Recently, I read The Red Suit Diaries: A Real-Life Santa on Hopes, Dreams, and Childlike Faith.You can read my review of the book on Goodreads. The author is a Christian who considers being Santa a mission to show God’s love to children. I loved the stories of children who had sat on his lap through the years. Those stories made me think about my experiences with Santa Claus.
One year a group of us from an organization of businesswomen gave a party for mothers and children who were in transition from the Battered Women’s Shelter. There were twelve families in the program, with a combined total of about twenty children. One of our members had played Santa many times, and she agreed to be our Jolly Old St. Nick.
As an afterthought, I grabbed my Polaroid camera on the way out of the office, but I didn’t have any film. Santa and I stopped to buy film, and you can imagine the line of children following Santa through the drugstore. Santa had to smile and wave and speak to kids so we could get out of the store after making our purchase.
We arrived at a party location to find that the women and children were waiting for us because they had to arrive very early due to inconvenient bus schedules. After we served the guests cookies and punch, Santa sat in a large chair in the middle of the room and invited the children to come sit on “his” lap and get their gifts and have their picture taken. None of the children came forward. I walked around the outside of the room where the children stood with their mothers, encouraging them to go see Santa. They looked down at the floor or smiled and nodded, but no one moved. Finally one of the mothers spoke so low I had to lean closer to hear her. “How much does it cost?”
“Oh, it doesn’t cost anything,” I answered. “It’s free.”
The mothers smiled and motioned their kids toward Santa. The children swarmed around Santa’s chair, eager for their gifts. We took a Polaroid snapshot of each child, then we took pictures of the child with his or her siblings. One of the mothers shyly approached me. “Would you take a picture of me with my kids? I’ve never had a picture of my kids and me before.”
I’m sure the women could hear the emotion in my voice when I said, “Of course, we’ll take all the pictures you want!” The smiles on those faces lit up the room, and the happiness on the face of each mother when she saw the first picture of herself brought tears to the eyes of the six volunteers.
The children were excited to get their gifts, which they took home to open as the only gifts they would receive on Christmas Day. The mothers appreciated the gift certificates and the food, which they carried home on the bus. But the best gift of all was those pictures, which seemed to be an afterthought on our part.
An afterthought to us, maybe, but like all unexplained coincidences, another example of God choosing to remain anonymous.
For several years, the employees of my interior landscape company volunteered for the Elf Louise Project. The 100% volunteer-operated organization collects donations of toys, which are wrapped and delivered in person to needy children. Nearly 20,000 toys are given to children in almost 6,000 families. The parents must request the gifts for their families, and Elf Louise tries to match gifts as closely as possible to what the children want. Volunteers, close to 6,000 of them, collect toys and money, buy toys, wrap the gifts, and deliver them to the families. The toys are delivered by teams with a Santa on each team. Each year, my company fielded several teams to deliver gifts.
The teams were warned that most of the neighborhoods where gifts were to be delivered were high-crime areas, and the driver should be careful to always park in such a way as to be able to make a quick escape if necessary. Our driver knew that, but in a neighborhood of run-down, dilapidated homes, the street suddenly ended, and he had to turn around and go back. When he turned the vehicle around, a carload of teenage boys—guys who certainly looked like they could be members of one of the notorious gangs frequenting the area—pulled in front of us and slammed on the brakes. Big, rough-looking guys poured out of all the doors. We started to panic as the teens ran toward our vehicle yelling.
Then we realized what they were saying.”Santa! Santa! Santa!”
Fortunately, Elf Louise provides each team with a large bag of candy to hand out to children who aren’t on the gift list. That night, all our candy went to the “gang” of guys who looked like young toughs but who acted like children. After each boy got a big handful of candy, the young men said, “Thanks, Santa!” They smiled at us and each other, high-fived, piled back into the car, and drove away.
Women in Business gave many more parties to the women in transition from the Battered Women Shelter, and our employees volunteered a number of years for Elf Louise. Each of those experiences was moving and meaningful, but none was more special than the experiences I’ve just described.
This Christmas, I hope you are a Santa like Ed Butchart, the author of The Red Suit Diaries—reminding everyone on your gift list that you love them and God loves them. I pray that you remember that the value of a gift lies in the love with which it is given and the meaningfulness of it to the recipient.
A handwritten note telling a parent or spouse how much you love them, an offer to help a young mother with childcare or a senior citizen with household chores, a box of homemade cookies—these cost little or nothing but are likely to mean more than an expensive item purchased from a fine store.
Of course, gifts that you buy can be as meaningful as gifts that you make if you choose them with love and care. Selecting an item the recipient has been wanting for a long time or choosing something that perfectly matches their tastes and interests can bring joy to the recipient, and their joy will make you happy.
Naturally, as a writer and a reader, I love books. For the book lover on your list, a book in their favorite genre or a gift certificate to a bookstore can be the perfect gift. Although I’d like to think my books are perfect for everyone, I know better. You can give the perfect gift only if you take the time and effort to discover what would make the recipient happy.
May God richly bless you in this holy season and may the gifts you give and the gifts you receive bring joy.