Christmas Jars is an interesting mix between fiction, non-fiction, and inspirational story. The framework of the book centers around the life of a girl named Hope. We learn her story and follow her actions as we turn the pages. But the real story of the book is about the Christmas Jars and their impact on people and families.
We're introduced to Hope when she is found abandoned in a diner on New Years Eve. Her adoptive mother raises Hope without telling her the truth of her discovery for many years. Hope shows an extreme passion for writing and journalism. She works on family papers then school papers and eventually starts working for the city/regional paper at the bottom of the totem pole but with high hopes of a career as a world famous journalist. Then on Christmas Eve (and shortly after the death of her mother), Hope returns home to find herself the victim of an apartment robbery. That night, she also finds a large jar filled with money wishing her an anonymous Merry Christmas. As much as Hope appreciates the gift, the journalist in her takes over and she decides to solve the mystery of "who is the person anonymously delivering jars to people in need?".
The way the fictional story unravels is somewhat interesting but not overly gripping or compelling. Hope investigates stories similar to herself and finds other people who received jars. She interviews a variety of people and eventually stumbles on a family she thinks might be the mysterious do-gooders. Her entire investigative process takes many months and she entwines herself into the lives of the family members and finds a new sense of belonging. The fictional story may not be award winning writing but it does present a heartfelt story with sympathetic (if sometimes predictable or flat) characters.
While the fiction of the book may seem sentimental and cheesy (like a made-for-tv special on the Hallmark or Lifetime channel), the truth behind the book is pretty inspiring. In the book, Hope meets a family who saves spare change over each year by dumping the money into a jar at the end of each day. Then at Christmastime each year the family secretly delivers the jar to someone with a particular need. As revealed in the story, the idea of the Christmas Jar spreads such that recipients from one year turn into givers on future years and as they tell their stories to others, presumably some who never received a jar may start giving them out.
Each year at Christmastime you'll often hear stories of people doing service or giving to others in times of needs. I remember growing up and helping with "Sub for Santa" or "Toys for Tots" programs as a kid. In my community, there are many places with "Angel Trees" where a person can purchase a gift for someone in need. I'd heard about the Christmas Jar idea and even know a couple of families who have received one. It really is a simply yet influential way of giving.
The idea of the Christmas Jar is cool because even though the jar itself is given away at Christmastime, the act of accumulating the change is something that needs to happen every day of the year in order to make the Jar a viable gift. As is explained in the book, every night the family members dump their spare change into the jar and think about Christmas and that special act of charity that they will render to someone in need. Every time you drop money into the jar, you're reigniting the Christmas spirit and keeping it alive more than just on December 25. And at it's heart, that is truly what Christmas is all about…not about a celebration that happens once a year, but about being more giving, more loving, more charitable, more kind to our fellow human beings every day of the year.
So as far as the story and the writing go, this particular book might otherwise be a forgettable piece of literature. But in terms of the lasting impact it can have in a person's life and the concepts and ideas it tries to instill in the reader, this book truly can make an influence for good.
3 out of 5 stars (for the book)
5 out of 5 stars (for bringing Christmas Jars into the real world)