Christmas—the word alone inspired visions of crackling fireplaces and tiny lights adorning houses along the streets. I heard the soft tinkling of jingly bells and the solemn yet sweet traditional carols. It filled me with familiar warmth—or at least it used to.

When I was a little kid it was my favorite time of year for one reason only. I waited for it eleven months: for the time when everyone was happy for them selves and for everyone else, the time where no one hated another, and we all waved and greeted strangers joyfully. Perhaps this feeling is indescribably beautiful, and difficult to duplicate, but it was the most wonderful time of the year.

I lost that feeling; I don't know when it faded. Perhaps it was war, famine, or the commercialization of the holiday I considered the epitome of selflessness. Or, more likely, I simply forgot how to smile when everyone around seemed to have forgotten too. It seemed like everyone had lost their holiday spirit. I rarely saw anyone donate to the Salvation Army Bell Ringers, or noticed them even glance towards the insistent ring-a-ling-a-ling of the bell. No one offered to let the next take the last of whatever it was, and the person behind you wouldn't offer to cover the thirteen cents you owed at the checkout and couldn't manage to scrounge up. And nobody smiled—nobody cared.

This feeling of indifference had slowly permeated my being, with disappointment quickly following. It didn't matter how many times I dropped some coins into the Bell Ringer's bucket, how many Carols I hummed, or how many lights I saw. The holidays seemed empty—I was empty—until a stranger filled me.

I was surprised when the phone rang Christmas night and I answered it the way I always do—annoyed. The voice on the other end was chipper and jovial and I listened apprehensively as she told me there was a package for my mother and I on the back porch. When I asked for the third time who was calling and, again, she avoided it I hung up—disturbed by the anonymous caller. I went to my door and opened it to the bitter wind and whipping snow of the storm, saw about ten inches of snow, and was surprised to see the tip of a bag sticking out of the layer of crisp white. Like a skittish animal I dusted (rather shoveled) the snow off my finding and dragged my wares into the comfort of my warm kitchen. Opening it was a slow process, for I was still wary and was expecting a bomb or a powdery dusting of anthrax. Again I was surprised.

It wasn't a terrorist attack but a medley of presents; all nice things. However, the gift that struck me the most was no material thing, but the warmth that spread over my heart and soul. It was the best gift I could ever have received that year. Nothing in that large bag of treasures could compare to the way it struck my core. The mysterious caller gave me more than pretty things; she returned to me my Christmas Spirit.

It made me rethink everything I had forsaken in the past month. I realized that though I never saw anyone at the Bell Ringer's bucket I always had a hard time fitting my coins in with the rest when it was so full, that at least some people still bothered to put up their lights, and that someone out there bothered with my mother and I—alone in a little house set back from the road in the middle of a snow storm. And, finally, that the holiday spirit was still there, that it had never left, and it never will.