Happy eighth day of Christmas! I know we’re all turning our thoughts to the new year, to heading back to work or school, to the business and busyness of 2022.
And so I’d like to ask your indulgence to tell a story from way back in the last year.
Last week, actually.
It was two days before Christmas of 2021. It’s a tale of Christmas generosity that I’d like to see live on well into the new year.
On the eve of Christmas Eve, my kids and I joined a half dozen good folks who were volunteering to run the entrance to the light display at Fort Borst Park.
We collected the $5 entry fee as well as any bags of canned food that people brought for donation to local food banks. We used clickers to count the number of cars and the number of attendees inside the cars. (We had 651 cars and a total of 2,264 people over four hours that night of Dec. 23 — an incredible number, in my opinion.)
It was a cold but joyful night. People took a new route into the park this year (by Wheeler Field), which removed the line of cars from the busy areas by the freeway interchange.
Everyone was happy, even after waiting in line. They were there for the magic of the light displays. The spirit of Christmas was shining bright. You could see it in the eyes of the little kids and even the inner children of the adults.
My favorite part of the night was when folks would give us extra money, saying “I want to pay for the car behind me.”
The look of surprise and delight in the face of the next driver was such a treat.
After a moment of shock, they’d usually say something along the lines of, “Well, let’s keep it going!” They’d hand us their $5 and tell us to pass the blessing along.
My kids would cheer each time they heard that. They kept a running count of the number of times people passed it along. I think our record was around 20 cars in a row that would continue paying for the car behind them. They were many other streaks of a dozen or more cars. I think that many of the people who broke the streak didn’t do it out of selfishness, but simply because in the unexpectedness of the moment they didn’t think to pass it on.
One older man gave me a $20 bill and said he wanted to pay for the next three cars behind him that had kids. You could see the happiness he felt, knowing the joy he was giving to children.
In a happy twist, all of the people in those chains of kindness ended up paying the same amount of money they were due to pay anyway. The sweetness came from the pleasure of giving it out of generosity rather than as an obligation.
It reminds me of Portia’s speech in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes...
People were so genuinely pleased to know that the person ahead had thought of them, and were so gratified to be able to give to someone else. I hope they — and all of us — can carry that spirit on into 2022 and beyond.
Now I have to add one more detail. Among the rules presented to us when we showed up to volunteer was that we weren’t supposed to allow people to pay for those in cars behind them. If someone gave us more than $5, we were supposed to credit them for their $5 entry fee and then take the rest as an extra donation to the charities that benefit from the light tour.
Apparently the reason for that was to ensure that we collected enough money to match the number of cars that came through, so that there would never be a question about proper cash handling procedures.
I respect that reasoning. We made sure that we ended up with at least $5 collected for every car.
If there is another reason that I didn’t hear, I’d be more than willing to take chastisement and correction from the folks in charge.
But if not, perhaps they might want to rewrite the rules for next year. Letting people give generously to others — neighbors they don’t know but for whom they feel a burst of kindness — gets to the heart of the Christmas spirit. Taking that opportunity away from them has the whiff of the Grinch about it.
At any rate, I do apologize for stepping outside the letter of the guidelines. I’m not advocating that anyone break the rules, but I do have to say that I was so enchanted by the magic of the generosity that followed us bending this one.
Dad joke of the week:
Q: What do you call a large swamp lizard that can start problems in the blink of an eye?
A: An insta-gator.
Brian Mittge aims to keep the Christmas spirit alive into 2022. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.