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These are the most heartwarming stories of 2013
You might want to grab some tissues
WestJet employees played Santa's little helper and it was delightful.
WestJet employees played Santa's little helper and it was delightful. (Screenshot)

1. The best Madiba tribute
There were countless tributes to South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, who passed away on Dec. 8. But it's the sweet, soulful sounds of the Soweto Gospel Choir that will make your eyes tear up and your hair stand on end. Teaming up with a Woolworths in Johannesburg, the singers went incognito at the chain store the day after Mandela died. Suddenly, while stocking tomatoes and wiping a counter down, they began to sing a rendition of "Asimbonanga" ("We have not seen him"), a song written as a call for Mandela's freedom during his 27-year incarceration. Watch the video for yourself:

2. Playing Santa
The good people at WestJet Airline got this one right. In early December, more than 250 passengers on two flights from Toronto to Calgary got the chance to share their Christmas wishes with Santa before boarding. The Calgary-based WestJet team diligently took notes, bought the items, wrapped each and every one, and then sent them down the luggage claim conveyer belt after the passengers landed. What's particularly touching is the utter glee with which the WestJet employees go about their Santa-helper-like tasks. With big smiles, the men and women sprint through the countless stores like contestants on the '90s show Supermarket Sweep. The passengers laugh, cry, and stand there slack-jawed. Really, it'll make you want to rush out and buy presents for strangers yourself. Watch the video:

3. Extraordinary sportsmanship
Nine-year-old Josh Zuchowski and his swimming opponent Reese Branzell, 10, have built up quite a rivalry over the years. The two Floridians are often in the top ten nationally for their age group. Josh was looking forward to facing Reese in the Santa Claus invitational swim meet, but when he found out his competitor had been sidelined with a mysterious bone infection, Josh became even more determined to triumph. However, the first place trophy he inevitably won wasn't for himself. He sent it to Reese, along with a note telling him to get well soon "so we can get back to battling in the pool." Josh added that Reese was an inspiration to him, and an athlete he had admired since he was seven.

4. A brother's thoughtful wish
In September, Karen Suffern, a single mom from North Carolina, had her eight-year-old twins, Ryan and Amber, write out early Christmas letters to Santa. Ryan was serious when he handed his letter over and asked his mom not to read it. But of course, Karen did, and found a unique request: "Dear Santa… I wanted a [remote control] car and helicopter, but I don't want that any more. Kids at school are still picking on Amber and it's not fair because she doesn't do anything to them… I prayed that they will stop but God is busy and needs your help." The note inspired Karen to work with her kids as well as school administrators to address bullying. And as a result, Amber, who suffers from ADHD, depression, and mood disorder, is much more comfortable.

Sweet as Ryan's wish is, it's his postscript that really gets me. The little scribble at the end of the letter appears to be an attempt to sweeten the deal with Santa, in case his genuine plea wasn't enough: "PS my mom throws the best b-day parties you can come if you want."

5. The most adorable case for vegetarianism
In June, this video popped up on YouTube. It shows a young Spanish boy in a high chair chatting with his mom, who is trying to get him to eat his octopus gnocchi. But the boy, Luiz, wants some clarification before he chows down. Is the octopus real? Does it speak and does it have a head? Why, then, has the octopus been chopped up into little bits?

His mom, a bit flummoxed, explains that this is all so we can eat it, just like cows and chickens. But this throws Luiz. "Ah, the chicken. No. Nobody eats chicken," he says. "These are animals." And suddenly he realizes they are all animals: The octopus, fish, chicken, cows, pigs. "So… when we eat animals they die?" he asks. "Yes," his mom says.

Luiz doesn't like this. "I like that they stay standing up," he says. "These animals, you gotta take care of them and not eat them," he says. And so his mom, tearful now after her son's heartfelt case, promises they won't eat them anymore. The content of Luiz's little speech is one thing, but his tone could convince even some the most committed carnivores to let the animals stay standing up. Watch the video for yourself:

6. A homecoming surprise
Fifteen-year-olds Aiden and Hannah of Grand Blanc, Michigan, are in the same high school special education program and have been friends since elementary school. This year, Aiden decided to ask Hannah to the homecoming dance. With the help of his mom and younger sister, he went all out, dressing in a snazzy suit, writing a poem on a poster board, and presenting a bouquet of roses for his desired date. Hannah said yes, and Aiden's sister captured the adorable moment and posted the photo on social media. That's when the real fun began.

The high school freshmen class got wind of Aiden and Hannah's date and, delighted in their classmates' happiness, secretly voted for them to be homecoming king and queen. "They're some of the nicest people. They're always smiling and having a good time," said one freshman. "I think it's because everyone loves them. And we're really happy they're able to go to school with us."

7. The best reaction to a report card ever
Getting a passing "C" score in England is necessary for high school students to advance to college. But Aria Shahrokhshahi of Nottingham, England, was having a hard time getting there, particularly in math, having failed two previous trial tests. So he and his dad buckled down and worked at it every night, doing all the old tests over and over again. When Aria found out he got the passing grade he'd worked so hard for, he knew his dad would be pleased. So Aria set up a secret camera and filmed his dad's reaction, which will instantly bring tears to your eyes. "Is that real? Is that real?! My God," he says through sobs as he and Aria embrace in a bear hug.

8. A most honorable funeral
Harold Jellicoe Percival was a World War II veteran who led a rather quiet life after the war. He never married, and by the time he passed away in a nursing home at the age of 99, he didn't have any known family or friends. His death notice even called out for local military personnel to attend the funeral. The notice was passed around on Twitter, and soon enough the local paper wrote up a story on Percival and his upcoming service. As a result, at 11 a.m. on Armistice Day, hundreds of people gathered in the rain to pay their respects for a man they didn't know. R.I.P., Harold.

9. A very belated marriage proposal
Cindy Meneghin and Maureen Kilian were high school sweethearts. They grew up to have two kids, a home, and a happy life in New Jersey. What they didn't have was a marriage license. After 40 years together and ten years of fighting in courts, Cindy and Maureen finally got their wish on Oct. 21 when Supreme Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that New Jersey officials had to start officiating same-sex weddings. "Nobody gives up on their family, nobody gives up on their loved one. Nobody should. When you love someone you want to be with them, you want to be protected, you want them to be protected and that means marriage. When you love someone, you don't stop fighting for them," says Cindy Meneghin. Watch a video of their story.

Lauren Hansen is the multimedia editor at TheWeek.com. A graduate of Kenyon College and Northwestern University, she started her career in arts publishing and has since worked at media outlets including the BBC and Frontline.

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