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We once experienced a Christmas miracle, and I called the police.

It must have been my reporter instincts kicking in.

Even though I had long since left the newsroom to go back into real life, I had been trained in the news business to suspect that there are ulterior motives and evil designs behind any good deed.

Put it this way, if Scrooge had been persecuting a newspaper and then, after an evening of life-changing nightmares, he had done a musical march to the newsroom to treat everyone to a turkey dinner, oh, he would have gotten a different greeting than he did in Charles Dickens land.

The reporters would have dismissed him, sent his turkey away to be tested for drugs and then gone back right back to investigating Tiny Tim to see if he was trying to scam Medicaid.

In this case, however, there apparently was no malicious intent behind a random act of kindness we experienced, but it took a while for me to accept that.

My daughter, Sara, and wife, Barb, were shopping in a grocery store when a man walked up to Sara, smiled and handed her a $100 bill, said "Merry Christmas" and left.

He didn't do anything creepy like invite her to a multilevel marketing meeting or ask her to be on "Dancing With Famous People." He just gave her $100 and disappeared.

I knew something was up with that, so when I found out, I immediately called the police.

"Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?" the dispatcher said.

"Well, this isn't an emergency but something disturbing just happened and I thought you should know about it," I said.

"Yes, sir, can you tell me what happened?" the dispatcher said.

"Someone just gave my daughter $100," I said in a tone that implied there was something inherently offensive in such an act.

"Oh. Did he proposition her or assault her?" the dispatcher replied.

"No, he just walked up to her in a grocery store and gave her money."


It was only then that I realized I was going to have a hard time explaining why this was a bad thing.

"I just thought you should know. Maybe this guy just robbed a bank or something," I said.

I don't blame the dispatcher for not knowing how to respond.

It took me a couple of hours before I shifted my thinking from conspiracy theories to finding an honest, happy Christmas way to take the money from my daughter and absorb the wondrous unexpected gift into the family budget.

When I served a mission for the LDS Church, I had a mission president who was determined to teach us the "true meaning of Christmas."

He wrote our parents and had them mail all our gifts to him, so that he could withhold them from us in order to give us a chance to adjust our thinking away from home and toward the people we were serving.

He told us that we were to go out on Christmas Eve and find someone who was alone and had nothing to give to us. We found an old woman who lived in a home that had no electricity and warmed herself around the flames of a gas stove.

We sang Christmas carols with her in that old dark, broken-down kitchen, but ended up failing in our quest.

We were supposed to find someone who could not give back to us, but that woman infused our Christmas with such joy and gratitude that I have never forgotten it.

At that point in my life, I had not learned the necessity of being skeptical, so I didn't call the police to report the incident. (Note to any reporters who are reading this: No, the mission president didn't sell or steal all the gifts. After our Christmas Eve experience, we discovered the presents were at our apartment waiting for us).

Ever since then I've felt something was missing at Christmas.

I can't put my finger on exactly what's wrong, but it feels a lot like the time I was invited to go hunting with my "friends" but was not given a gun or any cool orange hunter clothes.

I wonder why that Christmas so long ago proved so memorable and why it was so difficult to find someone who had nothing to give back to us. It's made me want to recommit to discovering that spirit again.

Finding the true meaning of Christmas in today's sophisticated age shouldn't be that hard to do. I have a stack of Christmas CDs and Star Wars Christmas ornaments to work with.

In fact, I'm guessing that, by now, someone must have already developed a Christmas Spirit app for that.

In the meantime, if your power suddenly goes out and you go to your kitchen only to find me there in a bright orange vest singing Christmas carols, don't be afraid. No need to call the police. It's just me trying to recreate a magical Christmas.

Just give me some hot chocolate and I'll stop singing. I'm told when I stop singing it is always a blessed event — it will be your own Christmas miracle.

Steve Eaton lives in Logan, Utah, and is troubled by many things year round. He can be reached at