We pulled into the Macy's parking lot at 9:50am. Shoppers were just beginning to trickle in when we took our post at the kettle. Within 15 minutes, there was a caravan of cars flowing into the lot. Parking spaces filled and people walked purposefully toward the doors, under the pressure of a deadline.
It's hard to ignore a 3-year-old wearing pink cowboy boots, ringing a bell and yelling "Happy Christmas!" and so many paused, and dug into their pockets and asked her to put the coins in the kettle.
On the drive to the mall, I had tried to explain to Bronwynn what we were doing. "We're going to the store?" she asked.
"Yes, but we're not shopping," I said.
"What are we doing?"
"We're going to ring a bell and collect money. And that money will go to people who need food and clothes and toys."
"Oh," she said.
We weren't sure it had registered until a few minutes later when she said, "but I want to give money too. I want to buy food for people."
Miles danced and ate crackers and took his turn ringing.
This isn't the part where I expect you all to pat us on the back and say "well done." Truth be told, I only signed us up to do this because I was watching all the kids' Christmas gifts pile up in our closet, and I was desperate for something, some tradition or message or something to balance out the consumption. I thought it would be a nice "teaching moment" and not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve, standing outdoors in 75-degree weather. Why not?
What I didn't expect is how much I'd learn from the people who gave. I noticed more men giving than women. Kris had a theory based loosely on people's shoes: If they were wearing comfortable shoes, he said, they stopped to give. Six-inch heels or too-tight loafers? They kept walking. (I'm not sure what that says about society as a whole). I was also shocked to see so many $20 bills stuffed into the kettle. One kid, maybe 12 years old, walked over and gave a $10 bill and his mother frantically tried to stop him, saying "but that's your Christmas money from Grandma!" And the kid just said "I know" and he stuffed it in the kettle.
So save your praise for that 12-year-old boy. Or for Bill, the elderly Salvation Army captain who took over after our shift ended. He stood there ringing for 6-8 hours almost every day leading up to Christmas. He had his own bell and wore his full uniform in the heat, and while he appreciated the break we gave him, he was eager to get back to it.