Wright Wins Again
Jason F. Wright’s second novel, Christmas Jars, is another magical read, sure to rouse the giving spirit within. Wright’s first novel, The James Miracle, sparked with serendipity. Christmas Jars does the same. Its non-coincidental story will send a tingle up your spine and give you new eyes with which to see your fellow men.
Likely to become a seasonal classic, Wright’s story does what good Christmas stories do. It pulls at the heartstrings, taut from the grind of the world, and warms the bones with promises of hope and brotherly love. The main character of the story is a young woman, purposefully named Hope.
Although the prologue is titled, Introducing Hope, we are first introduced to Hope’s mother, Louise Jensen. Louise is Hope’s adoptive mother. Middle-aged, never married and working as a house cleaner, Louise has faithfully eaten her Christmas Eve dinner at Chuck’s Chicken n’ Biscuits on Highway 4 for years. But this Christmas, sporting a fever and battling the flu, Louise chooses to postpone her dinner until New Year’s Eve. While devouring a greasy chicken platter on New Year’s Eve, Louise hears muffled crying from the booth behind her.
“Although discovering an unattended, blue-eyed, newborn baby girl was not on her list of expectations, Louise was the faithful brand of woman who believed that everything happened for a reason. She reached down and lifted the pinkish baby into her arms. Tucked inside a stained elephant blanket…she found an unsigned, handwritten note” (1).
Meet Hope, the pinkish baby in Louise’s arms. The anonymous note left by Hope’s birth mother speaks of an abusive father. “Please tell her I love her. And please tell her I will hold her again. I cannot give her much, but this year I give her the life her daddy wouldn’t. And a little bit of hope” (1).
Louise believes it no accident she ate her annual chicken platter a week late. With no trace of the mother’s whereabouts, Louise is given legal custody for the baby. She names her Hope. The two grow together in a vibrant mother-daughter friendship, rich with love and playful teasing, amid a meager and small existence. Notwithstanding their penurious circumstances, Hope cultivates grand expectations for herself. “‘One day I will grow up to become either president of the United States or a famous newspaper reporter'” (7) she announces on her last day of kindergarten.
As a grown woman and an aspiring journalist, Hope lands a job with the local paper. She is on the road to realizing her lifelong dream when Hope receives some devastating news, and a few months later, a mysterious Christmas Jar.
The Secret of the Jars
With a “blue funk” hanging over and around her, Hope discovers a money-filled jar anonymously placed by her door. It is Christmas Eve.
“She took the jar and sat on the futon in the family room…Rotating the jar with both hands, she noticed for the first time, in red and green, the words Christmas Jar.’ They were hand-painted across the center of the eight-inch tall clear glass jar. She dumped out the contents on the reading table, sorted the coins by type, and began counting. She twice totaled $154.76 in change and another $80 in cash. Why? From Whom?“ (25).
Determined to sleuth out her secret benefactor and write the story (the big story that will put her on the front page of the paper), Hope begins an all-out search. She discovers several letters to the editor from past recipients of Christmas Jars. Hot on the trail of these anonymous do-gooders, Hope heeds several tips that lead her to the home of a rare and wonderful family.
The story of the Maxwells is a special one. Rather than disclose the juicy details, I will let readers discover the secret themselves. You can know, however, that it is the Maxwell family that originates the Christmas Jar tradition. The family simply saves their loose change throughout the year and adds it to the jar, with plans to give it to someone needy on Christmas Eve. Adam, father of the family, tells Hope about the tradition and says it isn’t about money.
“‘The money has never been enough to save anyone. But every day we notice that jingling in our pockets and purses, and that saves us. I guess it’s a daily remembrance of sacrifice. Not a day passes when we don’t think of – The Christmas Jar,’ his family answered in unison, like members of a well-trained choir ” (73).
Over time, Hope finds herself entwined in the existence of this unusual family. But in an attempt to glean info worthy of front-page “real estate,” she conceals her true identity from them. Convinced that this breach of trust will be assuaged by their newfound “hero” status, Hope continually puts off telling them the truth. What unfolds is a captivating tale with some wrenching turns.
Passing It On
The Jars have a rippling influence. One wealthy man who has no need for financial help is prompted to be more generous. A woman who can’t afford to pay her heating bill is inspired to manage her finances better. Others, who have next to nothing, are inspired to pass on the good turn to someone else as soon as they are able.
Just as the Christmas Jars spring a tradition of passing on service and love, Wright’s book is one to be passed on and shared. If it were thematically singular in its message of goodwill, it would be ubiquitous and a little flat. But it is laced with less conspicuous lessons that gird the story with depth and humanness, making it successful rather than saccharine.
“To thine own self (and others) be true!” is one lesson Hope learns from her experience. Choosing to justify her deception as good intent comes back to haunt her, something for which she will try desperately to make retribution.
Also evident is the theme of sacrifice ? giving when it is uncomfortable, when one could use the very thing they have decided to give away. In addition to this, many of the characters confront a significant loss. This interplay of losing and sacrificing subtly echoes the life of the Divine being we worship this Holiday season.
Wright may have created a new Holiday phenomenon.
Readers will be inspired to start their own tradition of giving, be it jars or something similar. Christmas Jars is a short read with a tender message ? an excellent gift for any Christian. It is magic mixed with fiction and will surely spark within you, the spirit of the season.
“Most will pause, if only for an instant, to consider the miracle of a perfect baby boy born in a manger under the brilliant star that predicted it all…Tonight a grateful single mother, or a homeless man, or a young struggling couple, or perhaps even you might find such a jar. You will lift it up and hold it a foot from your wet eyes. You will spin it. You will examine its uncanny beauty. Then you’ll wonder why. The answer is simpler than time and curiosity will tell you. It’s not the copper- and silver-colored coins you will empty onto your coffee table. No, the answer is not in the total you will count and put to good purpose in your life. The answer, dear reader, is what went into the jar each day, long before it ever found you” (105-106).
Jason F. Wright has published editorials in newspapers nationwide, but is an entrepreneurial businessman, who lives with his wife and three children in the greater Washington DC area.