It was Christmas Eve morning, I don’t know, about 12 years ago, I guess.  I got up way ahead of everybody else, and for some reason had to go to the grocery store.  And for some other reason I can’t remember, it wasn’t our regular grocery store.

When I walked in, I noticed that the supermarket had a case of 24 Christmas gel candles marked down to a buck apiece.  On a whim, I bought an entire case of them and hauled them home.

I was inspired.

(By the way, completely irrelevant side note, but that’s just one more reason to do your Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve.  Black Friday’s got nuthin’ on the bargains you can find the day before Christmas.  More here.)

I got back home and everybody was still settled in to their long winter’s nap.  So I went to work.  I sat down at the computer, grabbed a sheet of labels, and printed 24 that read, “Thanks for the light you bring to our lives every day.  Merry Christmas, The Wood Family.”

Boy, was I inspired.

I was just peeling off the last label and sticking it to the top of candle 24 when my kids emerged from their slumber caves.  “Get dressed,” says I with stars in my eyes.  “We’ve got places to go.”

The Plan

It was pretty simple, really, but I’d had this idea for a while.  What if we found a way to thank the every-day people who made our lives a little easier, simpler, or better?  What if we found a way to say “thank you” to people who wouldn’t necessarily be on our “expected” Christmas shopping list?  Especially the people who did the kinds of jobs where they never heard from anybody unless there was a problem.  (Example:  When was the last time you called the post office or newspaper about the delivery that was made every single day as expected, on time?)

So the gel candles were the leverage and the complete day off for everybody was the timing to make this happen.

The Delivery

Everybody got to choose 4-5 people.  The temptation at first was to pick some of our favorites or best friends, but that really wasn’t the purpose of this little assignment.  I don’t remember everybody that got a delivery, but the list included the high school pastor at the church, my favorite bank teller, an always-friendly lady at the dry cleaners, our mail carrier, and a school teacher or two.

The other part of the plan was that we all made the deliveries as a family.  We left the one for the mail carrier in the mailbox, then all five of us hopped into the van and made the rounds.

The Results

In addition to lots of surprised and blessed looks on faces, we experienced some other results as well.  For one thing, we had fun.  It really is a blast surprising people in the good kinds of ways.  It was also fun to do it together.  I think we learned some things about each other in terms of what and who we valued.

This was also a great opportunity to practice giving thanks, not just to God, but to every-day people we can easily take for granted.

It was also a good example of giving while expecting nothing in return.  It didn’t cost us a lot financially, but it made an impact far beyond a dollar amount, for both the givers and the receivers.

This experience also challenged us to think beyond the obvious.  When it comes to Christmas giving, two groups of people come to mind – loved ones and needy people.  (If you recognize the name “Lottie Moon,” you can add that as a third category.  If not, never mind.)  All those are important.  This was just another simple, inexpensive way to share a little joy and gratitude.

Most of all, it made a memory.  At some point every Christmas since, somebody brings it up.  The funniest thing of all happened the next year.  Somebody asked, “Are we going to do our candle delivery?”  As if it was a time-honored family tradition.

We had never done anything like this before, and we haven’t done the candles since.  We have, however, branched out into other possibilities, such as packaged homemade hot chocolate mix or other types of things.  What made that memory magical was that it was random, if not impulsive.  It was a family-wide project.  And we did it with no expectation of a return.

What can you do this year to bring delight to people who add value to your life?  How can you bring your family, your workgroup, your class, or somebody else together to make it happen?

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