The original St. Nicholas, the inspiration for the big jolly man we know today, was famous for giving generous gifts to the poor. And his “spirit of Christmas” continues today—not just in our gifts to friends and families, but in giving back to those who need it the most. Every year, non-profit groups like Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army, and smaller community organizations bring a warm, joyful Christmas to millions of families around the world.
But, it doesn’t take a big organization to be a modern-day Santa. Some of the most inspiring Christmas stories we heard this year were about ordinary, individual people giving to others in their communities—just like old Saint Nick. Read on for true stories of four individuals who’ve made this Christmas Day a little bit (or a lot) brighter for the people around them.
Many retailers offer layaway so that shoppers can put their purchases on hold and pick them up later, when they can pay for them. Unfortunately, many of those purchases never get picked up, and they stay on the shelf instead of becoming presents under the tree.
But this year, some very generous donors made sure those gifts made it home for the holidays. Across the country, anonymous “layaway angels” have been stopping by the department store counters and paying the bills to ensure that people can take home Christmas presents for their kids. One Florida man picked out every children’s toy he saw on the shelves, and paid for them all.
13 Going on Santa
Most teenagers don’t think about Christmas shopping for anyone but their parents. But 13-year-old Jocelyn Hanrath not only thinks about it, she does it—for no less than 138 people. The Salt Lake City-based teen spends all year working odd jobs, raising money, and networking with businesses to collect Christmas presents for those less fortunate in her community. Then in December, she works with Utah’s Family Support Center to donate the gifts to families in need, mainly single moms and children.
This is the second year Hanrath has made made others’ Christmas dreams come true—we can’t wait to see what she’s doing when she’s 20.
The Spirit in Sin City
Not everyone has a million dollars, and not everyone who does shares the wealth with others, either. But one very generous (and very anonymous) man did—and his gift of $1 million to the United Way of Southern Nevada made the lights of Vegas shine a little bit brighter this year. The anonymous Santa (said to be an “influential community member”) had only a few specifications for his contribution: that it be given to families in need, and that it would arrive to them in time for Christmas. United Way, which helps people receive education, health, and financial stability, used the funds to buy gift cards for more than 2,000 unsuspecting families who needed it most. The gift cards can be used for food, diapers, clothing, or—of course—Christmas presents.
Spreading Hope in the Hospital
For many kids, ripping open Christmas presents under the tree is the best moment of the year. But, every year, there are some kids who won’t get to spend that holiday at home.
Three years ago, when a firefighter in Omaha, Nebraska lost his son, his co-workers decided to honor the boy’s memory by collecting and delivering toys to a local children’s hospital. With a makeshift sleigh, the firefighters roamed through the halls this year, delivering nearly 150 Christmas presents to make sure these kids get a little taste of Christmas morning. Their goal is to help the kids forget what they’re dealing with for a minute—and in doing so, they’ve also helped the rest of us remember what the holiday is all about.
So, remember that it doesn’t take a big group or (necessarily) a lot of money to spread the spirit of Christmas—it just takes you. To all the real-life Santas out there, thanks for making today a very, very merry Christmas.
Tell us about a real-life Santa you know! And here's wishing you a joyful holiday.
Photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver.
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