Christmas! Wow! With a Christmas tree and presents and lights and everything! The little girl stood staring in amazement at decorations as if she’d never seen anything like them before in her life. And in truth, she hadn’t. At 7 years old, this would be her first real Christmas. Her mommy had left her at the welfare office just a few months ago. This kind of beauty and warmth were very different from the cold, empty, dirty apartments and hotel rooms she had always lived in before. This was something she had only ever seen in books. Oh, she’d heard about it, but she thought the other kids at school were just making it up as one more way of teasing her.
From the kitchen she smelled ham roasting, pies baking, and vegetables she didn’t even know the names of stewing on the stove. Her foster mother, Mrs. Williams, had sent her out because she was underfoot and kept getting in the way of the dinner preparations. At this house, Mrs. Williams said, they had Christmas Eve dinner so that Christmas day would be a day of rest and fun. She was expecting family and friends to arrive any time and didn’t have time to fool with such a nosy little mess as the newest foster kid. She'd only been there for 2 days and didn’t want to risk making her new “mother” angry, so the little girl had gone into the living room and tried, as she always did in new foster homes, to make herself very small and unnoticed. It was safer that way.
This was her third foster home in as many months. Because she didn’t know how to be with people, she made enemies much faster than friends, so the case worker kept moving her around trying to find a foster family that could help her “come out of her shell,” whatever that meant. All she knew was that if you let people get too close, they could hurt both your feelings and your body. She wasn’t letting anybody hurt her ever again. But there was something special in the air. She could just feel it and wanted to be a part of whatever it was.
The other kids in the family were all gathered around the tree talking about what Santa Claus was going to bring them. The little girl was pretty sure there was no such person because she’d never gotten any Christmas presents. When she said as much she had to laugh at the look of shock on their faces. “You mean Santa has never brought you anything you put in your letter?” Tammy, one of the older girls, asked. But the little girl was confused. She’d never written a letter to Santa. She didn’t know she was supposed to. Tammy very kindly took the little girl by the hand and explained that all she had to do was write the letter and Santa would bring her what she asked for. Tammy led her to where the paper and pencils were kept and helped her write her very first letter to Santa. Then Tammy took it and put it in the mailbox so Santa’s elves could pick it up later. That night, for the first time in her life, the little girl couldn’t sleep out of excitement instead of the fear she’d always known in the dark.
Christmas morning dawned bright and beautiful. All the kids were talking and scurrying around getting dressed. They were not allowed out of their rooms in the morning until they were fully dressed and the rooms were put in order. Christmas morning was no exception. The little girl hurriedly tidied up her bed and put away her pajamas and then ran downstairs almost tripping over the slower kids in her way. When she rounded the corner into the living room she stopped dead in her tracks. THERE WERE PRESENTS EVERYWHERE! Bicycles, truck, dolls, and so many other toys she couldn’t count them were stacked all around the Christmas tree. The bicycle leaning against the wall next to her had a big red tag on it that read, “From Santa.” The little girl couldn’t believe her eyes! Santa had come. He was real!!
Mrs. Williams walked into the room and clapped three times to get everyone’s attention. The children were instructed to take a seat and then she would pass out the presents. No one was to open any wrapped gifts or play with anything from Santa until they were all passed out. There was a collective sigh from seven disappointed little faces that could be heard all the way to the front yard, but not a one was willing to argue and risk being sent back upstairs. The little girl joined the others on the floor, but sat near the back so she could watch everyone without being watched herself.
In what seemed to the children like deliberate slow motion, Mrs. Williams began picking up presents and calling out names and then smiling as the recipients squealed with delight over each new treasure. With each name read, the little girl got more and more excited. The next one just had to be hers. So she waited and watched and clapped for glee as each child received just what he or she had asked for. But her name was never called.
As the last present was handed out Mrs. Williams exclaimed, “That’s all! MERRY CHRISTMAS and remember to play nice!” Nobody noticed the little girl sitting quietly in the back crying silent tears that rolled down her cheeks and dripped off her nose. Nobody noticed when she silently turned and crept back up the stairs to hide in her room. Nobody came for her when it was time for breakfast or lunch. Nobody remembered that she sat alone and lonely, forgotten by everyone. Even Santa Claus.
A few days later the case worker came and apologized for forgetting to bring her a Christmas gift. She brought a baby doll that cried, “maaamaaa” when the little girl squeezed its belly and closed its eyes when she laid it down. But it wasn’t what the little girl had asked Santa for in her letter. She didn’t know it then, but the new home she’d asked for would not come for 3 more years. But that’s a story for another time.
For now, just remember, as you go about your shopping and planning, singing and playing, that somewhere out there is another little girl who will go without a Christmas present to open on Christmas morning. Somewhere there is a child suffering and hungry and in need of just one touch of kindness to know that they are not alone and forgotten. You can help by donating presents or money to your local children’s protective agency, children’s charity, or any one of dozens of organizations that reach out to help children not just at Christmas, but all year long. If you want to help on a more personal level, “adopt” a child to play Santa for. The gift you give may be the one that opens the child’s eyes to the true meaning of this most precious of celebrations.
As the song says, Bless the Beasts and Children.
Wishing you peace, blessings, love, and the true spirit of the season.