Lesson learned: Christmas can come with bells and kettle
(Note: This is an unabashedly personal article about a memorable Christmas experience.)
This year, Christmas came with bells.
I had signed up for a two-hour stint at one of the red Salvation Army kettles, a job I wasn't particularly looking forward to. It was just one more thing I had to pencil into an already-busy pre-holiday schedule.
Little did I know, as I assumed my spot in the Super One lobby, that these two hours would unleash the joy and Christmas spirit that I hadn't managed to muster thus far. I still can't put my finger on one reason why that should be so; it just happened. But there are some things that stand out from that experience.
One is people's willingness to give. I had expected to find the kettle avoided because people run into them wherever they go--and while some did try to slip by unnoticed, most gave not only generously, but also eagerly.
I saw people digging their purses and wallets out when they were still in the parking lot. They pulled out bills, not just change, sometimes more than one at a time. But coins are good, too, and if that's all they had available, that's what they deposited. It all adds up.
Some gave shyly, as if they were afraid I'd give them credit. Some gave with big smiles, or with a hearty "Merry Christmas!" Some stopped to talk, whether I knew them or not.
I remember the old couple who helped each other into the store and then made a bee-line over to the kettle before grabbing a cart. I remember the young fellow, grimy with dirt from his factory job, whose smile lit his face and whose donation was given with joy. I still see those who looked as if they themselves might need some help from the Salvation Army, rummaging in their pockets for something to share.
Most of all, I remember the kids. They always want to put something in the kettle, whether because they instinctively know that sharing is part of what Christmas is about, or because they just like dropping something into that beguiling red slot.
"I take pictures of kids who put money in the kettle," I told each of them. "And I take the names of the adults who don't," I said, glancing up at their parents. They always laughed, as they were meant to.
Some of the kids pestered their parents into giving, some of them stood quietly by the kettle, hoping their proximity would entice some coins from Mom or Dad. Often, parents who would have donated anyway, gave the money to the kids and suggested they do it. Lessons in generosity, from one generation to another, sometimes flowing one way, sometimes the other. And all the while, the kettle filled.
I was sure I'd be hearing bells for a week after. I suspected carpal tunnel would set in any time soon. But that quickly ceased to matter. The camaraderie, the joy, the bustle of preparation, the holiday anticipation, the spirit of generosity and caring--it all filled that lobby with more than carts and cases of pop.
I found myself wanting to hug each adult, each child, whether they put something in the kettle or not. I felt connected to these givers, to the ultimate Gift that sparked it all, and to all these harried shoppers who shared my life for these two short hours.
Best of all, the feeling never left. "Give me joy," I had asked during my prayer time that morning. And he did, via a gold bell, a red kettle, and a chance to share.