One winter when I was 12, Christmas seemed to be coming too quickly for my family. I know that is hard to believe, especially coming from a 12-year-old, but my father had been out of work for two years and the holiday season was just magnifying the stress for my parents.
Then, on December 1, my family was surprised to find an enormous, red, elaborately decorated Christmas stocking hanging on our front door. Our family name was at the top, and a note was attached to it that said, “On the first day of Christmas, a giant Christmas to stocking to get you in the mood.” Naturally we were all bewildered about our secret friend, but we had no idea how he would change that Christmas for us.
The following evening, two large loaves of pumpkin bread magically appeared. They were devoured by our happy family of seven in just a few minutes. We kids decided that the third day wouldn’t pass without discovering who our secret pal was. But on that third day, just as the lookout checked the doorstep, he found a three-car gingerbread train waiting for him. We were baffled as to how it had been delivered without discovery. For the next nine days our house radiated excitement as we waited and watched for the day’s surprise. We received ornaments, dinner, and fruit, but the greatest gift came on the 12th day.
On our doorstep we found a 12-piece, handmade nativity scene, just perfect for keeping the Christmas spirit in our home. It was also a little confusing, however, because the note with this last present didn’t reveal our friend’s identity. It just told us thank you for making this holiday season one of the best. I couldn’t understand that note for a long time—not until I was able to give some service myself.
The happiness those gifts and acts of kindness brought my family made me think that someone I knew could probably use some extra happiness. A few years later, when Christmas rolled around again, I decided to repeat the project myself. I chose to help a mentally handicapped girl at my junior high. She had red hair that hung to her shoulders, and she seemed to smile all the time.
Unfortunately, she never received friendliness in return from the kids at school. They would criticize her while she was standing just two feet away because they thought she couldn’t understand their sarcasm. I knew she was hurt by this though, because she would run home alone after school to avoid the other junior high students.
I figured she needed a boost, so I planned to smuggle small gifts like a gingerbread sleigh, hairpins, and personalized stationery to her with notes about how special I thought she was. Unfortunately, as soon as I began my project, I was bombarded with homework, special projects, piano recitals, and Christmas preparations. Sometimes I had to stay up until 2:00 A.M. getting everything done and then get up at 5:45 A.M. for seminary. But I decided this project was worth the extra work it required of me.
I spent long hours gathering and preparing her gifts. I took her quotes and riddles along with the presents and sneaked over to her house late at night delivering my surprises. When it was all over, I was exhausted from the effort on top of all my other responsibilities, but I was happy because I knew it was worth all my extra work. The sacrifice had truly been enjoyable.
Words can’t really describe the calm and clear feeling I had knowing that I had done what we have all been asked to do. I finally understood the note from our secret friend about the best holiday season, thanks to us. I felt like I had repaid the secret friend that helped my family by doing my part to carry on the tradition of service.
These feelings would have been enough reward, but I was given even more. After I finished my project, I saw the little red-headed girl running toward me down the hall. She was carrying a homemade doll I had given her on top of all her books. She showed it to me proudly and said, “It’s from my secret sister. I need you to help me find out who she is.” It was a wonderful feeling to know that although she would never find out who gave her those presents, my service changed her Christmas like the service given me had changed mine.