How A Grieving Stranger’s Kindness Changed My Family’s Christmas Season Forever

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“This may look like an ordinary, fake Christmas tree…okay, maybe not quite ordinary. I mean, it spins, has a remote control, and you can change the lights from rainbow to white with a click of a button…BUT all in all, still a fake tree.

Every year, though, I put this tree on display and it fills me with so much love, hope, and joy because of how it came to be a part of our families’ holiday traditions.

Courtesy of Ali Graybill

About four years ago, I set out on a mission after Christmas to replace our very old hand-me-down tree I have used since my college days. I put it out on the curb to pass on to someone in need and went out looking for a good deal in the after-Christmas sales at a department store near us that was closing while my little boys took a nap. I had very little time, and an even smaller budget, but was sure I could find us something.

I walked around, looking at the options they had and cringing at the fact they were still far more expensive than I’d anticipated. I paced around in circles and considered walking out and rushing home to see if our old tree was still on the curb to rescue. I just kept going to the smaller, cheaper trees, trying to figure out what to do. During all this searching, I struck up a conversation with an older couple perusing the sales.

We shared some stories of our holidays, and I told them about my young boys at home and how Christmas had taken on a new meaning for me since having children. They told me about some of the lessons they had learned over the years and funny stories about their past holidays. We were having so much fun ‘shopping’ together, walking in and out of aisles and talking about wins and mishaps of Christmas’ past. I loved their wisdom and their cheer. They seemed like the kind of people who truly cherished the holidays with their family the way I was learning to with mine.

I settled on a tiny tree within my budget. I was happy enough with the choice…it would do. I parted ways with the nice couple, went to the checkout counter with my ticket, and thought I would be on my way. Unfortunately, after some commotion and confusion, the clerk told me they no longer had any of those trees in stock. I stood there, defeated; I had run out of time and needed to get home. They had nothing left I could afford. So, I turned to leave, but that lovely couple must have been watching from afar without me knowing.

As I headed for the doors, the sweet gentleman stopped me. His wife stood back, beaming with pride as he filled my hands with a giant palmful of cash. He pointed to a huge, fancy, beautiful tree behind me and told me to get it. Then he said something that shook me to my soul. He told me, ‘If my daughter was still here with us, I’d do the same for her.’ Never would he know what this actually meant to me.

You see, Christmas had looked different for my family for years since my Dad died of cancer. There always seemed to be something missing from our celebrating, a void that makes the holidays a little harder. He will never get to come to my house for Christmas morning, never get to watch my children open gifts by the tree. But in this moment, as this kind stranger (that even kind of looked like my Dad with his dark hair, huge smile and friendly demeanor) stood there blessing me beyond what I could comprehend, I realized there are always reasons to feel joy, that new traditions can be beautiful and spreading kindness to others is truly what the meaning of Christmas spirit is.

Courtesy of Ali Graybill

I stood there, speechless. I hugged him so tight. I bought the tree he told me to. Then I sat in my car and cried tears of gratitude for the kindness of that sweet couple.

Every year, as I put up our tree, I think of them. I say a prayer of thankfulness for the gift they gave me, and my family, that they may never understand the magnitude of. Maybe they will see this, though, and know the gift of Christmas joy they returned to me without even knowing it.”


Courtesy of Ali Graybill
Courtesy of Ali Graybill

This story was submitted to  Love What Matters by Ali Graybill of Tulsa, OK. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story  here.

Read more about kindness during the holidays:

‘I need a favor.’ We had nothing under our Christmas tree. ‘The only thing I was able to purchase was a nail polish. I need you to be OK with that.’: Woman pays it forward after stranger’s act of kindness on Christmas day

‘Something wrong, dear?’ The price of a turkey was more expensive than she thought. She laid out her coupons, anxiously watching the numbers on the register climb.’: Man recalls Thanksgiving act of kindness

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