I’ve been in California for two weeks now, visiting my parents. I seem to have developed a tradition of sitting around reading or going on Facebook, not getting out much, becoming increasingly bored. To break this mould I decided to scare myself a little, so I signed up to volunteer for the Salvation Army. The website said they needed help sorting toys.
The Salvation Army had installed themselves at a huge warehouse in the middle of the State Fair’s empty premises. I walked in to find rows and rows of numbers, bags, unsorted presents. I was a little overwhelmed and a little bit late, too.
So I walked up to the first person I could find, and asked, what should I be doing? They told me, “go get a blue volunteer’s apron and a name-tag and we’ll put you to work”. I did as I was told and was quickly given a collection of “Angel Cards” for a local family.
Each Angel Card represented a real, living, dreaming child. It stated their name, age, gender, and desired gift. In my hand I had the hopes and dreams of children at Christmas. At my fingertips there was a selection of toys for children of all ages, the likes of which would have made just about any child (including my inner child) go a little bit crazy. Dolls, teddies, race cars, books, puzzles, art kits, basketballs… and so forth.
The child represented by the card in my hand was a 5 year old girl who wanted a doll. I went to the dolls and selected a beautiful one for her. Next up, a 9 year old who wanted an art kit. I found a paint set and a craft project and gave her both. Then there was a 6 year old boy who wanted Lego. I asked the other volunteers, had anyone seen any Legos? A few volunteers grabbed some and threw them to me, I selected two small kits for the boy. Next up, an 8 year old boy. He wanted a bike.
There weren’t any bikes left. That stung. I sighed a little and got him a basketball, so at least he could have some fun being active.
And so forth, I went through the cards, trying my best to fulfill the hopes and dreams of the children, hoping and praying that those who’s dream gifts weren’t available wouldn’t take it as a reflection on whether they were naughty or nice. It is a powerful experience to be trusted with the dreams of a young child, and with the gifts and donations of what must have been thousands of people, all trying to ensure these children know that they are innately valuable.
Through this process, I realized something that shocked my cynical adult mind – Santa does exist. This warehouse was his workshop, and I was an elf.
We need to get rid of the naughty or nice paradigm. It only suggests kids may be undeserving of love and blessings (and these in their materialistic manifestation, presents) because their behavior does or doesn’t conform to societal expectations. The truth is that nobody sees it that way. Nobody questioned whether any of the 2000 children we were serving were deserving of their presents. They are deserving, simply by virtue of the fact that they are children. A child’s dream is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Why should we pretend that there’s only one person and a lot of magical creatures delegated to the process of giving? The truth is so much more beautiful than that. The truth is that the spirit of Christmas, in its most pure authentic form, is the spirit of giving, and it lies inside every one of us. Every man, woman and child who ever stopped to buy an extra present for a child they would never meet. Every person who went an extra mile to get the exact gift they knew their loved one would adore. Every anticipating face watching that loved one open their present on Christmas morning, hoping the gift will be something they wanted. Hoping the recipient will, through the gift, feel the thought and love behind the intention of the giver.
I think when I have kids, I’ll tell them Santa is a spirit and Mummy was once one of his elves. And through the act of giving, they, too, can be elves.
May the spirit of giving be with you this holiday season.