Let me qualify this post by saying my family doesn't celebrate Christmas for religious reasons. We enjoy spending time with our family, exchanging gifts, abiding by decades-old traditions, and watching the children's eyes light up when they see that Santa has eaten his cookies and finished his milk.
This year, my three and a half year old son had three things on his wish list for Santa: a tower crane, a truck full of tools (you know, the one we saw at that one store, Mama!), and a candy cane.
With some intense internet searching, one cancelled order, and more desperate searching, we found the tower crane. A little detective work helped me figure out which store we were at when he saw the truck full of tools. I knew this was a very specific item and a substitute would not do. We were all set for Christmas. Just a 30 hour train ride up to Grandma and Grandpa's house (a whole other blog post...), and we'd be good to go. Of course there would be candy canes in Chicago. It's Christmas, there are candy canes everywhere. They practically jump into your pockets this time of year.
Or so I thought. We survived the 30 hour train ride. We survived the 2 hour drive to my parents' house in Christmas traffic in a Volvo that broke down twice on the way home. No problem. My mom informs me she hasn't found any candy canes in the stores, but I blow it off and figure she wasn't looking hard enough. I wrap presents like a woman possessed. Two days before Christmas, I realize no one has bought a candy cane yet, and we NEED a candy cane or Christmas will be ruined. So, my dad and I run out to the local grocery store for supplies and a candy cane. Except, get this, they're SOLD OUT of candy canes! I mean, really?!
We leave the grocery store with a cart full of food and no candy canes. This was one of those freezing cold nights. I think wind chill was something like -18. (Side note: I don't think that's even a real temperature. I think that's just what they tell you when it's too cold for the thermometers to work anymore.) As we were loading the groceries into the car, I noticed a Hallmark store next to the grocery store. I ran across the parking lot and ducked inside. Christmas paraphernalia abounded. Three clerks stood bored behind the register and looked up expectantly at me as I walked in. I asked if they had any candy canes. They informed me they were sold out and pointed to the grocery store next door. My face fell and I told them the grocery store was sold out too and that this stupid candy cane was the only thing on my son's wish list that we hadn't been able to get. I told them how proud I was of him for working up the courage to ask Santa for the things on his wish list all by himself. I thanked them and started to walk out. One of the ladies stopped me and told me to wait. She ducked behind the counter and pulled out a gift bag. Apparently there had been a gift exchange amongst the employees and her gift bag had two candy canes in it. She handed them to me and said, "Merry Christmas". Yup, I cried. I walked out into the -18 degree weather and the tears immediately froze on my cheeks (WHY DO PEOPLE LIVE IN THIS CLIMATE?!).
This random woman in a Hallmark store saved our Christmas and she will never know how much it meant to all of us. The holiday season can bring out the best and the worst in all of us. I was lucky enough to encounter the best this year.