How a growing holiday tradition is offering hope for needy families around the world this Christmas, while sparking a new spirit of giving in others.
In an economy where the upcoming holiday season appears that for many, it will be less than “merry and bright” and more people than ever will likely need some form of charitable assistance, a rapidly spreading Christmas tradition is bringing hope to thousands around the globe.
The Christmas Jars movement, begun in 2005, is aptly named after the New York Times bestseller Christmas Jars. With nearly a half-million copies in circulation, readers have adopted the tradition memorialized in the fictional tale-to fill a jar with spare change and then give it anonymously to someone in need at Christmas. The tradition lives on in author Jason Wright’s newest book, Christmas Jars Reunion (Shadow Mountain Publishing).
What began as an experiment by the author’s family has now turned into a national “pay it forward” movement of giving. Hundreds of readers have emailed Wright, sharing their experiences of giving jars; he also has received many touching accounts from those receiving jars. “This small action has the potential to heal families, teach people how to give again, and show those who need help that they are remembered,” Wright said.
While there is no way of knowing just how extensive the ‘Christmas Jars’ movement has become, (the idea is to give a jar anonymously), Wright divulges that he’s aware of communities in 39 states across the country where jars are being given. He has also heard from individuals in Canada, England, Taiwan, Ukraine, and Italy.
Christmas Jars Across America
Christmas Jars Reunion follows the story of Hope Jensen and her goal to place 1,001 jars of spare change with families in need. Her Christmas Jars ministry-headquartered in the famous Chuck’s Chicken ‘n’ Biscuits diner-is the same place Hope was discovered as a newborn and the same place she was reunited with her birthmother.
Helping her reach her goal is an assortment of helpful friends and family, including Clark. Romance has never been Hope’s strong suit, but there is something special about Clark, and perhaps this is the year that Hope’s Christmas wish for love will finally come true.
Al Allred, a visitor to Chuck’s, also volunteers to help Hope reach her lofty goal. But will his focus simply blind Hope to the truth she needs to see?
And then there is Queen, a very special little girl with one very special request this Christmas.
As the big day draws nearer, Hope learns the most important lesson of the Christmas Jar. A lesson that will change her life forever.
Real Life Christmas Jar Stories
Stranger in a Parking Lot
“I’ve often wondered how a person repays kindness. I know now…with a Christmas Jar.
As a young mother with four small children I struggled for years to make it from day to day. There were many times when I had to depend on the generous goodwill of the Salvation Army and other food banks in my area to provide nourishment for my children.
My children are grown now and my life has been blessed in ways I never thought possible. A little over a year ago I started my Christmas jar. Every day I deposited my spare change into the jar. Those deposits became an opportunity for me to concentrate on how thankful I was for all that had been given to me. Tonight, as I prepared to hand my jar full of blessings off to someone else, I reflected on my year of blessings. Even on the not-so-good days there was something to be thankful for.
Before leaving home this evening, I said a quiet prayer asking God to lead me to the person He intended to receive my Christmas Jar. I drove six miles from my home to Harrisburg, PA, without a plan or a specific destination in mind. All that was certain is that I would know who it was when I saw them.
In the parking lot of Toys R Us I found her. My heart started beating harder than Thumper’s foot the second I realized who was getting the jar. But the thought of approaching a complete stranger in a parking was both exciting and scary.
With one deep breath and a pull of the door handle, I made my move.
“Hi, I would like to give this jar to you for Christmas.”
“Are you kidding me,” the woman said.
“No, Merry Christmas”
“Wow,” she said. “Merry Christmas to you, too.”
As fast as that, it was over.
I returned to my car where my daughter was waiting, and as soon as the door was closed we both began to cry. As if a year full of blessings wasn’t already enough, God blessed me again tonight.
And tomorrow? A new jar begins.
Patricia Brown (Shiremanstown, Pennsylvania)
A Constant Reminder
As a family, having the Christmas Jar on the kitchen counter has been a constant reminder of our united effort to do something for someone else. The beauty of a selfless act of giving will never cease to move or amaze me! After delivering our first jar, we felt such a sense of pride in doing something that we knew would immediately benefit these dear friends.
-Amy Brindley (Galloway, Ohio)
Terminally Ill Five-Year-Old
In December of 2005 a terminally ill five-year-old, Cameron Birch, was counting his pennies to give away. This year his family is counting pennies in his place. An anonymous donor (inspired by the book Christmas Jars) had donated a large jar of loose change, saved throughout the year, to Cameron who had recently undergone treatment for a brain tumor.
Cameron decided to use the money from the jar not for his treatments, but to help sick kids he met during his Primary Children’s Hospital visits.
“It wasn’t a shock when he got the Christmas jar and said, ‘Let’s buy toys for the kids at the hospital.’ He is an amazing kid,” said Matt Birch, Cameron’s father. “From the minute he got sick he never once complained. He always talked about how it hurt his heart to see kids who were sick.”
The toddler’s tumor came back from remission around the same time the jar was placed on his porch. He passed away two months later, before he was able to purchase the toys to be given to the hospital. His older brothers delivered the toys in his place.
“A month after his death we were finally able to take the money from the Christmas jar and buy the toys for the hospital,” Birch said. “Right now there are children playing with new toys at the hospital because of the spirit of one little five-year-old boy, and an anonymous giver who understands the true meaning of Christmas and giving.
“Cameron sums up what a Christmas jar does,” he added. “He forgot about himself and gave to others.”
Earlier that year, in summer 2005, following chemotherapy treatments, Cameron decided to buy something for his friends in the hospital who had cancer.
The five-year-old set up a snack stand at a July 24 event and raised several hundred dollars. “He didn’t want to spend the money. The only thing he said was, ‘OK, Dad, when can we buy the toys for the kids?’
“The Christmas jar he donated was just another example of him being selfless. And that is how he spent his final 13 months, helping other people.”
In memory of Cameron, the family carries on the Christmas jar tradition.
For the past year, Cameron’s older brothers put a part of their allowance in the jar every week. “It’s not an easy thing for an 8 and 11-year-old to give up their money,” Birch said. “But it is a great way to keep the Christmas Spirit in your heart all year long. It will be an annual tradition that we do forever.”
The Birch Family (Farmington, Utah)
A Job Perk
“I am an optician and one of the ‘perks’ of my job is that I get a $25 bonus for each Lasik patient that comes to our practice. I determined in my heart that I would put that bonus money in my ‘jar’ for the whole year. God really blessed that promise as this has been our best year yet for Lasik patients. My jar overflows as does my heart as I think of what a joy I will receive from giving my jar this year.”
Brenda Kaus (Conneaut, Ohio)
Diagnosed with Leukemia
I am 13 years old and was diagnosed with CML (leukemia) in September of 2006. I am currently in the hospital undergoing radiation and chemo in preparation for a bone marrow transplant. At Christmas, a friend of our family showed up on our doorstep with a jar full of coins from an anonymous person. There was a letter explaining that it was a Christmas Jar and that there was supposed to be a book to go along with it. However, they had been unable to find a copy of the book but were going to get one to me as soon as they could. In a week or so, a copy of the book arrived on my doorstep from Barnes and Noble. What a wonderful surprise!
Matthew Litchfield (Hopkinsville, Kentucky)
A Hard Year
2007 was a hard year for our family. It started with my husband being wrongfully accused of some horrible things at work, and fired from his job in January. Because he was in the healthcare field, his certification was being reviewed by the state board. We hired lawyers and fought…but unfortunately, his name was not cleared fully. We felt that we lost our battle against a very biased board.
With no luck finding steady employment, he left healthcare and worked several jobs in construction. We were having a very hard time paying bills with unsteady work schedules. Our families and our church helped quite a bit, but feeling the opposite of self sufficient is a HORRIBLE feeling.
In July, we had our third son, a true blessing during a dark time in our life. I then began a hard battle with postpartum depression and anxiety disorders. By October my husband had a steady job but it still didn’t pay enough to cover our bills. We felt that getting back on our feet was not an option for us. However, we were grateful for the job that he had and kept plugging along.
Christmas came and my family visited from out of town. It was the first time since 1989 that we were all together for the holiday. It was wonderful. Then, at church the Sunday before Christmas, we were handed $200! We could pay our power bill before it got turned off! A great Christmas present. Later that afternoon, as I stepped out of my house, a young girl came up and handed me a Christmas Jar full of coins and dollar bills, along with the book. I was shocked and didn’t know what to say or do except to say “thank you!” I showed my husband the gifts and we were very humbled. Blessings from Heaven were handed to us that day. We were able to buy a few Christmas presents with the money from our Christmas Jar for our family. It was so nice to give back, when we thought we didn’t have the money to do so.
After reading the book, I was humbled to be such a part of an enormous legacy of love being shared through a simple story and the thought and love of others.
-Sarah Widdison (Mesa, Arizona)
A Children’s Book
Wright is also trying to teach children to start the giving tradition early in life with his new children’s picture book, Penny’s Christmas Jar Miracle (Shadow Mountain Publishing). Featuring beautiful illustrations by Ben Sowards, Penny’s Christmas Jar Miracle tells the story of a little girl whose Christmas Jar blesses an entire neighborhood.