When the Canadian army liberated the Netherlands in 1945, they found the country on the brink of starvation. Seeing the suffering of so many, and especially moved by the faces of the children, four Canadian privates stationed near Apeldoorn that year decided to make that Christmas special for as many Dutch children as they could.

Together, they made the rounds among their fellow soldiers, collecting chocolate bars and chewing gum, candy and comic books. In their spare moments, they built toy trucks out of wood and wire, sawed scrap lumber for building blocks; one, risking the military police, sold his cigarette ration on the black market, using the money to buy rag dolls. Each thought longingly of his own family at home; each channeled his energies instead toward the children whose Christmas they knew they could brighten.

By 1 December, four sacks of gifts lay ready; the soldiers eagerly looked forward to the 25th. But two days later, they learned the date they were to depart for Canada: 6 December, long before Christmas. With mixed emotions, the soldiers decided that the best plan simply would be to take their sacks over to the local orphanage and leave them there to await Christmas.

The night before they were to leave the Netherlands, the four set off for the orphanage, one of them in a makeshift white beard and red cap. On their way, they were surprised to hear church bells ringing and see houses lit brightly, with Christmas still some weeks away. As they approached the orphanage, boots crunching in the snow, they saw through the windows that the children, two dozen girls and boys, were gathered at their evening meal. Only a few months after the war's end, food was still scarce; the meal was small, and the children's faces pale and thin.

"Santa Claus" raised the knocker on the door and knocked three times, hard. As if by magic, the chatter of young voices inside fell silent; a priest opened the door. His polite expression gave way to one of shock, as the children behind him erupted into cheers, rushing forward and swarming the private who had dressed for Christmas three weeks early – but exactly on time. For in the Netherlands, Sinterklaas comes on St. Nicholas Eve: 5 December.

For an hour, joyful chaos reigned as packages were opened and exclaimed over, sweets were tasted, dolls caressed. The last wooden truck, the last bar of chocolate, went into the hands of a little boy who had been waiting patiently all the while. After thanking the men, he turned to the priest and said something to him in Dutch, his face alight with happiness. The priest smiled and nodded. "What did he say?" one of the soldiers asked.

The priest looked at them with eyes full of tears. "He said, 'We told you he would come.'"

By sending joy out into the world, we do not sacrifice it for ourselves – we only multiply it. As we enter this season of giving, let us multiply the gifts we have been given by sharing them with others. Through acts of caring, kindness, and generosity, in our clubs and through our Foundation, we become and remain a gift to the world.

One sunny morning at the end of June 1991, a van drove through the busy, rush-hour streets of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Winding through traffic to a northern suburb, the van arrived at the Forward Command Headquarters of the Defense Ministry. Security guards stopped it for inspection. When they did, the two suicide bombers driving the van detonated their cargo: thousands of kilograms of plastic explosives.
 
The roof of the building was blown off completely. Debris was strewn for blocks. In total, 21 people were killed and 175 people injured, among them many pupils of the girls' school next door. More than a kilometer away, the blast shattered every window in my home. My wife raced toward the sound of the explosion – toward our daughter's school.
 
Our daughter was then nine years old. That morning, she had forgotten her pencil case at home. At the moment of the blast, she was coming out of a stationer's shop, admiring her new pencils. Suddenly her ears were ringing, the air was filled with sand, and everywhere around her people were screaming, bleeding, and running. Someone pulled her into the garden of the badly damaged school, where she waited until my wife arrived to bring her back to our home – its floors still covered with broken glass.
 
Sri Lanka today is peaceful and thriving, visited by some two million tourists every year. Our war now is only a memory, and we as a nation look forward to a promising future. Yet so many other nations cannot say the same. Today, more of the world's countries are involved in conflict than not; a record 59.5 million people worldwide live displaced by wars and violence.
 
In Rotary we believe, in spite of all that, in the possibility of peace – not out of idealism, but out of experience. We have seen that even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved when people have more to lose by fighting than by working together. We have seen what can happen when we approach peace-building in ways that are truly radical, such as the work of our Rotary Peace Fellows. Through our Rotary Foundation, peace fellows become experts in preventing and resolving conflict. Our goal is that they will find new ways not only to end wars but to stop them before they begin.
 
Among the hundreds of peace fellows who have graduated from the program, two from Sri Lanka, one from each side of the conflict, studied together. In the first weeks of the course, both argued passionately for the rightness of their side. Yet week by week, they grew to understand each other's perspective; today, they are good friends. When I met them and heard their story, they gave me hope. If 25 years of pain and bitterness could be overcome by Rotary, then what, indeed, is beyond us?
 
We cannot fight violence with violence. But when we fight it with education, with understanding, and with peace, we can truly Be a Gift to the World.