I looked up at the mountains of gifts. There were well over a hundred. I stood in amazement. None of the gifts were from me, but I was in charge of distribution. This is what an elf must feel like.
Donated from a couple of law offices, there were three gifts for each child in my preschool. There are 51 kiddos at my school. You can do the math. At the moment, the math I was doing was to make sure each child got their box or bag full of gifts before they left for winter break.
It was December 20, 2013.
Earlier, in late October, the children sent out letters requesting what they would like for the holidays (way, way early, I know, but tell that to all of the retail stores). Not all of children would celebrate Christmas, but my supervisor shared that it was an opportunity for children to receive something.
“More about the gesture than celebrating a holiday,” she shared.
Written in crayon (and I use the term “written” very loosely), children finished their letters which were sent to their “Winter Friend” (aka, a lawyer). And, probably as quickly as the next day, the kiddos forgot all about the picture letter they created. But on these letters, children wrote 3 things they would like for “the Winter season”.
You can see all of the careful PR we’re doing here.
A month later, on December 19, a truck load – yes, no exaggeration – of gifts came to my school.
“Cover all of the windows and don’t let the children look at the security monitors,” I told my teachers. I didn’t want the kids to see Teacher Gilbert walking through the door with giant bags of gifts, like I was the Latino Santa.
I packed all of the bags into our parent room and locked the door. A sign on the door said, “Stay out. Stay alive.” Kidding, but I wish I did.
The next day, I found myself standing in front of a mountain of gifts. There were three mountains now, because I had organized each by classroom and name. The parent room door was open. I wedged a small table in the doorway. From the door, you couldn’t see the mountains of gifts. All you could see was the table and a few clipboards with all of the children’s names – checklists to make sure every child got their gifts.
Think Walmart layaway office, minus the register and blue vest… and the layaway sign.
“This is what an elf must feel like”, I thought as I waited for 3:45 – pick-up time. Whenever I have seen a cartoon or movie of an elf, they are really the middleman, which was my position at that moment. I didn’t receive any of the “Winter Friend” letters because they were for the lawyers. I merely passed them along. I didn’t purchase or wrap any of these gifts that I was going to give to the kids. I merely passed them along.
“I’m an elf,” I thought.
But, as I was sitting there thinking about the checklists, assessing the mountains, and making sure all the gifts of there, a thought came into my head… more like a voice…
“More about the gesture than celebrating a holiday.”
Moral of the Story: Whether you celebrate Christmas or any of the end of year holidays, children should experience receiving a gift – and the feeling that goes with it.
Throughout my early childhood career, I’ve worked with children and families who live in poverty. Meals, housing and electricity can all be hardships. So, the thought of their child receiving any kind of gift during the holidays feels like a distant thought and is out of mind.
Or, perhaps not. Maybe it’s always on their mind. Perhaps these families constantly think about the holidays. They think about how they are not able to give their children gifts, a tree, or any sort of anything. They think about how their child will go to school and see other children talking about what they received for Christmas – and their child won’t have anything to share.
Rather than the holidays bringing feelings of happiness, December equates to sadness for these children and families.
So you can imagine that, on my day as an elf, sitting at a small table wedged in a doorway, the shock and surprise on the parent’s faces when I give their child a bag of gifts. And understand this so you can appreciate the rush of emotion in these parents and children – some of these families would not have had any gifts and they are the ones exhibiting this sadness.
“More about the gesture than celebrating a holiday.”
Bag after bag went out of the parent room. Smiling children. Shocked parents. Crying parents. Again and again and again over half an hour. Check after check on my clipboard as I raced back and forth between the door and the mountains. Parents said thank you – in English and in different languages. At the end of the day, most of the gifts were given out. There were two bags left – children who were absent, but they would have their gifts specially delivered to their homes before Christmas.
My work was done. So was everyone else. The teachers cleaned up their rooms, locked the doors, then said their good-byes. We’d see everybody in the new year. I heard the front door slam shut as the last teacher left the building.
I sat by myself in an empty school. Most of the lights were off. It was quiet. To myself, I replayed the last hour in my head. All of the emotions and faces came flooding back. I teared up a little.
“I did not purchase any of the gifts,” I thought. “None of them were from me. I merely passed them along. But with every gift, I gave joy.”
I thought about the parent’s faces. “The surprise,” I thought. “The complete utter surprise on their faces.” I wiped my tears, then regained composure. I stood up and started locking up the school for winter break. I had to start my own Christmas shopping for family and friends.
I shut off all of the lights. I closed and locked the front door. My day as an elf was done.