For the last five years or so my department at work has come together at Christmas to support families in a small trailer park by our office. We found out about these families through our local fire chief so every year he arranges a fire truck and a Santa to deliver the gifts we collect to the children in this park.
We can usually coerce six or seven people to leave our busy office to ride on the truck and help Santa pass out the gifts to the children. Let me tell you, riding on top of a fire truck is pretty fun. Seeing the faces of the children when a fire truck drives up their driveway with Santa on top is fantastically fun.
This year we decided to try to help this small community beyond supplying gifts to the children. Everyone brought in little luxuries to make gift bags for the families. Luxuries like chocolates and Christmas cookies and handmade fleece blankets. In addition to providing gift bags for the families with children we decided to make gift bags for the trailers without children as well. Year after year the people in those trailers have come out to watch us take care of the families with children and been happy that they were getting support. Everyone in our department came together to put the gift bags together. We were all excited to know that this would be a complete surprise for absolutely everyone in the trailer park.
We also took up a collection to provide gift cards for a local grocery store so that the families could buy supplies for a nice holiday meal. We’ve done this in the past but we wanted to make a bigger impact this year so we set a pretty high monetary goal for the department.
I was particularly struck by the generosity of a woman I work with. She didn’t bring me money for the collection until the very last day. She apologized and explained that she thought she was going to have to tell me that she just wasn’t in a position to contribute this year but at the very last second miraculously the money appeared. She gave me more than we requested so I offered her change. She insisted that we use it all for the gift cards. She was honored to give more than her share.
A few of us rode on the fire truck today with Santa to deliver everything to the trailer park. It is always incredible to see the children accept their gifts from Santa. For many of them, the gift we give them will be their only gift for Christmas so we all know that it is very special to them. The parents always hang back, taking photos and letting their children have their moment in the sun. Today, however, the parents were all called forward and presented with a gift bag and a gift card for food. They were surprised and grateful.
After all the families with children had received their gifts we started calling forward the homes without children. The first house number we called was that of an elderly couple standing in the background. They couldn’t believe that their names were being called. They slowly came to the fire truck to receive their own gift bag and gift card. At first they were shy and trepidatious, but when Santa handed them the gift bag I saw in their eyes that in that moment they too, felt that they were special. They understood that other people in the world took the time to make sure that they were cared for. It was stunningly beautiful.
Every single person that we gave gift bags and gifts to in that little trailer park on the side of a major city street accepted their gifts with grace and honor. I’ve seen children tear through a dozen gifts on Christmas morning and barely realize what they’ve received. Today I know that every gift was special. Every gift was appreciated. And every recipient felt valued.
This, for me, is the true nature of the holiday spirit. It’s not in what we get this holiday season. The real joy is in what we give.