250 McDonald's customers pay for strangers' meals in Christmas pay-it-forward chain

The pass-it-on chain happened at a McDonald's drive-thru in Lakeland, Florida Credit: Reuters

A generous gesture honouring the Christmas spirit marked a chain reaction at one McDonald's - as around 250 people paid for strangers' meals.

The 'pay it forward' chain began with one woman, who told the cashier at her local drive-thru branch in Lakeland, Florida, that she wanted to pay for the meal of the people in the car behind her.

She told the cashier to wish them "Merry Christmas", rather than 'Happy Holidays', as they passed through.

When the cashier, Marisabel Figueroa, passed on the message - and the free meal - the next customer was so touched they decided to repeat the gesture for the people behind them.

Credit: Google Maps

"It kept going and going. After the 15th car I started tally marking the number of people that were participating on a piece of paper," Ms Figueroa said, speaking to ABC News.

The woman reportedly said she was 'only trying to brighten someone’s day'. Credit: Reuters

After the story was published in the US, Ms Figueroa said she had been contacted by a woman named Torie Keene, who revealed she had been the one who started the chain.

She reportedly said she had no idea the chain would go on like it did, saying she was "only trying to brighten someone’s day."