I always walked right past them, usually with eyes averted or a sheepish smile and a murmured “Merry Christmas.”
Until last year.
Firefly was only two and I held her little hand tightly as I absentmindedly rushed her past the red bucket and the bell-jingler. We stepped through the doors and I breathed a quick sigh of relief as the warmth of the drug store hummed over us. But she was old enough to start asking questions and her two-year-old queries halted me.
“Mama, what is the red bucket? Why do people put money in it?”
Before, my excuse for my hard-to-come-by generosity had been that I never carry cash and I pass by so many of those Red Kettles throughout the Christmas season – how could I possibly give to all of them? Oh, and my wallet’s change pocket? Well, my meager amount of pennies just seemed too . . . meager.
But now she was asking if she could drop money in the bucket.
We walked out of the store, she with pennies in hand, and with a plink, plink, plink, her little heart gave too. And she changed me.
She asked about that bucket all year. Her little two -, then three-year-old brain, remembered right where it was. We drove past the drug store, the summer sun warming our skin through the car windows.
“Mama, why is the red bucket only there at Christmas?” She had asked inquisitively.
Her questions churned within me. And again, from the mouth of a child, my heart learns to lean a little closer toward the One who whispers. He’s the One whose Red Covering washes us clean and whose joy can fill us to overflowing….
Christmas season arrives again and she squeals excitement at the first glimpse of a red bucket. We walk out of the automatic doors of Wal-Mart, and she stands, hands cupped, as I dig through my wallet, trying to find as many silver coins as I can. The bell-jingler sits and waits patiently. She wears an oversized black and white parka and a dark toboggan, trying to keep warm. Her eyes smile as her cocoa-colored hands tilt the red bucket toward Firefly. I watch as my child steps on her tippytoes, dropping her coins, one by one, into the cross-shaped slot.
My heart slows.
The bell-jingler’s eyes meet mine and I wish her a Merry Christmas as she simultaneously bids us a blessed one.
We take a short step out from under the store’s towering shadow. Our eyes have to squint in the December sunlight.