I love the jolly old guy in the red suit. I am partial to vintage forms of him, red robes flowing and gold rimmed glasses slipping ever so gently off of his rosy cheeks. In my heart, Santa embodies the philanthropist in all of us. He is the personification of childhood bliss, concerned only with the duty of bringing joy where he goes. As a world, we have commercialized our saintly friend to the point of ridiculousness. But as a mother, I love knowing that although my children know the true meaning of Christmas, they can also experience the wonder of an earthly character in the business of serving up joy. I prefer the actual role of Santa as opposed to the role we play as receivers. He is a giver, he has a devotional quality about him. Now, I am not about to compare him to the earthly one God sent us that we might know Him. However, as a young woman in the middle of a beloved homeless shelter, I was on the receiving end of one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned.
Our youth group used to do a fun Christmas party for a shelter we had established a wonderful relationship with. I began going as a volunteer. We took cookies and juice. We took stockings filled to the gills with toys for the appropriate ages. We sang carols and told the story of when Jesus was born. The first few years, we noticed that the children thoroughly enjoyed the party atmosphere, but the mothers, hurt and wounded by a world they could not trust were closed off and aggitated. A little boy with the brownest eyes stood very still by the small wall of the room. I approached him and he made it very clear. "Santa don't love us, lady. He is not coming here. Nice of you to bring all this, but I ain't gettin' my hopes up for any Santa Claus. He don't even know we exist." We thought we were serving our community, when really we were reminding them fo what they felt they were missing. The true meaning of Christmas was not able to reach them because if they felt Santa wasn't interested, then surely the King of Kings was not going to recognize this lost group of people.
So, we made some changes. Moms came forward and organized crafts for the moms and for the kids. Their sense of accomplishment was heightened when they felt they had made something special for each other. We no longer took gifts, we allowed them to make them with their own hands. We took musical instruments and offered the kids and their moms to play them for worship time. We took less food and more hugs. We took sacks of candy canes and a polaroid camera and yes, we began taking Santa. A wonderful, God-loving man, our Santa read the gospel each year and they listened. The folks in the shelter showed their greatest joy when we took pictures of each of them perched upon his knee, whispering their heartfelt prayers. In a saintly man dressed in red, these folks found worth and hope and were able to hear the message, the truth. Hope, pure and simple...hope was restored.
I vowed from that time forward that I would always allow my children the wonder of Saint Nicklaus.
This year Emily was sick as Christmas approached. One of her favorite traditions is a time honored party that my brother and sister-in-law inherited about six years ago. When Carol's aunts could no longer host the Christmas Eve fete, they passed the baton. With a new family hosting, new family members became part of the tradition. We became part of the fun.
Emily realized quickly that she would not be with family she adores and she would miss dear ol' Santa Claus crash the party with her Christmas pjs and maybe even a toy. What she didn't realize was that Santa was not about to let her down. As she prayed for some way to be better enough to attend, the elves were fast at work depositing this lovely bag on our property.
I told the girls there appeared to be a surprise. Delighted and squealing, they opened several gifts meant just for them. Of course the pajamas were in there, but the elves had ensured there were some fun items to take Emily's mind off of her aching belly and to help Hannah celebrate as well.
What happened next is the most beautiful part of the story. As soon as the girls had completed opening the bag full of sweet fun, Emily jumped up and said, "I have to go write Santa a thank you note. That was so sweet of him to remember us even when I am sick. He probably had to go out of his way because he'll have to come back later. Wow, I bet he didn't even get dinner because of the extra travel." And she sat right down and wrote him a letter.
She said her thank yous and asked him a few questions, but took much pride in asking him if he understood the true meaning of Christmas. She told him it is not about the toys or gifts, but about a baby born in a manger stall in Bethlehem. She is sure he knows...and so are we.