When I was a senior in high school, I was a student body officer, and when Christmas came around that year, I thought it might be fun if all of the class and student body officers pooled money from our respective budgets to adopt a family for Christmas. We had well funded budgets, money the school provided and money we had garnered from hosting school dances and activities, so it seemed a little sacrifice for each class to contribute a hundred or so dollars to buy presents for someone in need.
I knew a woman who was a counselor at a local elementary school who told me about two little brothers being raised by a single father, boys who came to school with no socks or underwear. Our group of student body and class offices came up with a list of clothes, toys, and food the family would need, and we divvied up items to purchase. The LDS seminary group at our high school had run a food drive that year, so they contributed several boxes of canned food to our cause.
The week before Christmas it was a fun activity to go shopping and buy toys for the boys, another activity during my week of studying for tests, buying gifts for family, and making weekend plans with my friends. I’m sure in all my teenage busy-ness I never really understood the impact of what we were doing until the night we packed all the presents and food into the back of my mom’s Suburban and drove to Idaho Falls.
Since we had too many boxes to simply drop everything on the doorstep and run, I had a friend who agreed to accompany us dressed as Santa, and we determined to tell the kids Santa was making an early delivery. My counselor friend met us at the apartment complex, and she went to the door first to announce our arrival.
The most vivid memory I have of that night is how completely and utterly excited those two little boys were. They stood on the balcony of their apartment, unable to contain their joy at seeing Santa disembark from an old white Suburban. With the sweet innocence of youth, they truly believed Santa was at their doorstep, and they refused to leave his side. In fact, while Santa had originally planned to help us carry all the heavy boxes to the second floor apartment, once he mounted the stairs to where the two boys bounced in uncontainable joy, Santa ended up spending our entire visit on the balcony with the boys, listening to their endless flow of chatter.
The boys had much to tell Santa, and much of what they said revealed the desperateness of their situation and their utter innocence to their reality. “Are you bringing us food because we don’t have any?” It was a question that startled my burly 17-year-old friend, disguised by the Santa suit and beard. It startled all of us. We knew we were helping a family in need, but I don’t think any of us really understood the depth of that need, a need that stretched beyond empty kitchen shelves and manifest itself in the eyes of two young boys who needed Santa, who needed the magic of someone who worked miracles and produced Christmas out of the back of an old Suburban.
The other memory I have of that night is the father of the family. He sat on the couch during our visit. Unlike his sons, he was very quiet, almost blending into the furniture. I would describe the look on his face as overwhelmed. Shocked. Maybe a little embarrassed. I don’t remember if he’d been informed his family had been adopted for Christmas, but regardless, I’m certain he never excepted to see his entire living room floor, and every piece of furniture therein, blanketed in boxes of food and presents. He didn’t strike me as a man who would have asked for help; he seemed like the kind of man who would suffer deprivation before taking a handout. However, in the face of hands willing to help and two sons eager to accept, he sat humbly.
I don’t share this story because I feel proud of anything I did that night. It was no sacrifice on my part to help this little family have a Christmas. The money we spent came from well funded student body and class officer accounts, all I gave was a little time to shop and wrap presents, an evening to deliver.
I share this story because I will never forget the gift two little boys and their father gave me that night. They gave me gift of witnessing the true spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Santa, the spirit of Christ. I witnessed the faith of two little boys who believed they would not be forgotten, that Santa would remember them just as much as their schoolmates who came to school each day wearing nice clothes, socks, and underwear. It was their faith that brought us to that apartment that night. It was a loving Savior who knew two little boys needed a reminder that they were not forgotten, a Savior who knew that Santa would need a little help that year.
I believe in Santa. I believe in the spirit of Christmas. I believe in a Christ whose humble birth and selfless life encourages each of us to be instruments in serving our fellowmen, to be his hands to lift and embrace and give. I’m grateful for the times I’ve been able to be those hands, as well as the times I’ve been blessed to receive those hands in my own life.
Merry Christmas. May your new year be full of giving and receiving, and may we never stand idly by, too busy to recognize an opportunity to answer the prayers and faith of our fellowmen. There are people everywhere who long for our love. It’s our responsibility to find them.