‘Christmas Jars’ author Jason Wright discusses new special edition of true stories
The new edition of "Christmas Jars" features 30 true stories from those who have given and received Christmas jars.
Jason Wright, author of "Christmas Jars."
Right before Christmas in 1987, when Jason Wright was 16 years old, his dad passed away. He can’t believe it’s been 30 years since then.
The author and former Utah County resident, whose 2005 fiction book “Christmas Jars” became a New York Times bestseller, has made a career out of the winter holiday. “Christmas Jars” spawned a handful of spinoff books, including a recently released special edition, which contains 30 true stories inspired by the original “Christmas Jars” book.
Wright stopped by the Daily Herald offices recently, discussing the new special edition, as well as the unlikely events that took his career in a decidedly festive direction. The typical Christmas joy permeating this time of year hasn’t come naturally for Wright — this season inevitably reminds him of that Christmas 30 years ago. Wright’s Christmas-centered books, he said, allowed him to create new Christmas memories for himself, albeit fictional ones.
“I mean, the perfect Christmas, what is that? It doesn’t exist,” Wright said. “The Hallmark movies, for most of us, that’s not real.”
Yes, the original “Christmas Jars” book was technically fiction, but its origins are very real, as are the hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of charitable acts it has inspired. Both have changed Wright’s life in sizable ways. In 2004, while Wright and his family were living in Washington, D.C., they sat down to brainstorm a new Christmas tradition. They wanted to make Christmas something they’d remember all year long.
“Because for me, it had been a 24-hour event for most of my life,” he explained. “And I think that’s the natural default for most of us: You open the gifts, you go to the movie, whatever else you do on Christmas night, and then you’re done for the year.”
The family decided to save all its spare change in a jar, which tallied nearly $90 that first year. As Christmas neared, the Wrights anonymously gave the jar to someone in need. Accompanying the jar was a note acknowledging the money wouldn’t necessarily solve the recipient’s problems, but was at least a reminder they were acknowledged and cared for.
“Our whole approach to Christmas changed,” Wright recalled. “My kids got it, that it was not about them. It was the biggest ‘a-ha’ moment of our collective lives.”
Wright’s wife suggested he turn their experience into a fiction book. At this point, Wright was working in politics, but had loved writing since he was a kid. Fictionalizing their Christmas jar experience wasn’t about launching a writing career, Wright said. Rather, it was simply about sharing their experience, and perhaps inspiring others. He sent a short manuscript to some publishers, and Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain Publishing agreed to distribute the story. The expectations that first year were modest — Wright said they hoped to sell 25,000 copies. “Christmas Jars” caught fire along the Wasatch Front, though, selling approximately 90,000 copies that first year.
Not long after, Glenn Beck was on the radio reading the first chapter from “Christmas Jars.” Beck’s show was nationally syndicated, and it boosted the book’s profile considerably. “Christmas Jars” went on to become a New York Times bestseller — Wright said it has sold roughly a million copies worldwide.
Understanding the book’s impact didn’t come immediately. It wasn’t until a few days after that Christmas that Wright began grasping it. He got an email from a single mom with three children, telling him she’d received a Christmas Jar of her own. She’d been on her knees praying for a miracle. Answering a knock at her door, the woman found a jar on her porch with a few hundred dollars and a copy of Wright’s book.
“And it’s not usually the money — although sometimes the money is the difference between losing a house or not — it’s more the hope they get from it,” Wright said. “And it’s a really profound thought to know that all year long, this money was going in a jar for you, and the giver didn’t have any idea who you were yet.”
Wright said he’s received thousands of similar emails since then, from both Christmas jar givers and receivers. Releasing a book of true Christmas jar stories has been his goal for a while, and the new edition of “Christmas Jars” features 30 true stories. Narrowing the list to 30, Wright said, was gut wrenching.
“I bawled,” he said. “I bawled my eyes out, rereading these stories of people who needed a miracle and got one, and who’d been through some really hard stuff. Really hard stuff.”
For someone who began writing Christmas novels to create new Christmas memories, Wright now has more true stories than he could ever realistically publish.
“I thought these true stories are in many cases even more inspiring than the book,” he explained. “Because they’re real people with real names in real cities whose lives have changed — and not in my imagination, but in reality.”