It’s that time of year. Heaps of stress, never-ending lists, presents that will not wrap themselves no matter how hard I wish it, (plus!) scheduling my annual pilgrimage to church with my mother.

The funny thing is, I love the holidays. I love the twinkly white lights, the tangible greetings from family and friends delivered right to our mailbox, the all Christmas music radio station (Bing Crosby, Vince Guaraldi and last but not least, Jon Bon Jovi’s Please Come Home for Christmas).

I tend to be more thankful at this time of year than at any other.

My kids are out-of-their-minds excited for Christmas; they decorated the house with gusto, happily picked out presents to give to each other and our family members, reminded me that it is tradition to put the tree in the corner of the room—NOT in front of the window. While I know that somewhere in their consciousness lurks the understanding that this holiday is about more than Santa Claus (unlike me, they are semi-regular church-goers), it is not often that that knowledge is exposed.

A case in point: Let’s flashback to five years ago. Nora was an infant and Liam was four years old. Henry was but a twinkle in my husband’s…eye. Overwhelmed by dirty diapers and a dearth of much-needed sleep, I came downstairs with the baby to find an empty house. I searched for Liam, who should have been happily ensconced in front of the TV, for five long minutes. On the brink of insanity, I happened to look outside. At the end of our driveway, stood a small, snow-covered figure with a bucket and a bell. Ripping open the front door, I shouted, “Liam! Get in here, this instant!”

Reluctantly, he trudged back up the hill with his bucket.

“What were you thinking, mister?”

“Nana told me never to pass someone with a bell without giving them money. I rang the bell, but no one stopped.” He was both wet and disappointed.

“Oh, buddy. What were you going to do with the donations?”

“Well, you won’t buy me that Star Wars blaster, so I’m gonna buy it myself.”

Obviously, this prompted a long conversation (alright, I’ll call a spade a spade—it was a lecture) about the Salvation Army, people’s basic needs and our family’s commitment to charitable giving, which has been repeated on multiple occasions over the years and augmented with both planned and random acts of kindness. Still, I wasn’t sure that any of the kids were getting the big picture.

And then between the blank stares and shrugged shoulders, I glimpsed a ray of light.

We were, as usual, running behind schedule. The kids missed the school bus so I dispersed them—Medium first, then Small, and finally, Large.

Liam trudged toward the double doors of the middle school, munching on toast and hefting an enormous backpack. Without warning, he spun around and headed back to the car. I put my window down. “What did you forget?”

“My money.”

I was immediately suspicious. “What are you bringing money to school for?”

He met my skepticism with righteous indignation. “I’m helping buy a turkey for a needy family. Do you think five dollars is enough?”

A buried memory of an e-newsletter burbled to the surface of my mind. I was speechless. Not only had he remembered the food drive without any parental reminders, but he was using his own savings to participate.

It was my tiny miracle.

Happy holidays, everyone.

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