Those Darn Bell-Ringers!

It’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” so you know what that means.

They’re baaack. The grinning elves with their cheery red buckets. Every December they seem to multiply. This year they’re even stationed outside Walgreens.

With list in hand, I drive to the nearest mall to begin shopping. I crane my neck to scope out the store entrances. Yes. Both doors. I can’t escape them, so I pull in the nearest space. I walk briskly to the door, head down, hoping I can get by without being acknowledged.

And I mutter to myself. Why do they have to be out here constantly? Christmas is stressful enough without someone asking for donations everywhere you go.

I manage a quick smile. “Hello, yes, Merry Christmas. I’m fine…just running in for a few things. So much to do . . .” Drat, couldn’t get by this time.

When my shopping’s done, I plan my exit. And get ready for the guilt. It doesn’t matter how much I’ve already given to others in need. There’s always the guilt that I didn’t plunk a coin in that swinging red bucket. Even if I gave going in, I feel they want more as I leave. 

Inwardly I shout, “I already gave at the office!” And at church. And online to many charities. Heck, I even bought Christmas gifts for a whole family! But somehow it doesn’t feel right. It wouldn’t change a thing.

They’d still be there, ringing and smiling. And expecting more.

My obsession with bell-ringers turns into a study in personalities. Some bell ringers cheerfully call out as shoppers whiz by. One sings ditties or carols. Annoying. Others keep quiet and let their bells do the talking. But their eyes find you no matter how fast you sprint by. Ringing, ringing, incessant ringing. The other day, a woman with reindeer ears sat next to her bucket, talking on a cell phone. Really? She looked up briefly to say “Merry Christmas” as I entered the drug store. She was still on the phone when I left twenty minutes later.

Sheesh. Do they pay these people? No way would I contribute to her bucket.

This year I tried a different strategy from bell-dodging. I made a game plan after Thanksgiving—instead of defense, I would play offense. I anticipated the bell ringers clanging with fresh vigor, and I was ready for them. Instead of being irritated, I’d be intentional. Instead of hanging my head and streaking by, I’d smile and speak. Instead of escaping, I would embrace.

I made a contribution to each one. Each time. No matter how much of a hurry I was in.

The amount didn’t matter. Whatever I had, I gave. After a few times, I got excited. How much could I give? How much was I going to spend in the store? I’d give a portion of my shopping bill or match it if I could. It became a game I actually enjoyed playing.

And giving.

I received heartfelt thank-yous. And bless-yous. Lord knows, I need those! My smiles back at the bell ringers were real, too. “You’re welcome.” “God bless.” No more avoiding.

And you know what? It felt good.

Maybe next year I’ll take the plunge and volunteer to ring my own bell for charity. And shout “Merry Christmas!” Wouldn’t that be ironic? Maybe I could even convert a few Grinches into givers myself.

After all, it takes one to know one.