Holiday Dollars

Each year for the last 3 years I have stapled small candy canes to twenty dollars’ worth of one-dollar bills, then Frank and I have taken them downtown to the Union Square area of San Francisco and handed them out to the homeless.

We don’t just hand them out, we make the effort to make eye contact and say, “Merry Christmas” and really mean it. And I’m a hugger, so if it seems appropriate, I hug people. Full-force “I’m connecting with you” holiday love.

I came up with this idea while watching people completely ignore the women and men asking for money around Union Square during the Christmas season. I thought it would be a way to add just a little cheer to the lives of those who, for one reason or another, seemed less fortunate.

What I learned that first year was that this tiny act enriched MY life incredibly.

I was not prepared for the reactions I got. I remember tearing up multiple times as people connected as much as they could and thanked me, each on their own way. This year was completely different and oh so amazing.

Last Saturday, while I was visiting, we went downtown to see the Macy’s windows – always a fun holiday excursion. While we were walking around, I kept noticing the people asking for money and lamented that I should have “done the holiday dollars.” Frank, clearly the clever one, said, “Well, let’s do it.” So we went to Target, bought candy canes and a tiny stapler and, with some cashier confusion, managed to get 20 one-dollar bills.

While we ate dinner, we assembled the dollars. With candy canes and money scattered all over the table, Our waiter couldn’t help but ask what we were up to. I’m always surprised by people’s reaction when they hear about the Holiday Dollars idea. They are always touched and think it’s a great idea. Our waiter was no exception. He even got a little teary-eyed and said that if everybody did something like that, the world would be a better place.

Super-sweet guy. We left him a Holiday Dollar to pass on to someone. He hugged us both when we left.

So we did our thing and handed out all the dollars. I got a variety of responses from slight confusion to a quiet thank you to a big grin, hug and hearty “Merry Christmas!” Joy all around, especially for me.

There were a bunch of left-over candy canes and I was carrying them around. As we stood in the tunnel waiting for Muni to whisk us home, I decided to hand out them out. The first person I offered one to refused. I was taken aback and thought maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Then I decided to be brave and try again.

There was a couple with two small children. I asked mom if it was OK to give them one, and she let them have one to eat “later”. They kids both hesitantly took the candy and said “Thank you.” I wished them all Merry Christmas. The family got on the train with us.

I started holding out a candy cane and saying “Merry Christmas!” to people on the train as soon as it started to roll.

It was interesting to see who would take one and who wouldn’t and it was super-fun to offer them to people. It seemed to work best to offer them as people boarded the train at each stop. People who were already on the train when I got on were less likely  to take one.

I’m sure there some psychological explanation for this. If you know what it is, please leave a message in the comments.

Back to the story. . .

There was a businessman in suit and tie who took one, immediately unwrapped it and popped it into his mouth, smiling and clearly enjoying it. The woman next to me said, “No thank you” then dug a small candy out of her purse to eat. All of the teenagers and twenty-somethings took one.

It feels SO good to be generous, even if it’s just handing out candy canes. I was really enjoying myself, feeling all warm-and-fuzzy and riding on the generosity high.

I was sitting there thinking about how rewarding this all was and how reaching out was generating this amazing feeling of abundance and  joy in me.

The young couple across from us, who each had taken a candy cane, were looking through a flat box together. Frank commented that it was a box of photographic paper. As we looked on, the young man took a beautiful black and white print out of the box and offered it to me.

He said, “This is for you. Merry Christmas.” His girlfriend was beaming.

As I took the print, it was all I could do not to cry. I’m tearing up right now as I write this.

The print is a beautiful twelve by eighteen photograph of the Sutro Baths and Seal Rock – one of my favorite places along my favorite beach.

Such a generous gift! I thanked them over and over.

I was, and am, blown away by the return generosity that my little bit of generosity caused. I have no idea what other generous acts the gift of a candy cane from a stranger on the train created. What I do get is the effect was much bigger than the act.

As we exited the train, I noticed that everyone near us on the train was smiling. The energy was lighter.

For that moment, in that place, all was well with the world. Magical.

Do you have a “Holiday Dollars” story? I’d love to hear about acts of generosity you’ve experienced. Please leave your story in the comments.

Happy Holidays!




Leave a Reply