We asked about your favorite holiday gifts. The comment section blew us away.

Receiving a gift given from the heart is something that sticks with you forever.

It's not because of how elaborate or expensive or well-wrapped it is. The best gifts are the ones with the most thought and care poured into them — sometimes from our dearest loved ones, other times from complete strangers. They can heal our souls, help us when we're in a rut, or simply put a smile on our face when we need it most.

Photo via iStock.


We asked you — our readers — about the best holiday gifts you've ever received. Your answers did not disappoint.

Here are 15 of the best gifts Upworthy readers said they've ever received:

Responses have been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

1. Household items to mark the next chapter in life

"My family helped me move into an apartment one November after leaving an abusive relationship. They bought my furniture, paid my deposit and helped me move the things I was able to take from my old place. I wasn't expecting much for Christmas because of all the money they had spent on getting me set in my apartment. When we opened gifts, every member of my family had gotten me something that I needed or wanted. A good set of knives, a vacuum and cleaning supplies, and from my mother — who had spent the most on getting me into my apartment — a laptop. It wasn't the money they spent, it was that they went out of their way to be able to afford to give large presents to me a month after furnishing my home for me." Angela Burlingame

Angela and her mom. Photo via Angela Burlingame, used with permission.

2. An old guitar with a new story

"My brother died from suicide in 2006. I had inherited one of his guitars, but the neck had been broken and he had re-glued it. My wife took it to a repair shop to have it fixed for me without me knowing as a Christmas gift. She said she had never been so nervous taking it, but knew it would mean a lot to me, and it did." — Lynlee Lybrook

Photo via Lynlee Lybrook, used with permission.

3. A gift that waited months to be found

"My husband, who loved Christmas and the joy of giving, passed away in April 2010 while waiting for a liver transplant. When I looked for the Christmas wrapping paper in December, there was a package all wrapped in red shiny paper with my name on it in his handwriting. It read, 'please don't open 'til Christmas.' It was so him." — Noreen Leahy

Noreen with her husband (L) and the lovely gift she found from him (R). Photos from Noreen Leahy, used with permission.

4. 100 outfits, made with love

"There were five kids in my family, and we didn't have a lot of money. A couple of weeks before xmas, I thought I heard my mom sewing on her machine. I asked her one morning what she was working on, but she said I must have imagined it. On Christmas morning, when we ran into the living room, there was a Barbie doll for me and my two sisters. Laid out all around them were 100 outfits that my mom had made. I didn't put the two together until I was a little older. It is my favorite holiday memory." — Virginia Rankin

5.  A teddy bear to adore

"When I was in third grade and my sister was in fourth, she made me a teddy bear. I would hear her and our mom whispering and the sound of the sewing machine for weeks, wondering what they were up to. I am the youngest of 11, and my mom was a working single mother. We had many hard times. Christmas morning I received the bear. It was a little malformed but I loved it! Fast forward 27 years and now my daughter has the bear."
Kimberlee Smith

In the picture on the left, Kimberlee Smith (right) with her sister. Photos via Kimberlee Smith, used with permission.

6. Hair dressing supplies with history

"My grandmother was a hairdresser for years. She passed away three years ago. Last Christmas, after everyone had finished opening gifts, my aunt had one last gift. I was shocked to learn it was for me. She presented me with a small suitcase-looking square box. I knew instantly what it was. I used items from it when my grandmother was too lame to leave her house. I would come to do her hair. I started to cry, and so did my aunt. I was given the case of all of my grandmother's hairdressing supplies. Most items were from the '60-'70s. That was the best gift I have ever received. I miss my Grammie, but I can open this box and remember her!" — Amanda Faunce

7. A blanket to stay warm, inside and out

"My friend Hannah made me a rainbow blanket for my sofa days. I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome amongst other things and spend a lot of time on the couch feeling crappy. My blanket keeps me warm and reminds me that my friend cares, even if we don't see each other very often." — Jess Dell

Photo via Jess Dell, used with permission.

8. Toys from "unkie" and his friends

"A couple of years ago, my husband was out of work, and I was staying at home with our daughter. We had no toys for her under the tree, and barely had enough to even get the tree and some lights for it. A friend of ours, my daughter's 'unckie,' secretly contacted people to get gifts for her so she'd have something under the tree. It was the most thoughtful thing anyone's ever done." Crystal Tracy

9. A gift best given by a sister

"My sister gave me and my siblings each a book for Christmas last year. Completely unexpectedly, it was a beautifully bound selection of our deceased father's [paper] marbling. She had taken [the sheets] for safe keeping after our mother had passed and we had cleared out her house. That was our first Christmas as five adult/teen orphans. We were far from home, but to be able to spend it together with such a special physical reminder of our parents ... well, there were a few tears shed when that gift was opened." — Amelia Keenan Monaghan

Amelia and her sisters (left). The gifts from her sister (right). Photo via Amelia Kennan Monaghan, used with permission.

10. The best kind of re-gifts

"My best gifts were the Christmas after I split from my ex. I had very little money and had been left with massive bills. My kids made me gifts and wrapped up some of their belongings they thought I would like, so I would have things to open for Christmas (they were 12, 7, and 5). I love them with all my heart, and will never forget that." — Kim L. Stirling

11. The gift of brotherly love

"Last Christmas, my son was one and half years old. I bought a wooden toy kitchen that took FOREVER to put together. I wanted it together with a bow on it for Christmas morning. My little brother came over to help. We spent hours getting it together and it was not done. It got to be 2 a.m. and I was exhausted. Turned out, half of the pieces were backward and we had to start over. I couldn't stay up anymore, so I went to bed, upset not to have that magical moment of my son walking down the stairs to find it. Little did I know, my little brother stayed up all morning to finish it ... not for my son, but for me to have that moment. By far the most memorable gift I've ever received." — Jennifer Rebecca

Photo via Jennifer Rebecca, used with permission.

12. A bracelet worth a thousand words

"I adopted my youngest son as a single parent. He had cognitive disabilities from birth and an addictive personality, which made his teen years even more challenging. After so many difficult years of setbacks and struggles, he made a bracelet for me, with the word 'HERO' in big letters. Obviously, it is priceless to me." — Lynda Pratscher

13. A truly one-of-a-kind book

"My husband and son found me THE most incredible and one-of-a-kind gift. One of my favorite authors passed in 2014. His name was Farley Mowat and he was an incredible Canadian author. My husband contacted his estate and was able to purchase a book for me from his personal collection. This gorgeous 1st edition book (one of my favorite childhood stories, originally given to my sister and I by our grandmother) actually sat on Farley's desk in his home for 60 years (it's a bit bleached from the sun) and is signed by the author. My husband snuck off to Port Hope, Ontario, to visit Mowat's home and his favorite bookstore to find me this treasure and I shall be eternally grateful for such a thoughtful gift. I treasure it and will read it aloud to my son and new daughter when they are old enough."Kristen Meyer-Creamer

Photo via Kristen Meyer-Creamer, used with permission.

14. Miles and miles in the sky

"I don't know if this fits the bill, but I'll share anyway. The last three years my friends have treated me by paying for airline tickets so I could come and spend holidays with them. I'm retired and disabled and having a hard time making ends meet, and we all live in different places now. This year it was Thanksgiving in Las Vegas, same as last year, and 2014 brought me to Florida for Christmas. The most amazing part is that these are not my family but relatives of my friend, Mary, who had college Spanish with my roommate Sue in 1972. We have stayed friends since then, with marriages and deaths and births in between. They have become my family and have brought me into theirs and I so value them for it. Thanks for letting me share that." — Pat Martin

15. Cherries that never miss a Christmas

"My mom always gave me a wrapped box of chocolate covered cherries every Christmas. The first Christmas without her, my daughter wrapped a box of the same candy and put 'from Mom' on the tag. Of course there were many tears but I felt her presence, which was the best present ever. It's been 12 years and my daughter never forgets my candy. I can't open it until everyone leaves." — Mary Lou Keith

This holiday season, let's remember that it truly is the thought that counts.

From hours and hours painstakingly creating a perfectly imperfect homemade present, to going the extra mile for a sibling when it really counts, you showed us that the love behind a great gift can stay with us forever. That's what keeps the holidays so merry and bright.

We also asked you about the best gift you ever gave (spoiler alert: your answers were equally beautiful). You can read that article here.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less