Tim Richards has been an online friend and fellow writer for many years. I enjoyed and used his devotional columns many times. “The True Meaning of Christmas” seems so appropriate for our Christmas season so I received permission to share it with you. I hope you enjoy his message of creative generosity in the midst of the Christmas Season. I pray you have a blessed Christmas and New Year.
I was surprised recently when I read the most common things children were asking for at Christmas 100 years ago. Here are children’s top five Christmas requests from 1913: 1) Candy, 2) Nuts, 3) A Rocking Horse, 4) A Doll and 5) Mittens. What struck me about the list is that only one of the five, the doll, would likely be on children’s list in 2013.
Christmas in America has certainly changed in the last 100 years. However, not all change is bad as the story of Greg Parady illustrates. Last Saturday, this real life Santa stopped by The Villages Wal-Mart in central Florida to pick up some bikes for a Toys-for-Tots campaign being held by his financial planning firm. While there he overheard a woman say she didn’t know if she could afford her layaway and might have to cancel her order.
Parady asked the manager for the total of all the store’s layaways. He didn’t think it would amount to much, but was surprised to learn the total was $89,000. He couldn’t provide that much, but decided to give $21,000 to help those he could.
He paid off the order for the lady he overheard. He paid off half of all the store layaway orders that totaled over $200. Then he helped several customers who walked up to the counter to cancel their layaways. Parady’s managing partner, Cindy Nazzaro, observed, he would swipe his credit card and say, “Merry Christmas.”
One woman who appeared to be in her twenties was particularly touched. She approached the layaway counter asking what she owed and was told by the Wal-Mart associate, “That gentleman right there just paid for you.” The woman was so overwhelmed she began crying and had to sit down. Parady said, “Every time I looked over at her she would mouth the words, ‘Thank you,’” Even the four Wal-Mart employees working the layaway desk were moved to tears.
Others have been inspired by Parady. Wal-Mart reports over 1,000 instances this season where strangers have paid down someone else’s layaway.
Layaway “Santas” at a K-mart in Shillington, PA were also generous. One mom who had $450 in toys paid for by strangers decided to spent the same amount on toys for needy children.
Greg Parady said he didn’t want to attract attention, but he hopes what he did will motivate others. He said, “I hope everyone will use it as a tool to give in their own way. It doesn’t have to be money; it can be time, or just something kind.”
Christmas began when God sent Jesus to earth as the greatest gift ever. Christmas isn’t primarily a time of getting; it is ultimately a time for generous giving. We’re following not just Parady’s example of giving, but as Charles Swindoll once said, “We are never more like God than when we give.” When we’re generous we are truly celebrating the meaning of Christmas.
Tim Richards is a pastor for more than thirty years. He began writing for his local newspaper more than twenty years ago and has written for multiple newspapers since, including a weekly column that appeared in the St. Louis Post Dispatch until recently. His weekly column presently appear in papers throughout his home state of Missouri as well as in Colorado and North Carolina. He is thrilled to have the opportunity to share with his readers. Tim is a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute. You can email Tim at TimRichards1@juno.com