22: The Christmas Stranger

22: The Christmas Stranger

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

The Christmas Stranger

Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.

~Seneca

Our daughter and son were now young adults and I had to think of ways to make our time together memorable — especially since our daughter, Alicia, had moved 3,000 miles away after graduating from college. The days of a living room filled with new toys were past, but having us all together for Christmas was even more precious. It was time to create a new tradition.

That’s how the Twelve Days of Christmas began at our house. When the kids came home that year they found twelve slips of paper folded in half, numbered 1-12 and taped to their bedroom doors.

“What’s up with the numbers on our doors, Mom?” Joshua asked.

“Twelve Days of Christmas,” I said. “Each day, starting today, you and Alicia will open one of the slips of paper and reveal something special. It will be fun!” I could see they were doubtful. Maybe they were thinking about the time I took them to Martha’s Vineyard and thought it would be a good idea to ride bikes around the island — before I realized it would be a thirteen-mile trek. Or the time we went to San Francisco and almost killed ourselves riding a bicycle built for ten around Golden Gate Park. Or the time we got hit by a sandstorm that wiped out our tent while we were camping at Jalama Beach. My penchant for making memories took us on some pretty wild rides!

“Don’t worry... it will be fun,” I reassured my kids. One day was movie night and we all went to the show. One night was game night and we stayed in and played our favorite board games. One night we watched our favorite Christmas movies — Home Alone and Christmas Vacation. It wasn’t that we were doing anything exotic or expensive — we were just making sure to spend time together.

One special thing we did was hire a photographer to take our family photo down at the beach. The whole experience was a blast and the pictures that grace our home are a constant reminder of the fun we had that December day.

One by one the slips of paper were opened, until it was Christmas Eve. I had purchased a gift certificate to try a little restaurant that sits on a charming manmade lake near our home. My plan was to get a bite to eat together and then go to church. The restaurant was quiet. We chatted with the owner and waitress for a few minutes before being seated on the patio so we could take advantage of the lake view. We had the patio to ourselves with the exception of one man, sitting alone, at the table behind us. He lifted his glass and said “hello” as we settled into our seats. We all smiled politely and responded warmly, but then went back to our family conversation.

Our food came and, as is our custom, we gave thanks to God. I vaguely remember the man at the table behind us making a nice comment about us saying grace and we again smiled politely and continued with our family conversation. Sometime during our meal, I gave the waitress our gift certificate and when we were finished she came back with the bill on a tray. I reached for my wallet, knowing there would be a difference to pay beyond what the certificate would cover.

“Don’t worry about it,” the waitress said, motioning me to stop looking for my money.

“But I know the gift certificate wasn’t enough to cover the bill; there must be a balance,” I said, wondering if maybe the owner had decided not to charge us because it was Christmas Eve.

“No, here,” she said. “You can have the gift certificate back.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “Is this on the house?” We all had puzzled looks on our faces.

“No,” she said. It was clear from her demeanor that she was a little shook up. “The gentleman who was sitting at the table behind you took care of the bill. In the eight years I have been working here, I’ve never seen anyone do that before. Here’s your gift certificate back.”

We were stunned, too shocked to respond. What would cause someone to do something like that? We didn’t know him; we hardly even spoke to him.

“Oh,” the waitress continued, “he asked me to give this to you.” She handed us a handwritten note. It simply said:

God bless you!

God loves you & so do I.

Merry Christmas.

We looked around, frantically trying to see if we could find the kind stranger. My son jogged to the parking lot, hoping he might still be around so we could thank him properly. But at some point while we were engrossed in conversation he had left.

Our eyes filled with tears as we realized what a gracious thing this man had done, how his act of kindness had not only affected us, but also the waitress and owner. Our eyes also filled with tears because we realized we had missed an opportunity to be gracious ourselves — we never thought to reach out and ask him to join us, and for that we were filled with regret.

We knew we couldn’t go back and change what was done, but the Christmas stranger had inspired us and we realized that we could at least pay it forward. We now had a new thing to add to our Twelve Days of Christmas. The few days after Christmas that we still had together were spent looking for opportunities to bless someone else with little acts of kindness and generosity. We gave each other bonus points if we were able to surprise someone anonymously. Each day we would come home and share the ways we might have been able to be a blessing to someone that day — paying for goods when a wallet was forgotten in the car, paying for the coffee order for the people behind you, stopping to spend a few minutes in conversation with someone who looked lonely.

The Twelve Days of Christmas became a new family tradition that continues. We now treasure the special times and activities we do together as a family — but we also treasure the chance to be a blessing to others. This year we added a new element to our tradition — to take $100 and use it all up before Christmas to bless those we come in contact with who are in need. It is our way of remembering the Christmas stranger who was a blessing to us.

~Lynne Leite

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