My Christmas Secret Santa ~ Guest Post

GUEST POST by ~ Cindy Curcio

I can’t think of a better time than this year to share a sad story with a happy ending.

I love happy endings, don’t you?

It all began in 1978, as I was divorcing a very unpleasant man.  You don’t need the details of all that, with this one exception: On December 23rd, I was planning to be on vacation until the day after New Year.

 My son and I had moved, for our security, to an undisclosed location. However, I had a very distinctive car – a baby blue VW Diesel Rabbit…and no garage. It made me a bit easier to find than I had imagined.

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We had been in our new residence for a bit more than a month when I awoke that morning to find my car gone. I knew who took it and I was devastated. It was a cruel thing to do.  That meant I had no transportation to be with my family for Christmas.  It was a huge disappointment; however, I planned to make the best of it.

My shopping and wrapping were finished; all the decorating was done; and a very kind friend (a superb professional chef) had invited us, along with many others, to dinner on Christmas Eve.  We graciously accepted and enjoyed an inimitable feast with left-overs to bring home for the next day.

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When we arrived home, our front door was wide open, my beloved Persian and Himalayan kitties were gone, and our dog was frantic. I feared the worst and it was justified.

Our tree was toppled; every gift was gone; every ornament was smashed; every light string was cut….and we had no idea where our beautiful cats were.  My 9 year old son and I sobbed as I called the police to report the vandalism and theft. It was 10:30 pm on Christmas Eve….no stores were open and there would be nothing for my son for Christmas…

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Shortly after my call to the police my next door neighbor, a fireman, came over. He had a police scanner and heard about my situation.

He had two sons, an 8 year old and a 10 year old. Our boys played together often. He left when the police arrived but returned later with 2 wrapped gifts. He had awakened his boys, told them we had been robbed, and asked each of them to choose to give up one gift so my son would have something for Christmas.  

In addition, he had a puppy in his arms.  A call to a fellow firefighter, whose dog had a litter of pups he was trying to find homes for, provided the pup. He was probably the ugliest wrinkled puppy I had ever seen but I knew my son would be thrilled to have him. I graciously accepted his offerings. We righted the Christmas tree; I cleaned up the mess and hoped for the best.

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Christmas Morning was saved for my young son and it was a hit!  

I know the puppy had everything to do with it.  

MY firefighter neighbor was our Secret Santa.

The day after Christmas I visited my neighbor to pay him for the gifts his sons had so generously forfeited. I was stunned by the selflessness of those boys and their dad, who went out of their way to save our Christmas.  At first, he refused the money.

Then he told me how I could repay him….if I ever knew of child who would go without any gifts at Christmas, I should donate something for the child and that would be payment enough.  

I promised I would.

Soon we moved again for our security…and another Christmas was approaching. I started hunting for a way to donate to a child and was directed toward a young boy by a church with a toy drive.  I supplied 3 age appropriate toys, a hat and mittens and a winter jacket.  I then wrote a note to my fireman and told him what I had done.

Each year at Christmas, I found a child or a family in need.  As the years went by my donations grew. It became the best part of my holiday.  Each time I would send my fireman a note telling him of my latest endeavor.  

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As Christmas approached in 1988, my coworkers wanted to draw names for a gift exchange, with a $10.00 spendinglimit.  I convinced them we should pool our money and provide something for Christmas for a family in need.  

This time I contacted a social worker who provided us info on specific needs, ages of 2 children and the mother.  When the company partners got wind of what we were doing they chipped in….in a BIG dollar way. We did it all, from the Christmas tree, to the dinner and desert items, as well as gifts for the whole family. This time I sent my firefighter photos with my note.

Soon my holiday idea caught on with my husband and his company (a much bigger company than the one for which I worked) began sponsoring several families.

Over a few years more companies joined us and it morphed into an additional coat drive for teens and ultimately a Holiday Store for the mothers to shop on their own for their children.  We made sure those moms didn’t leave empty-handed and had a gift for each of them.

Instead of just me paying it forward, now a dozen companies and a few hundred individuals were participating.  We were covering a lot of need at Christmas…and always, my fireman received his photosand note with my undying gratitude.

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In the mid-1990s when I first opened my design business, I changed things up a bit.

By the early 2000s I was ramping things up while we still participated in the major drives for toys, food and clothes for needy childrenand families at Christmas.

However, as a designer I wanted to do additional special projects.  I redesigned an entire pre-school classroom over a 3 day weekend with some parent, family and professional donations of timeand skill. The children were thrilled with the outcome and their teacher became the envy of the school.

Another year, I redesigned a women’s clothing store at no cost to the owner, to help improve the flow of her business.  Of course, I was still sending photos and a note to my fireman.  I wanted to let him know how far his gift to me had reached over all those years.

Not long after I sent the fireman his note and photos of the clothing store, I received a letter from one of his sons.

My fireman had passed away shortly after the prior Christmas.  He kept the photos over all those years, as well as the notes. He never told his boys about it…just kept the secret between us. His son was amazed when he discovered them but decided I had paid it back sufficiently.  

While I no longer write the notes or send photos …we continue to with our holiday gifting … it’s part of who we are.

I have no idea how many children I have reached out to at Christmasand it doesn’t matter. Long before there was a “pay if forward” campaign a kind, generous fireman and his sons saved Christmas for my son and asked me to pass it on when I could. He didn’t ask for credit and we kept it just between us for a few decades.  He gets all the credit, though. He showed me the light at the end of a dark tunnel on a Christmas Eve so long ago. I’ll never forget him for that.

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Merry Christmas in Heaven, John.  It’s been so much fun….and I don’t want credit either…I get it. I got it long ago.  Like you, I hope some will pass it on for others in need.

With gratitude and love,

Secret Santa….

~ Written by Cindy Curcio

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