By Jason Wright
When my novel Christmas Jars, was first released in 2005, our goals were modest. We aimed to sell a few books and inspire readers to experiment with the tradition for themselves. On a personal level, I hoped to reignite the spirit of Christmas in my own heart and home.
In 2005, it was about a book.
Nine years later, it's about a movement of miracles.
For the uninitiated, the tradition is simple and works for anyone and any size family. Simply place an empty pickle, peanut butter, jam or other Mason jar on your kitchen counter or desk at work. Each day, every member of the family drops their spare coins into the jar. Even in this day of electronic money and debit cards, you'll be amazed at how quickly a few shiny pennies and a quarter will accumulate into real change.
When Christmas arrives, gather with your family, church friends or officemates and select someone who might benefit from a little boost. During the last nine years, based on thousands of emails and anecdotes, we've calculated that by the time a jar is given away, the average Christmas Jar holds just more than $200.
For many of us, $200 is the difference between keeping the lights on and paying for prescriptions. For too many, it could be the difference between young children experiencing disappointment or a moment of magic on Christmas morning.
Don't take my word for it. Read just three recent submissions to our Christmas Jars Story Library. These are real people, real jars and real stories. For some, they're miracles.
North Ogden, Utah
"My husband is a seminary teacher and loves his students and is loved by them. Just after school started, the headaches he had been experiencing for a long time suddenly escalated and became unbearable. It was discovered he had blood and fluid on the brain. After waiting for it to be re-absorbed, he finally had surgery to drain and release the pressure. He was in the hospital for most of a month, and is still recovering at home, but still even a shower exhausts him. The doctors have said this is akin to having a stroke and will take time to heal. His students and former students are all so wonderful and have done many things to cheer him up. He so wants to be back and they so much want him back. Time will tell if and when that will happen.
"Anyway, last Sunday night, we heard a knock on our door, and when I answered it, no one was there. Then, some time later, we again heard a knock on the door and this time, when I answered it, there was a huge (I mean, HUGE) jar on our front step. It took a lot of work to get it inside, because I couldn't lift it. I weighed the four bowls I had filled with the coins and cash and it all totaled up to about 80 pounds! No wonder I couldn't lift it. This is such a wonderful thing that will help to pay the doctor's bills that are still coming in and help with physical therapy. We can't begin to express our love and thanks for this act."
St. Joseph, Minn.
"Our family has been through one of the most difficult years ever this past year. First, our daughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. In the midst of it, I lost my job. While I eventually found work, it hasn't been enough to provide for our family.
"On Thursday, I spent an hour in specific prayer -- at Eucharistic adoration -- praying that God would provide some sign of hope. I felt very near despair.
"So, you can imagine our surprise at finding our first Christmas Jar on our deck last evening (a day after praying). The large jar had the initials 'C.J.' (Christmas Jar) written on it.
"We are filled with joy and hope and are in disbelief of some anonymous person/family's generosity, and how God provided during a particularly difficult week when we most needed it.
"The jar had a little note on the top of it. We immediately prayed as a family, in thanksgiving for the gift, and prayed for the intentions of those who had so generously given to us.
"I cannot explain the hope that this act has given all of us. God is so very good, and acts through each of us. To whomever left us the jar, please know of our gratitude and prayers."
"Hey my name is Josh and I'm visiting my family out here in Las Vegas and last night my aunt went to leave the house to go somewhere and she opened the door and found a jar full of money and a book with your name on it. I'm not (sure) if you dropped it off but i do wanna say THANK YOU!! Thank you for your generosity for this. My aunt is goin through a hardship right now 'cause she got laid off on her job and she's having a hard time trying to figure out how she's gonna pay rent and keep a roof over her and her kids' heads. This was a huge blessing for her and as soon as she seen the jar she came in crying. We just know that this is an act of God and we give him the glory for this."
Will you join the movement?
Those new to the tradition might say, "That's a nice idea, but it's too late for this year. Maybe we'll start a jar in 2014."
With Christmas still two weeks away, there's plenty of time to gather change in between those couch cushions, clanking around in your washing machines or accumulating in your car's cup holder. You could even bend the rules by adding some cash or going to the bank and getting rolls of coins to get the jar started.
In the final days before Christmas, make a list and prayerfully choose a recipient for your jar. Often the need is financial, but sometimes it's also spiritual and emotional. People need to be seen, and the jar has a miraculous way of seeing people.
Give it a try. You might just find the jar isn't just about giving away spare change -- it's about finding the change in you.