Last week I put a call out for story ideas for our upcoming holiday issue. I asked my friends and family on Facebook to send me their suggestions privately as I did not want to ruin any surprises for our readers. I received two messages from friends who shared ideas that didn't really fit with our coverage area, but I knew right away that I wanted to share their stories, so am using my column this week to do just that.

I hope their stories inspire you to create a holiday tradition of giving and sharing joy as well. The gifts don't have to be huge to be meaningful and they don't have to be monetary to change someone's life for the better.

The first is the story of Karianna Barrientos of Winona. At just 6 years of age, she already knows Christmas is about sharing and helping others have a joyous holiday.

Karianna went into the Habitat for Humanity office in Winona last Wednesday with a personal donation of $9. While it may seem like a small donation to some, one must realize it is a large percentage of this young girl's allowance and her generosity is a huge example to the rest of us during this holiday season.

Stephanie Orr, the program coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties, explained, "At the beginning of the summer, Karianna's parents decided to start giving her a $1 a week allowance with the understanding that part of it she would get to decide where her money goes...part to God, part to charity, part to keep. Now, at the end of the year, Karianna decided she would donate $9 to charity and her parents matched the amount dollar for dollar. Her parents gave her a choice of who she wanted to help...families without food, babies that need things like diapers, people who are working hard to build a house, etc."

Karianna decided to donate baby food to Volunteer Services so they bought food and dropped it off. Plus, she came to the Habitat office to give the $9 she saved.

"Karianna's reason for choosing Habitat was because Habitat helps people get a home and she can't imagine what it would be like without a house," Orr shared. "It's days like today that make my job so special."

Another friend, Fawn Hange of Rochester, shared a story about her grandfather and the impact he has had on establishing holiday traditions in her family.

"I would say my grandfather, Jim Abraham (my dads dad), fits the criteria you listed to a tee! My grandfather could be Santa Claus. Actually, I take that back, he is probably even more like a Clark Griswold," Fawn wrote. "He lives in Rochester and he loves Christmas. He is a man of strong traditions around the holidays. He puts up thousands of Christmas lights each year!"

Fawn shared that her grandparents have walking trails in the woods behind their house and he lights up all of the trails with lights and he still adds more each year.

He is over 75-years-old and he still gets excited about putting up all these lights every year, Fawn said. "He will often tell people he does it for my grandma so she can walk the trails. He had to do some electrical work in his garage to be able to handle all of the lights because he kept blowing fuses."

Fawn explained that her grandfather also has an annual lighting event at Thanksgiving every year and they walk the trails with hot chocolate and enjoy the awesome light displays. She added that many of the neighbors, as well as passersby will ask to walk the trails.

In addition to sharing the gift of "light," her grandfather continues to ring the bells for the Salvation Army. It is a tradition that has now been adopted into Fawn's own family.

"He started a tradition when I was young that he would ring the bells with his grandchildren every year and at 31 years old I still ring bells with him every year," Fawn said. "And it's fun because now my children have started participating in this tradition too."

Their family's favorite place to ring the bells is at the TJMAXX store, but they are sometimes located elsewhere in the city.

"This year we were in the subway downtown," Fawn added. "So, who knows? Maybe that will be our new tradition. My daughter, Camilla, LOVES ringing the bells now, which is a fun tradition to pass on."

Fawn also believes her grandfather is the friendliest bell ringer one will ever see. "He is constantly telling people, 'Merry Christmas' and 'Have a happy holidays' the entire time we ring the bells," she added.

Her grandfather also has a tradition for his Christmas shopping - buying everyone one practical gift each year. Fawn said he buys things like shovels, mittens, weather radios, cookbooks. "He also makes chocolate chip cookies each year using his mother's, my great-grandmother's recipe. I look forward to these cookies every year," she said.

Fawn's love for her grandfather is evident when she concluded, "Overall he has a lot of holiday cheer and is an amazing man who probably has far more holiday traditions than I honestly even know of! He is for sure responsible for my great love of the holidays and he easily brightens the spirit of anyone he interacts with!"

I was so glad to receive the two stories I have shared with you today. They reminded me that a small act of kindness, brought in from an unexpected giver, can make a huge difference in the world. And, one person's love of the holiday can impact everyone around him by sharing that joy with lights, by ringing bells or by sharing a tradition with loved ones.

I hope these stories have touched you as well and have inspired all to share in the joy of the holiday!