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December 11, 2021

Not-So-Secret Santa

As a young child growing up on overseas military bases, I never had the same Christmas experience as my homeland counterparts. There was no department store Santa to sit on the lap of. No shopping mall to peruse. No American toy store with a big window display to inspire visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.

We did, however, have the Sears and JCPenney catalogs, which my sister and I would thumb through in exhaustive fashion to make a list for Santa’s elves. We were even kind enough to include page and item numbers on our lists, assuming that the North Pole subscribed to the same catalogs we did.

The joy of those makeshift Christmas lists infuses my psyche to this day. And friends who know me well are surprised I love the holiday season as much as I do. That’s because there was a dark side to my specific military base life that included severe physical and mental abuse from my sister’s and my unwell parents. But the love of giving and sharing glad tidings has become a part of who I am and has even resulted in my writing one of Hallmark Channel’s highest-rated movies to date.

These days, I do my best to impart the magic of the holidays beyond December. I’ve found this to be very necessary during recent years as our society has been plagued not only by political divisions but also by the seemingly endless ways that the Coronavirus is affecting life as we know it. Suddenly we aren’t able to extend generosity to our fellow man (or woman) as easily as we used to.

Thus, about a year and a half ago, I decided I was going to be a Secret Santa all year long. And this edict was quite simple to carry out. Anytime I would go to our local farmers market, I would pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers and lay them on one of my immediate neighbors’ porches (without a note, an explanation, or any specific occasion).

I would try and be as sly about this as possible (not so easy in an age of Ring cameras and video recording doorbells). But often, I would be able to sneak by, drop off the flowers, and then peek out my own window until the flowers were eventually discovered by whomever I’d left them for.

I must admit it wasn’t long before I started receiving pictures via text messages from these neighbors—showing off their newly acquired flowers in a vase or somehow on display in their homes. I’d been found out. But being discovered hasn’t stopped me from performing this random act of kindness often.

For me, fresh flowers are a lovely way to let people know they’re appreciated—and perhaps even a way to even turn a frown upside-down. Because these flowers are from local farmers, they aren’t expensive. And they arrive with no frills (or even baby’s breath). But they do herald a reminder that life can be beautiful no matter what any of us might be facing.

One time I placed sunflowers on a particular neighbor’s porch. They’d recently lost their precious golden retriever, Sunny, and were in deep mourning (all on top of other stresses, as one of them is an essential worker). Upon receiving the sunflowers, they created a little shrine to their wonderful companion—placing the flowers at the center of it and declaring them to be Sunny-flowers. They sent me pictures of the flowers daily. And in one subsequent shot, I noticed that a small photograph of my family and I had been added to the shrine.

Out of despair came hope. Out of hope came reverence. Out of reverence came joy. And suddenly two households that were respectfully keeping their distance because of the Coronavirus, found themselves forever connected in a way they hadn’t been even when hugs were easier to distribute. All from a random act of kindness that helped hearts grow three sizes that day. (Forgive me… Christmas addict here, remember?)

Perhaps there’s a way that you can add a little joy to someone’s life who’s not expecting it. Even if you don’t have any funds to spare, you could create a homemade greeting card, write a poem, or even bake some cookies that someone nearby might not be expecting. Being surprised can awaken the childlike wonder—and hope—that’s still alive in all of us. Sometimes we just have to be reminded they’re there.

Random acts of kindness don’t have to take a lot of time. Nor do they have to take a lot of money, or be performed only in December. All that’s required is a little thought—one that just might turn into Christmas magic. Perhaps the kind that will help mend a broken heart and last well into the new year.

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