Celebrate the season of giving with stories of thoughtful gifts, from words of wisdom to small scraps of paper with a deep meaning.
No matter the cost, a truly great gift is priceless: It lets us know we are seen. Understood. Loved. To celebrate the season of giving, we gathered stories of the most moving gifts ever received. From extraordinary kindnesses to everyday items, made of shiny gold or humble plastic, each came wrapped up with a memory that brings endless joy.
"I’d just ended a serious relationship and moved twice, and I was putting in 16-hour days as a mental health and addiction worker. A friend who knew I was really stressed out came to pick me up for dinner, and he brought birdseed so we could stop at a park to feed the ducks. It was exactly what I needed—to feel the fresh air and be in that peaceful state with the animals."—Amanda Elizabeth, Reader
"I was in my 30s when I accidentally found out I was adopted—a discovery that left me feeling somewhat angry and lost. After six months of searching, I found my birth mother in England and eventually flew over to meet her and my two half sisters. As nice as all that was, there was so much I didn’t know. Then one of my sisters sent me a beautiful scrapbook with a picture of four women on the cover. It was filled with photos and information about our Scottish lineage, our grandparents, and uncles. Each page had a wonderfully detailed letter describing each person’s personality. That priceless object was a dose of healing when I needed it most."—Lorna Little, Reader
"It’s a gift to remember my mother’s voice as she read to me when I was a child. I loved to rest my head against her side and feel her voice resonating through her ribs. It seemed to me like I was putting my ear to an instrument being played—a cello, deep and soothing."—Kathy Bates, Actress
"Many years ago I was living in a New York City hotel that I called the roach palace. My spirit had been crushed by a horrible breakup, and I couldn’t eat or sleep. When my neighbor and dear friend Billy was moving out, the glass knob on the door to his room came off, and he gave it to me. It was like he was handing me hope that a door might open, and eventually it did—I survived. When Billy went to L.A. to fulfill his dream of being a comedy writer, I returned the knob to him. We’ve been passing that doorknob back and forth for 30 years—to usher in a new job, a new baby, the publication of my novel. It’s on my desk now, and when I hand it to Billy, he’ll tear up the way I do each time he gives it to me."—Cynthia Bond, Author
"I left my home in Toronto to move to Los Angeles, where I knew no one, to pursue my dream of being an actress. My older brother was one of the only people who believed in me. When I got to California, I opened the trunk of my car and found a “vision box” he’d created for me, with almost 100 laminated photos of all my heroes and books that inspired me, plus an image he’d made of my name on a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There were even pictures of puppies because I long to have a dog one day! When I feel like giving up, that box reminds me of all the great people and things awaiting me on my journey."—Natasha Khawja, Reader
"I still have a scrap of paper given to me by Vincent Harding, a speechwriter for Martin Luther King, Jr. I was a young woman wrestling with questions about my future—could I be both a spiritual seeker and a social activist? Harding wrote down these words attributed to the educator and theologian Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."—Elizabeth Lesser, Cofounder of The Omega Institute
"I was recently on the phone with a dear friend, and as we were about to hang up, he said, ‘Remember: You are the loving expression of God.’ I almost fell down from the power of those words. Me, the loving expression of God. I’ve begun carrying that awareness with me daily—a most beautiful gift."—Imbolo Mbue, Author
"I was out of work, facing foreclosure, and feeling worthless. To get my mind off things, a friend took me to a music festival, where we stopped at a jewelry booth. I commented on a gorgeous necklace, and the salesman said he’d love to sell it to me. I told him I’d love to buy it, but I was about to be homeless. Half an hour later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The man from the booth pressed the necklace into my hand and said, “I hope things get better soon.” I realized then there is still great kindness in the world, and I do matter. After that, everything fell into place: I had the courage to call about a job, and I was hired. I found a program that would pay my mortgage for 18 months. One single act of kindness from a stranger changed my life forever."—Katherine Tripp, Reader
"Some time ago, I lived as a Buddhist monk in a forest monastery in Thailand, where I learned from the master Ajahn Chah, a man of great wisdom, who was very demanding. We’d walk for miles in freezing weather to collect alms for food, then sit meditating all night. I would be shivering, achy, exhausted. But one morning at 4 o’clock, at the very coldest moment, Chah smiled, winked at me, and said, “You can do it.” And I knew then that I could."—Jack Kornfield, Cofounder of The Insight Meditation Society
"I always wanted an Easy-Bake Oven, but Santa never delivered one. When I was 34, my sister bought me one for Christmas. And yes, I made a cake!"—Suzanne Tesconi, Reader
"On my 19th birthday, my best friend and roommate, Sarah, gave me a copy of The Joy of Cooking. I’d moved away from home at age 16 and had been living with Sarah for a couple of years; she’d saved up tips from her restaurant job to pay for the book. It inspired the start of my love of cooking and was a true mark of independence. I’m still moved each time I read the inscription on the inside cover: "You’re like a sister to me. XO, Sarah.’"—Gillian Macleod, Reader
"A close friend and mentor once told me, ‘Indecision is a decision. A bad one.’ That gift became a golden rule in my life."—Peter Walsh, Organization Expert
"When I was in my early 20s, I was working to put myself through college, and I was always broke. My sister Penny, in similar financial purgatory, spent the months before Christmas collecting department-store samples of perfumes I could never afford—Chanel No. 5, Shalimar, Joy. Each little vial was wrapped in colored tissue, and they filled an entire shoebox. She gave me a year’s worth of feeling pretty and put together, and I was so moved that she understood how deeply I wanted those things, all without my ever asking."—Paula McLain, Author
"The summer I turned 16, my father gave me his refurbished ’69 Chevy Malibu convertible. Cherry red, chrome accents, V8 engine—a gift wasted on me at that age. What did I know about classic cars? The important thing was that Hannah and I could drive around Tucson with the top down. Hannah was my best friend, a year younger but much taller, almost 5′10′′. “Hannah’s a knockout,” my mother always said. And sure enough, that summer she signed with a modeling agency. She was already doing catalog work and some runway.
A month after my birthday, Hannah and I went to the movies. On the way home, we stopped at a drive-through, putting the fries on the seat between us to share. “Let’s ride around awhile,” I said. It was a clear night, oven-warm, full moon slung low over the desert.
Taking a curve too fast, I hit a patch of dirt and fishtailed. What happened next is hazy: I plowed through a neighbor’s landscape wall and drove into a full-grown palm. The front wheels came to rest halfway up the tree trunk. French fries on the floor, the dash, and my lap. An impossible amount of blood on Hannah’s face, flaps of skin hanging into her eyes.
They took us in separate ambulances. In the ER, my parents spoke quietly: Best plastic surgeon in the city. End of her modeling career. We’d been wearing lap belts, but the car didn’t have shoulder harnesses. I’d cracked my cheekbone on the steering wheel; Hannah’s forehead had split wide open on the dash. What would I say to her?
When her mother, Sharon, came into my room, I started to cry, bracing myself for her anger. I deserve it, I thought. She sat beside me and took my hand. “I rear-ended my best friend when I was your age,” she said. “I totaled her car and mine.” “I’m so sorry” was all I could get out. “You’re both alive,” she said. “The rest is window dressing.” I started to protest, and she stopped me. “I forgive you. Hannah will, too.”
Hannah’s stitches looked like an intricate road map tattooed on her forehead. She never modeled again. But Sharon’s forgiveness allowed Hannah and me to get back in the car together that summer, to stay friends throughout high school and college, to be in each other’s weddings, and to watch my four teenagers fawn over her three younger children. I think of her gift of forgiveness every time I’m tempted to resent someone for a perceived wrong. And whenever I see Hannah. The scars are so faded, no one else would notice, but in the sunlight I can still see the faint shimmer just below her hairline—for me, after all these years, an imprint of grace."—Jamie Quarto, Author
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