The Christmas Spirit

December 01, 2005 | Karl Haffner

Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff tells a delightful story about choosing joy over sorrow—in spite of dreadful circumstances. His family arrived as immigrants in New York City. Too poor to buy groceries, they often skipped meals because the cupboards were bare.

Just before Christmas, Yakov landed a standup comedy gig that netted him a jackpot of $45! With a smiling heart and a heartfelt smile, he presented the money to his mom. She reverently handled the cash as if it were the Holy Grail. “We have so much for which to be thankful,” she exclaimed. “Now we have enough money to buy a turkey, a Christmas tree and one gift for everybody in the family. Wow! What a country!”

When she arrived at the grocery store, however, she discovered the money was missing. Panic swallowed her spirit. “Help!” she said to a nearby policeman. “I lost $45! Have you seen my money? It must have dropped out of my pocket. Help me! Please, help me!”

The policeman searched, but eventually resigned himself to the inevitable. “Ma’am, hate to tell you this, but you’re looking for a hamburger in a lion's cage. It’s gone.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Smirnoff said. “I’ll keep looking. And if you happen to find it, please, bring it to this address.”

Later, a teenage girl and a garbage man joined in the search. Unfortunately, they too failed to find the fortune. “Thank you. I’ll keep looking. And if you happen to find it, please, bring it to this address.”

The thought of telling her family felt like fire in the gut. Just as she feared, the family was excitedly awaiting her arrival when she came home—empty-handed. In tears, she reported the tragedy.

It promised to be a very depressing Christmas.

Mrs. Smirnoff, however, refused to succumb to a complaining spirit. “Even though we don’t have anything for Christmas,” she said to her family, “we will still be thankful for what we have. Remember: you can always choose joy, no matter the circumstances. I’m thankful that we can live in America. Yakov, what are you thankful for?” One by one, all the family members shared something for which they were thankful. The very exercise breathed energy and joy into a wounded family.

On Christmas Eve, the doorbell rang. The same policeman who had searched for the money stood in the doorway sporting a 600-watt smile. “You’ll never believe what happened!” he said. “I was on duty tonight when I found the envelope of money you lost! It’s $45 just like you said.”

His news sparked an explosion of excitement in the Smirnoff family. They would celebrate Christmas with food and gifts after all!

Not a half-hour later the doorbell rang again. It was the teenager that had helped search for the money. “You’ll never believe what happened!” she said. “I was walking by the place where you lost your money, and I found it!” With that, she handed Mrs. Smirnoff $45 and disappeared quicker than an angel.

Fifteen minutes later, the doorbell rang again. This time the garbage man handed Mrs. Smirnoff a wad of cash. “I was collecting garbage in that section of downtown. Wouldn’t you know it—I found your money. Merry Christmas.”

Mrs. Smirnoff’s eyes started to leak as her trembling hand clutched the cash. “In every situation,” she sighed, “there is reason to rejoice.”