As our regular readers know, each month we offer discussion questions or author interviews about Bas Bleu’s Book a Month titles, to enrich the reading experience for individuals or book clubs. But for our December 2015 Book a Month feature, we’ve opted to do something a little different, inspired by the spirit of goodwill and friendship at the heart of this month’s selection, The Thirteenth Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle.
In the autumn of 1999, journalist Joanne Huist Smith’s husband, Rick, died suddenly, leaving his wife and three children grief-stricken and utterly devoid of Christmas spirit. Joanne remembers:
I absolutely understood Scrooge now. I want to go to bed tonight and wake up on December 26. No shopping. No baking. No tree with lights. I’m not in a mood to make memories. The ones I have just hurt; I can’t imagine new ones will feel any better.
But on December 13, the Smith family discovered an unexpected gift on their front porch: a beautiful Christmas poinsettia, with a card that read simply, “On the first day of Christmas your true friends give to you, one Poinsettia for all of you.” Every day for twelve days, a new gift appeared, sparking the Smiths’s curiosity—and, miraculously, igniting the flame of Christmas cheer in their grieving hearts. And as Joanne and the children began to open themselves up again to the beauty of the season, they discovered kindness, hope, and even joy were closer at hand than they had dared to imagine.
We won’t spoil the ending by revealing the identity of the Smith family’s “true friends” here (though we can tell you you’ll need tissues on hand for the final chapter). Instead, we’re issuing a “thirteenth gift” challenge to you, dear reader:
This month, endeavor to be a “true friend” to someone in need—be they friend or stranger, battling grief, or loneliness, or medical or financial hardship. You don’t have to orchestrate an elaborate Secret Santa plan like the angels at the heart of The Thirteenth Gift. (Though if you do, that is awesome and we want to hear all about it!) There are infinite small yet meaningful acts of kindness, love, and generosity that can make a difference in the lives of others. We’ve come up with a few ideas—some are monetary, but many are not—to get the ball rolling.
1. Purchase gifts for children or families in need through Toys for Tots, local shelters for the homeless or victims of domestic violence, the Ronald McDonald House, or other organizations.
2. Help someone cover their heating or grocery bills during the winter months. Many local/regional newspapers sponsor neediest-cases funds, accepting and funneling small donations that can make a big difference for community members in need.
3. Sponsor or support a food drive for your local food bank in your neighborhood or at your church, business, or school.
4. Invite a recently divorced or widowed friend or coworker to dinner, particularly on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s, occasions when their new single status may feel particularly acute.
5. Deliver a hot holiday meal or several days’ worth of frozen meals (in single-serving containers) to someone going through medical treatment.
6. Offer to shovel snow, rake leaves, or hang Christmas decorations for a neighbor with physical limitations. Bringing in their newspapers, taking their garbage cans to and from the curb, or offering to do post-office or drugstore runs can also be a big help.
7. Call a local hospital, nursing home, or assisted-living facility and ask if they have any patients or residents who are without family or don’t receive many visitors. Ask how you can help to brighten their days.
8. Offer your babysitting services to the harried parents you know, so they can complete their Christmas shopping in peace or enjoy a date night.
9. Remember those workers who may not enjoy a day off on Christmas—such as law-enforcement personnel, firefighters, hospital workers, airport and public-transit employees, emergency utility crews, newspaper carriers—and make the time and effort to thank them for “holding down the fort” while the rest of us celebrate.
In the words of Joanne Huist Smith:
One of the greatest gifts we all possess is the ability to give. Wealth isn’t a prerequisite; compassion and a kind heart are all you need. What better way to honor our loved ones, past and present, than to reach out and change a life for the better? And, the holidays are a perfect time to look outside of ourselves and be a true friend. A legacy of generosity can create memories that reverberate beyond the moment and outshine the brightest of heirloom ornaments.
If you have other suggestions for honoring the Christmas season by helping others and creating a “legacy of generosity,” we encourage you to share your ideas in the comments section below.