"Who wants to participate in Secret Santa?" I asked my co-workers after a long night at Finnlocks.
"Wait a minute ... this year Secret Santa is going to be done a little differently," my mom said.
"What!" I whispered to myself. Secret Santa at work was the best part of the Christmas season because everyone took part in the joy of giving and receiving. This year, instead of giving each other gifts, all the employees at my parent's restaurant were told that they should buy gifts for a less-privileged family. At first, I was not sure if being a Secret Santa for people I did not know would be so great. What would we buy this family of ten? How would the family react? Despite these questions, I offered to help my mom and Kathy, an employee and Mom's best friend, organize and shop for the family.
The names of the children, their sizes, likes and dislikes were sent to us. My mom cut small stockings from red construction paper and glued cotton balls on the top of each. On each she wrote gift ideas for each child. A total of 30 stockings were made, and the next day almost all had been taken by employees and customers. I took the last two: a two-year-old who requested a doll and a 12-year-old who wanted the new N*Sync CD.
Over the next two weeks gifts, big and small, started flowing in, each beautifully wrapped. When over 30 had piled up, I realized that individuals had purchased more gifts than had been requested. People also brought in warm winter clothing and toys ranging from Barbie dolls to karaoke machines and baskets piled high with fresh fruit and sweets.
One employee and I organized all the gifts the day before delivery and tears of amazement began to fall from my eyes. The Finnlocks' family had united to turn a heart-warming idea into reality.
Delivery day finally arrived. I remember that chilly morning so clearly. After an early church service, my mom and I headed to Finnlocks to meet Kathy and load the gifts. Excitement and anxiety overwhelmed me. My energy and holiday spirit filled the car as I sang my favorite carol, "We Wish You A Merry Christmas."
The car ride on snow-blanketed Main Street was slow. The roads were slippery and the gentle drops of snow on the windshield hindered our vision. The seats of the van were piled high with the gifts as I tried to hold myself on the edge of the seat.
"There it is!" my mom said, nearly passing the house.
"Are you sure?" I asked, looking through the evergreens at the beige house. I wanted to make sure that everything went right on this important day.
The narrow, stone-covered driveway crackled as we drove in. My mom, still dressed in her church clothes, fur coat and leather gloves, returned seconds later with a tall, friendly-looking man. I didn't say a word. Words were not necessary as we unloaded the gifts one by one.
The house was small, but immaculate. The kitchen held a table and chairs and the usual appliances, but was unique in one way: by the door were umpteen pairs of shoes - pink Barbie sneakers and little purple snow boots.
We stayed only a short time, and did not have a long conversation about the gifts. We did not meet the mother or the children because they were at church. As we left, tears filled the father's eyes and he said, "You are Christmas angels! May God bless you as you have blessed us."
His blessing echoed in my mind as we drove again down the slippery roads. His words were truly the most heart-felt and kind anyone had ever said to me. Our combined efforts as a community helped to make one family's holiday better. Filled with emotion, I said, "Thank you, Mom! This was the best Christmas present ever!"
To this day, I do not know the name of anyone in that family. I would not recognize a face. Our words were few, but the holiday spirit of giving and loving your neighbor were clearly present. That day I saw firsthand that the world is not perfect, but when you open your eyes to hunger and poverty, you can help make the world better by doing the simplest things. Although I never met any of the children, I saw their shoes, and I know they enjoyed their Christmas. I never expected anything in return from that Christmas family, but I received the most priceless gift ever, the true feeling of the giving spirit at Christmas time.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.