During the Christmas season of 1995, when I was 13 years old, my family talked about creating a new Christmas tradition. For a long time, we looked for the right idea in our neighborhood in Manaus-Amazonas, Brazil. But the season continued to pass, and we had not yet put any of our ideas into practice.
Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday that year, and, as usual, Mama prepared roast chicken for dinner. It never felt like Sunday if we didn’t have roast chicken. But on this special Sunday, Mama prepared three chickens instead of the usual two. She wrapped the extra chicken in aluminum foil and put it in a sack. Then she picked up one of the 300 cakes she had made to sell.
“These are presents,” she told us. “Do you know who they are for?”
We guessed the names of our friends, neighbors, and ward members. None of our guesses was correct.
Then she said, “They are for Banel.”
We fell silent. Banel was a boy about my age who lived with his grandmother in a humble little house. He was also the terror of the streets. He got into cars if they were not locked. He stole the wallet of one of our friends and tore up the papers inside. He threw rocks at dogs and threatened children at play. The neighbors wanted to file a complaint against him to get him off the streets.
But after we had recovered from our surprise, we agreed. My father, my eight-year-old brother, and I took the chicken and cake and went to visit Banel. He was at home and came out when we asked for him.
He looked distrustful. He thought we had come to complain about something. “What is it? What is it?” he kept asking.
My father just smiled and handed him the packages. Banel was very surprised. “For me?” he asked. His countenance changed, and he became friendly and courteous. He was very grateful for the presents.
Since that day, Banel has not bothered the neighborhood children. Sometimes he even plays with them. He smiles and speaks to the neighbors when he sees them on the street.
Our family learned something important that day. We learned that a friendly gesture, however small, has the power to change people, even people who seem as unreachable as Banel.
We also started a practice that we hope will become more than just a Christmas tradition—taking the time to show love and kindness to those who need it most.