If it's true that gifts bring more pleasure to the giver than the receiver, that may be one reason people get in touch with the holiday season's spirit by volunteering their time and energy to those in need.
Here are two tales of North Bay residents who give back during the holidays, and how the simple act of sharing has transformed their perspective on the season.
Ten years ago, Shannon Clay found herself mesmerized by a TV news story about a man and his son handing out hot meals on Thanksgiving to the San Francisco homeless.
"I loved the idea that they just did it," said Clay, who works as director of Azure Acres, a west county drug and alcohol treatment facility. "It was right from their heart, and it was just two guys."
So the Santa Rosa mother called up her friend, Tiffany Watson, and the duo decided to serve hot coffee and muffins to the homeless at Santa Rosa's Courthouse square on Christmas morning 2002.
"That year, we had to go around and round people up," Clay recalled. "There were maybe 30 or 40 homeless people."
After the first year, Clay's dad, Mike Chase of Santa Rosa, joined the effort, along with her two sons and dozens of other family members, friends and random do-gooders.
Known as The Homeless Breakfast, the grassroots project has grown over the past 10 years to include hot food and gifts of warm clothes. But it remains a non-denominational event, and has no official agency behind it.
"It's a place for us to be of service to the homeless community for one day," Clay said simply. "We meet them where they are on the street, rain or shine."
Volunteers are welcome to contribute in any way they want, from pouring cocoa to simply keeping the homeless company.
"We have one lady who comes every year and hands out $1,000 worth of random gift cards," Clay said. "Another friend does a raffle for sleeping bags."
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the volunteers put on a casual buffet of coffee and homemade food. Guests can choose from an array of donated gifts: warm coats and raingear, bicycles and backpacks, toiletries and tarps.
Like the folk tale about the travelers who arrive in a town with an empty pot for Stone Soup, the effort has brought together all kinds of volunteers from the community, from lawyers and judges to an ex-Hell's Angels biker.
"It makes him feel like he's contributing, not taking," Chase said of the biker. "A lot of our younger friends come because they want to show their kids that this is what Christmas is all about."
This year, there will be nearly 20 members of the Chase family volunteering for the breakfast, which has toned down its own Christmas ritual. Instead of giving a lot of gifts, they get together for a simple meal afterward and enjoy each other's company.
"My kids will not do any other thing but this project on Christmas Day," Clay said. "You go down there and you see these families, with babies on the street, and you get a different perspective."
Anyone interested in volunteering can call Chase at 484-5627 or Clay at 529-5157.