68: The Christmas Tree

68: The Christmas Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Christmas Miracles

The Christmas Tree

Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.

~Janice Maeditere

It was late November, and I had been out of the military for less than a year. The holidays were quickly approaching, and money was tight. My wife and I had uprooted our life in the military to move back to my hometown in a quiet suburb of Chicago. We had not yet gotten fully into the civilian swing of things, but we wanted to make sure it was a festive holiday for our seven-year-old son.

When we looked at Christmas trees in our local Target, I sat on hold with my credit card company, determining whether we had enough spending power to buy a tree. My wife pointed at a tree that she and my son had selected. I was forced to shake my head sadly. Like the champ she is, my wife smiled and walked back to our son to begin swaying him toward a less expensive tree.

While watching them shop, I saw an older woman begin to walk toward them. I walked in their direction, too, wondering what possible reason this woman could have for approaching my wife. She walked up calmly to my wife and said something, and then my wife gave her a hug. I was now more confused than ever. After being freed from my wife’s embrace, the woman walked away without a word.

My wife explained that the woman had heard us talking. She asked if I was a veteran. When my wife said yes, the lady had handed her five twenty-dollar bills and told her to have a merry Christmas. I didn’t know what to do. “Should we give it back?” I asked my wife. I had never been in this position before and wasn’t sure of the protocol for such an amazing act of kindness.

We ended up deciding that the best way to honor the woman’s kind intentions was to do just as she had instructed and use the money to have a merry Christmas. We picked out the tree of our son’s dreams and headed to the checkout.

As we were paying, still in shock, my wife motioned to a woman standing in line a few lines over. “That is the woman who gave us the money,” she said. I walked over and told her how much her help meant to me. She said it was not a problem, and before I knew what I was doing, I was giving the woman a big hug, too. She laughed and hugged me back. Afterward, I returned to my family, who were laughing and waving at the lady. My son was yelling “Thank you!” and the kind stranger was quietly mouthing, “You’re welcome.”

We went home and set up our new Christmas tree. While decorating the bright green tree with the glassy red ornaments we had in storage, we spoke about how unbelievably kind that woman had been. With Christmas songs playing in the background, I couldn’t help but think that this is what that kind stranger had intended. There was no buyer’s remorse to be found. We were not stressed out or worried about the expense. We were just… happy. We were together and smiling and enjoying what would turn out to be an outstanding first Christmas in that new place. Every year since, while setting up our Christmas tree, we tell the story of that kind stranger and how much her generosity meant to us.

~Vincent Olson

Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

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