The Christmas season is here again. Finally! I have to admit that with four children and 5 acres at home to take care of, it seems Christmas seasons come and go faster than they used to.

Cooley walt polo
Editor & Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

The day after Christmas through New Year’s Eve, I find myself counting the number of days until we can do it all over again.Yet the time from New Year’s Day to the Fourth of July is always a blur. And then somehow summer is over, kids are back in school, and it’s Halloween already.

This year I’m especially grateful for how fast the year has gone and the chance to experience another Christmas season. That’s mostly because I messed up Christmas last year and need a chance at redemption.

I’ve written before about my intention to do something unsuspected and anonymous for someone else each Christmas. Last year I knew who I should help, but I didn’t do it. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I just procrastinated too long.

I meant to give a Christmas surprise to a John, as I’ll call him.


The 65-plus-year-old John sets up shop in our town each year in the local grocery store parking lot. It’s a local store, not one of those chain superstores. It’s prime real estate for a Christmas tree salesman. His triangle shrubs of wintergreen arrive in town the day after Thanksgiving.

And when cold air caps the December night sky, his outdoor wood-burning stove fills the air on the west side of town with a hint of smoke. You can’t miss him or his trees driving on Main Street throughout the Christmas season. Plus, other than a small church that’s off the beaten path, John’s the only place to buy a tree in our small town.

I met him last year for the first time when our church youth group was caroling. One of the youth suggested we pull our hay wagon into the parking lot and knock on the door of his mini-camper to sing him some Christmas songs.

As John came out that night, I peeked into his living quarters that were mostly cramped. He had a small dining table, a tiny bathroom and a short bed. I don’t even know how the thing was heated, as it wasn’t modern enough for central air.

John came out and stood by me and the wood stove. He thanked us for stopping by to sing. I could tell he enjoyed the special attention and the brief company, as I’ve only ever seen him alone. We sang him, “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” and left, but I determined he was the man for whom I’d do something special.

It took me more than a week to get around to gathering a few gifts for him and write a note explaining my best intentions. I planned to give him gifts in the style of our own family tradition – a want, a need, a wearable and a book to read.

Yet by the time I had gathered all those things, wrapped them up and drove to his lot, he was gone. I was so disappointed. I feared that I might have taken too long to act on my conscience, and I was right. I knew John hadn’t sold all of his trees because I’d driven by the lot just the night before. But sales must have been slow enough in the final lead-up to Christmas to pack up. I can’t blame him for not wanting to sit in the cold for nothing.

All year long, I’ve kicked myself and asked why I couldn’t have made sure my little something got delivered in time. I’ve kept the wrapped gifts in a cabinet in my office. And every time I open the door to get a pad of paper, they are there staring at me, reminding me of my procrastination last holiday season.

This year, I’ve resolved not to wait long after Dec. 1 to see that those gifts I’ve kept for 350-plus days get to John. I want them under his tree well before Christmas.

I hope this issue reminds you of the reason for the season. I can promise you’ll find it the fastest by giving to others.

Also in this issue of the magazine is our Top 25 most-read stories online . Most of these stories were online-exclusive, so unless you’ve bookmarked our home page or subscribe to our enewsletter, they will all be new to you.

Enjoy this Christmas season. And remember if a little voice whispers for you to do something nice for someone else, don’t wait. Do it right away. You’ll avoid the nagging guilt I’ve become well acquainted with over the past 350 days. PD

  • Walt Cooley

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