It’s the most wonderful time of the year! True Christmas Jar miracles are pouring into my inbox nearly every time I download new email. They come from both jar givers and receivers and span religion, race and region. For the uninitiated, a Christmas Jar is a jar of spare change collected all year long and given, usually anonymously, to someone in need during the holidays. Sometimes the need is financial; sometimes it’s emotional. Because in our darkest hours, often what we need most is the simple message that someone is aware of us. Picking just 10 real-life accounts to feature from 2011 was a tough task. Each story I receive is special, whether it comes in during the heat of July, the crisp October air or the cold of Christmas Eve. If I’ve learned anything since the tradition began in 2005, it’s that the stories are as different as the jars themselves. Here are just 10 of the stories from this year (along with 10 photos of additional jars) that will stay with me long after the holidays fade. I hope a few stand out for you, too. (Read more Christmas Jar miracles or share your own at www.christmasjars.com.) Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at email@example.com or www.jasonfwright.com.
"It wasn't Christmas, but we just received a Christmas Jar tonight. Times have been impossibly hard, so much so that we can't even put gas in our cars.
"We haven't known what to do for the past few weeks, things have been so bad, and we've really been suffering alone with it, not wanting to affect the customers we do have that patronize our business.
"Tonight, June 7, 2011, a jar full of money and the book showed up on our door. We hadn't heard about this book and were puzzled as to what it meant, so we read the first page out loud, and all the women in our family had tears come to their eyes.
"Now we can at least put gas in our cars to get to work and try to make things better. It is a Christmas miracle in June."
Photo caption: One way to share a Christmas Jar.
"Last evening, Dec. 17, my wife and I set out to give away our Christmas Jar. We prayed before leaving that we would find the receiver of our gift.
"As we drove downtown, we were hoping to give it to a homeless family in great need. We decided to drive around in the area where those who are homeless are usually gathered.
"We parked near a homeless shelter, and after we waited for about 20 minutes an older car drove up and parked near the entrance.
"I went to the driver's window and started a conversation with the occupants. I found out they were a homeless family of four waiting for the shelter to open, so they could secure a place to stay for the night; it was going to be a cold night.
"My wife and I presented them with our Christmas Jar. They were so happy and appreciative! I will never forget that joyous feeling of being able to help that familiy in their time of need.
"We wished them a Merry Christmas and left seeing their hands waving and faces smiling. God bless them and all of you, and may you all have a happy and fruitful new year.
"By the way, next year's Christmas Jar is already receiving funds."
Photo caption: Christmas Jar sighting in Washington, D.C.
"My family just received a Christmas Jar tonight. I would love to thank whoever gave it to us with all our hearts; it couldn't have come at a better time.
"Our daughter is in the hospital fighting illness, and we have her daughter (our granddaughter) with us for Christmas, and we didn't know what we were going to do for her.
"It couldn't have come at a better time; her Santa wishes will come true. Thank you."
Photo caption: Cameron Birch of Farmington, Utah, is often referred to as likely being the first Christmas Jar recipient. He received these jars weeks before his death in 2005 but refused to keep the money for himself.
"I took my grandchildren with my daughter to a Christmas giveaway that they have at the fairgrounds, and when I came out and was getting in my car I noticed this jar with money in it.
"My daughter and I looked at each other, and I said, 'Oh my goodness. Thank you Lord for this blessing.'
"We just couldn't believe this happened to us and are very thankful for. It encourages me to do one next Christmas for someone else."
Photo caption: Christmas Jar sighting in Oregon.
"I received my Christmas Jar today, Dec. 12, 2011. I couldn't feel more blessed.
"I'm a single mom with a 9-year-old son. I lost my job in August and just went back to work in the middle of November. My bills fell behind, and Christmas for my son was becoming a slim possibility.
"I am also in the beginning stages of trying to build a house, thanks to a loan from my dad. My roof is falling down around me, and, to top it all off, my grandmother recently passed away. Like everything else in my life, I was beginning to feel hopeless and defeated.
"And then came the jar. A glimmer of hope from a mysterious angel. My son and I decided to put the jar's contents towards the building of the house, and we're so touched by a stranger's kindness that we've decided to start our own Christmas Jar to pass along next year.
"Thanks, again, to our anonymous angel, should they happen to see this."
Photo caption: One reader in Indiana set a goal of distributing 1,001 jars for people to fill and giveaway.
"I finished 'Christmas Jars' in late November this year. It is a beautiful book that has made me rethink Christmas. Giving should be at the top of our list, so we made an Advent wreath this year with one pink and three purple candles.
"We are lighting the candles designated each night while the wreath sits atop a love table (purchased on our honeymoon 11 years ago). In the center of the wreath, on the table, is our Christmas Jar.
"My 7- and 9-year-old daughters discuss nightly who will get our jar, what they will do with the money and how happy they will be. It is so exciting for them to help others. We do not yet know who it will go to. God will lead us to where it belongs. The anticipation is exhilarating. As should be our appreciation of our Lord's birth.
"Thank you for redirecting our intentions this and every future Christmas season. God bless!"
Photo caption: A church in Texas changed someone's life with more than just spare change.
"I am a single mom, working three jobs to make ends meet. Recent auto repairs and other unexpected expenses have made Christmas for my family almost nonexistent.
"I was feeling as though there was no hope until an angel left my miracle jar. It was given to me at work, delivered anonymously.
"From the moment I received the jar, I knew that there is hope. It was not the money but the comfort and love I felt, and I knew that I am not alone. I will be eternally grateful to my angel and this special miracle. I will never forget this special gift."
Photo caption: One reader keeps track of every jar she's placed.
"Our 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son worked hard to make a Christmas Jar this year.
"We had thousands of houses flood in our area this summer, and many people lost their homes. We decided to give our jar to a retired couple who lost their home to the flood.
"The kids took the jar to them on Thanksgiving day, handed the jar to them and promptly chirped, 'This is so you can buy a new house.'
"I was very proud of my children that day and hope it makes them feel as good as it did me. We have already started our next Christmas Jar."
Photo caption:The Christmas Jar tradition unites the entire family in this Ohio home.
"I am originally from California, but I came here to Sitka, Alaska, to change my life.
The first December was so rough for me because of the Christmas holiday. It was hard because I missed my family back in California; I didn't know anyone here; it was also my birthday; and I only had enough money to pay for rent for the month. I was hungry. All I thought about was how I was going to get food that day.
"Something really amazing happened to me on Christmas Eve. I was depressed, so I decided to go for a walk. It was night, and it was pouring rain. I was walking, and a car stopped beside me. I turned around to look, and a little girl got out of the car and told me, 'I have a gift for you.' My glasses were wet, and I could hardly see.
"I replied, 'What is it?'
"She said, 'It's a gift. Merry Christmas.'
"She said again, 'I have a gift for you,' and I said, 'What is it?'
"She walked up to me and handed me a jar. The little girl turned around and walked back to the car. She opened the door. Before she got in, she looked at me and then pointed at me and said, 'Mom, that's my angel.' The little girl got in the car and left.
"The jar was dark and was painted with Christmas trees, so I could not really see it. I kept walking. The jar was heavy, so I decided to go back home. When I got home, I set the jar down. I opened it and looked at what it was.
"It was a jar full of money.
"The little girl said I was her angel. In reality, she was mine."
Photo caption: Christmas Jar sighting in Utah.
"I started saving coins in a canning jar in August 2010. By November it was full, so I started another. On Christmas Eve, I had one full jar and a half-full jar. Unhappy with that, I went to my credit union, poured all the coins into their counter, and it came to a total of $42.18.
"I took that cash, put it in a red envelope and left it on the doorstep of my neighbor. The next day, Christmas Day, I took over a tray of cookies to the same neighbor, and she told me about the 'special gift' she found on her door step.
"She wept and said, 'Now I can pay my light bill.' She showed me the bill — in the amount of $42.18.
"I feel very blessed to have seen this wonderful miracle! Who knew that my change could be just what my neighbor needed?"
Photo caption: Christmas Jar sighting in Idaho.