It’s hard not to love December, a time of year flavored with festive undertones. Holiday music plays continuously on the radio. The spirit of giving is in the air. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this month tends to bring out the best in people.
I feel a certain responsibility to teach my children this season is about more than piles of gifts under the tree. Kids often fail to appreciate the notion of giving. But as my daughter recently discovered, it can feel even better than receiving.
The Salvation Army is a charity known for its fundraising this time of year. Bell-ringing volunteers collect pocket change from pedestrians in areas with heavy foot traffic. In my neighborhood, one is stationed outside our supermarket throughout the season.
As we hurried toward the store’s entrance earlier this month, I emptied my change purse into my daughter’s hand so she could drop the coins in the collection kettle. The volunteer, who had braved the elements with a smile and a Santa-like beard and hat, boomed an enthusiastic thank you before he launched into a cheery Christmas carol.
“My gosh, Mom,” she said. “Isn’t that man freezing?”
Of course he was. Chicago winters are brutally cold. On this particular day the temperature hovered around 20F (-7C). Factor in the wind chill and it was well below zero.
We hustled through the store picking up our essentials, but the guy outside never left my mind. How long had he been standing there? Did he come inside the store now and then to thaw his frozen fingers? How many people had breezed right by without so much as a glance in his direction?
What could I do to show appreciation for his thankless efforts?
“But don’t drink it,” I ordered, and her grin fell into a familiar teenaged scowl.
When we stepped back out in the arctic air, I lifted my chin in the Salvation Army man’s direction. Her expression softened, and I could see she understood. She extended the paper cup toward him, and his eyes sparkled above the bushy costume beard.
“A nice hot chocolate for you,” I said. “Happy Holidays.”
He nodded a thank you through his buoyant caroling, never missing a beat. It was a small gesture on our part, but his gratitude was evident.
“That was cool, Mom,” my daughter said as we backed out of our parking space. “We should do that every time we go to the store.”
I smiled to myself and peered in the rear view mirror at the man, his bell in one hand, the other wrapped firmly around his warm Starbucks cup. He was still singing.