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The season is filled with heart-warming stories of generosity. For example, the Waffle House patrons who leave a $1,100 tip on a $74.75 tab. Toy for Tots drives that bring in hundreds of toys for needy children.  A group of volunteers who band together to repair the home of a veteran or elderly person. The holiday feel-good stories are plentiful, which is one of the delights of the season.

The big gestures are certainly noteworthy, but smaller acts of kindness are also meaningful. If you don’t have $100 extra to give to a hard-working waitress, or no talent with a hammer and nail, you can start small.

Start with being more aware of your surroundings, like noticing the person scanning your Christmas items at the local store. Glance at their nametag and address them by their name. Smile. Thank them for their effort. Sure, they’re getting paid, but the holidays are busy and they have to endure customers who can be impatient and grouchy. 

A checkout clerk with a customer.

Instead of avoiding those Salvation Army bell ringers at the entrance to a store by taking another entrance (OK. I know you’ve done this), wave, smile and thank them for being there in the cold. Drop some spare change in the kettle while you’re at it.

As an 11-year-old delivering newspapers in Virginia, I couldn’t wait until Christmas because that’s when I got holiday tips. As Christmas approached, every morning would bring an unexpected windfall. Sure, my tips averaged maybe $5, which is not much for delivering newspapers 365 days a year in all kinds of weather. But those tips made an impact.

The unexpected tip is really a feel-good secret weapon. It’s customary for those who perform a service for you year-round, your yard person for example, to get some sort of recognition. But what about that individual who cleans your church or school, often unrecognized because they work after hours, or that person who checks you in every day at the gym? You might worry that a gift might make them uncomfortable. Be willing to take the risk.   

It doesn’t have to be money. If you like to bake, a decorated plate of goodies is always a winner.  Who doesn’t love to indulge in homemade holiday treats?

This holiday season, remember that all gestures, big and small, have meaning to someone.