drive-through? Sometimes that even starts a chain reaction: Someone pays for yours, then you pay for the next person, and so on (although that can drive the cashier crazy so buy her a donut). Or you could bake goodies for a nursing home, for your kids’ teachers and staff, or for policemen or firefighters. (Hint: before you do, call and ask if it’s okay to bring food. Sometimes these orgs have rules about random people bringing edibles. It’s often best to serve an organization where the people in charge know who you are.) Or you can remember those in your doctor’s/dentist’s office, your auto mechanic’s shop, or your salon.
Another random act of kindness is to send a pizza to someone who’s working a long, lonely nightshift or to give a small token of appreciation to the frazzled store clerks who have to put up with not-so-pleasant people in the last days of the Christmas shopping rush. Maybe it’s just a candy bar that you give, but even if they don’t end up eating it, it’s just the idea that someone cared enough to take notice of them that will bless their hearts and let them know they’re appreciated. And don’t forget food banks which always need, well, food. Many grocery stores have bins where you can drop a few non-perishable items on your way out the door. Don’t think it doesn’t matter—every can and bottle adds up.
Appreciate the folks who serve in the military? Send a holiday package to a military person and include a card saying, “Thank you for your service.” Military families serve as well so you might send them a gift card. Unfortunately, many military families don’t make a lot of money—especially young families—and an anonymous Christmas gift might help to make their Christmas a little brighter. In fact, I pretty much guarantee it.
Know a single person who could use some company for the holidays? Invite them over for dinner sometime. And please don’t forget single parents—many of them struggle to give their children a decent holiday. (Not all single parents have financial struggles, though, so do your homework before you make assumptions.) But if that’s the case, imagine the joy and relief that a single mom or dad feels when they receive a gift card to help them to bless their own children with a gift that otherwise they may not be able to afford. We all love giving gifts to those we love—why not help someone else do that? And along that vein, here’s another idea for a single parent family: Take their child or children Christmas shopping so that mom or dad actually gets a gift. What can be more fun than that? Single parents often feel forgotten during the holidays.
This year, give a gift to someone who might feel left out or who needs to be encouraged—it will mean so much to them. Or here’s a mindbender: Give a gift to someone who doesn’t necessarily deserve a present and see what bridges that might build (and it shouldn’t be that fake candy coal you can buy to put in someone’s stocking). Giving will put you and everyone else in the true spirit of the season. As the reformed Scrooge promised: “’I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.’”
You can do that—just be the Ghost of Christmas Presents.