The Good News Collective - Holiday Edition!

A change to our usual Good News Collective feature, putting a spotlight on good news surrounding the holiday season from around the globe!  Please enjoy these uplifting, spirit-filled tales of positivity!

Ring a Bell for Santa – an ‘Essential Worker’

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With the Christmas season just around the corner, kids around the globe have been worried that Santa might have to cancel his plans due to Coronavirus concerns—but according to the big man in the red suit himself, everyone can rest easy.

“It has come to my attention,” Santa posted on Elf on a Shelf’s Facebook page, “that children around the world are being told by their older siblings, parents, and other adults, and even friends, that Christmas is not coming this year due to the [COVID-19] pandemic. This is simply not true.”

Not only has St. Nick been practicing social distancing like everyone else, but he has been named an essential worker (a “key” worker, as it’s known across the pond) by the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Even though many holiday festivities will be observed by people who are six feet apart, Santa has been given the ‘all-clear’ to carry out his Christmas Eve delivery duties as scheduled.

“Santa will not be prevented from delivering your presents on Christmas Eve,” Sturgeon declared in a speech reported by The Scottish Sun. “Santa is a key worker and he has got lots of magic powers that make him safe to do that. Santa will be delivering presents across the world as normal.”

Now, perhaps more than ever, the world needs comfort and joy, and for kids, that means a visit from Santa. One Scottish mom who shared her plan for encouraging the jolly old soul on a night that might seem darker than in years past has since seen her idea go viral.

“On Christmas Eve at 6 p.m. we are asking everyone to come outside and ring a bell for 2 [minutes] to spread Christmas spirit and to help Santa fly that sleigh,” Kathyrn Stubbs penned in a Facebook post. “After a tough year, it would be an amazing memory for the kids and communities. End 2020 with a bit of magic, hope, and togetherness!”

If you like the sound of this grand new holiday tradition as much as we do, feel free to ring along.

Don’t have a bell? No worries. Singing works just as well, so if you want to help keep Santa’s sleigh soaring, just step outside on the dot of six and lift your voice up high:

You better watch out,

You better not cry,

You better not pout,

I’m telling you why,

Santa Claus is coming to town!

Secret Santas Give BIG

Two tales of some enormous generosity at two separate Walmart locations in the United States recently, said to be courtesy of Kris Kringle himself:

First up, an anonymous donor paid off nearly $65,000 of layaway items at the Walmart in Bristol, Tennessee.

Walmart says the $64,995.51 donation that was made on Monday was enough to cover the store's entire layaway balance.

"I got a notification on my email that my layaway had been paid for," said shopper Lloyd Leonard. "And I thought 'well that's kind of weird'."

Leonard was informed by management that the anonymous donation had covered his layaway fees.

"She said yeah somebody came in this morning at 6 o'clock and paid everybody's layaway," Leonard told WJHL. "But he wants me to tell you that he loves you, God bless you and Merry Christmas."

According to Walmart management, the anonymous donor wanted to positively affect as many people as possible.

Second, Christmas came early to the town of Canton, Mississippi when a generous and very secret Santa picked up the tab for more than 300 layaway tickets at the local Walmart.

A donor who chose to remain anonymous approached the store’s management and made an offer they had no reason to refuse: The jolly old elf volunteered to make good on every layaway ticket they were holding for customers who had yet to pay or fully pay for their merchandise.

The exact amount of the donation has not been revealed, but guesstimates are that Santa laid out a sizable chunk of change to ensure his neighbors’ holidays would be merry, bright, and a whole lot more stress free. In a year that’s been especially hard for people, those who benefited from Santa’s generosity are truly grateful for the gesture.

One Madison County woman named Belinda Brooks who was gifted several times over told WLBT News not only would the unexpected boon mean she could take some days off but that her child would get everything on his wishlist. “I will get everything he asked for, so I’m good on that as long as he’s happy. I’m fine with that,” she said.

A Walmart spokesperson later revealed that even after all the layaways had been paid for, since many of the on-hold items had been reduced in price, thanks to cash register adjustments there’d been a not-so-small stocking-full of funds left over.

In the spirit of the season, the store passed the good cheer along to a pair of local toy drives and the hunger relief organization Feeding America—putting an extra helping of merry ho-ho-ho in the holidays for some folks who needed it most.

Church Wipes Medical Debts Clean

A church in Des Moines has paid off the medical debt of all Iowans this holiday season.

Reverend Minna Bothwell of Capitol Hill Lutheran Church told the Des Moines Register that the idea to pay off medical debt in their community came from members of her congregation. RIP Medical Debt, a non-profit organization, abolishes large amounts of medical debt after purchasing it at a discount from collection agencies.

"We asked them how much money it would take to forgive all the medical debt in Polk County," Bothwell said. "They responded, 'With what you have, you could forgive debt in all of Iowa'."

In a video posted to Facebook, Bothwell said that Capitol Hill Lutheran Church "purchased all of Iowa's medical debt that RIP had access to, a total of $5 million. And we are going to forgive every cent of it."

"2020 has been a rough year for everyone," Bothwell told the Register. "Hopefully, when people receive this news, they start the year off better with a significant weight off their shoulders."

Watch for the ‘Christmas Star’

Look up at the night sky on winter solstice this year, and you’ll be able to catch a rare sight. On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer to one another than they have in eight centuries.

Alignments between the planets, known as a ‘conjunction’, is “rather rare,” Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan explained in a statement, “but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to one another.”

The last time these gas giants appeared so closely, at a visible separation of only 0.1 degrees, was in the Middle Ages: at predawn on March 4, 1226.

Of course, the appearance of the ‘Christmas Star’ or ‘Star of Bethlehem’—so named because the closeness of the planets creates a shining point of light—is a phenomenon only observed from Earth. In reality, Jupiter and Saturn remain millions of miles apart.

Saturn and Jupiter have been moving steadily closer to each other since summer 2020.

Taking the time to look for these planets over the coming nights is worth it. “You can watch [the planets] move which is super cool, because you’re actually seeing planets in orbit” Hartigan told USA Today, and watching for the pair coming together before solstice night will make identifying them that bit easier on the 21st.

Though visible around the world, the best place to see the conjunction is close to the equator, between dusk and just after nightfall, when the sky is dark enough for fainter Saturn to appear, but when it’s not so late that the planets have moved below the horizon for the evening.

Looking low on the western horizon, on winter solstice the two planets will appear to be separated by less a fifth of the diameter of a full moon.

If you can access a telescope, several of the planets’ largest moons will also be visible in the same field of view that night.

If it’s cloudy where you are on December 21? Jupiter and Saturday will still appear extra near to each other for the week surrounding solstice. And if you miss the phenomenon completely? There’s always March 15, 2080. That when the next close conjunction of the planets is expected to occur.

© The Outlook

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