The story centers around a real estate developer and manager/investment manager named James Kier who epitomizes greed and self-centeredness. Through his business dealings, he has destroyed many lives and businesses to build his own income.
One morning he is confronted with reading his own obituary in the paper. (It happened to be a case of mistaken identity in which the newspaper thought the dead James Kier was the real estate developer...not the bus driver who had the same name.)
Until a retraction was printed in the paper, James was able to read what people truly thought of him. The hatred and negativity towards him was sobering, at best. The only person to come to his defense was his wife (Sara) whom he was seeking a divorce from, and actually served her papers on her first day of chemotherapy.
Sara knew what James was like when they first met and what good qualities he had at one time. She also knew what had changed his attitude towards life and business - a business arrangement in which his partners took advantage of him and ended up saddling him with a tremendous amount of debt.
Despite being able to work hard and pay off the debt in three years, he became very angry...not so much at the business partners, but more at himself for being so naive, trusting, and letting the business partners "walk all over him. And that's a more dangerous type of anger. It changed the way he saw everything and everyone because it changed the way he saw himself," Sara said.
Being curious as to who the other James was, James Kier attended the visitation at the bus driver's modest home. He was shocked at the support and impact this other man had made in his life, despite such a meager salary and limited resources.
From that point on, James is determined to change his life and leave a better legacy than the one he had so far created. He referred to Alfred Nobel who was the inventor of dynamite. In its intended purpose (to mine or clear land, for example), it is useful. However, dynamite also has resulted in the loss of many lives.
In 1888, Nobel's brother Emil died. In The Christmas List it said, "A French newspaper mistook his brother for him and ran an article with the headline, Le marchand de la mort est mort, 'The merchant of death is dead.' It went on to say that Dr. Alfred Nobel became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before."
Apparently, there even more articles of this nature. "Nobel was so upset by what he read about himself that he decided to change his legacy," The Christmas List noted. "He left his fortune to the establishment of the Nobel Peace Prize."
Thus, James Kier asks his secretary (Linda) to create a list of people who had negatively affected. His goal was to reach each of the people before Christmas and make things right. This was his Christmas list.
Linda made a list of five people and wrote briefs about them to remind James of who they were and what he had done to destroy their lives.
The book focuses on each of the meetings, how he is received, and the ammends he made to each one. Each person's reaction is likewise quite telling of a person's character and ability to forgive. With some people, there was no way that he could make amends. This was both painful to hear and a reality of the damage he had caused.
The Christmas List is a book that I would highly recommend to others. Going into the holiday season, it would make an excellent book to read and reflect upon.
It also gives pause for thought about how each one of us can make a difference in the lives of others...no matter what one's income level is or the resources that are available to each of us.