The Christmas Traditions: Elves & Hope
Tomorrow is Christmas. There are not enough words in the English language to describe how much I love Christmas or what this Season brings to my heart. Having children only magnifies the wonder and the awe of this holiday; seeing it through their eyes makes my heart overflow. The reason for the reason, of course, is to celebrate Jesus and His miraculous, life-transforming birth. We give gifts because the wise men gave gifts to the baby Jesus but also because giving gifts is a way of telling someone we care about them. There are many gifts to give: tangible ones, emotional ones and spiritual ones. Singing songs as we roamed the streets caroling, baking homemade sugar cookies while letting them play with the flour, reading the story of Jesus’s birth in Luke together and watching the lights dance on the Christmas tree are all gifts given during this Season—ones more important than any they will find wrapped under the tree for it is the traditions, the memories, that they will carry with them into adulthood. It is the memories and the traditions that will whisper you’ve been loved when the world tries to tell them they aren’t.
One of the memories we create at Christmastime is the adventures our elves get into. We have three main elves on the shelf: Sammy, Dash and Dasher. But we do not subscribe to the traditional story of the Elf on the Shelf. We do it differently in several key ways. First, we don’t equate getting presents with being good. We don’t mention Santa checking his list to see if they’ve been naughty or nice. And our elves do not have to remain untouched during the day because they don’t fly back to the North Pole to report on their behavior every night. I don’t give the girls gifts at Christmastime to reward behavior: I give gifts at Christmastime because I love them. Gifts cannot buy love. They cannot replace my presence in their lives. But gifts can bring joy; they can tell a child that their happiness matters and that they are special. It would not matter if my girls had a bad day during which they continually “messed up.” They would still get gifts on Christmas because I would still love them and would still want them to have a moment in which they felt spoiled and adored. So our elves are fully touchable. We’ve dressed them up in fancy suits and taken them with us to church. They’ve been stuffed in backpacks and carried in the car. They’ve been slept with. Our elves come just because Santa wants to help the girls get ready for, anticipate, Christmas morning. It’s a way of making the entire month of December extra special. So that’s the first way our elves are different.
Secondly, sometimes, as mentioned, our elves get a little homesick. So, every night, Santa sends a different elf so that Sammy, Dash and Dasher don’t start missing their friends too much. The different elf friend that comes can’t stay but she/he draws a picture of him/herself and leaves the picture for the girls so that they will know who came to keep our three elves company. These additional elf friends serve an additional purpose, too. On Christmas morning, the elves leave a special gift for the girls: a scrapbook-like book in which each elf who visited our home during the month of December writes a paragraph or so about who he/she is, likes and does at the North Pole. This book has become a highlight for Christmas morning. One year, the girls didn’t even really want to open presents until they had had a chance to look through the book. Other keepsakes that have been gathered during the month are also carefully placed in the scrapbook by the elves: any letters the girls or the elves wrote each other, the pictures taken with Santa. This year when the elves threw Jesus a birthday party, Sammy, Dash and Dasher each painted a picture for Jesus. The pictures they painted are included as separate pages in the scrapbook.
It is a lot of work to do the scrapbook and the elves this way. It means 24 elves have to be traced, cut out and colored. It means a scrapbook has to be written and created. These things have to be done in addition to putting the elves into position each night. It’s a lot of time. But it has an incredible pay-off: my sweet girls’ are “heart-happy” they have special friends like the elves. And the scrapbook—-we reread it year round as a way of getting to know our elves better.
Tonight, as I put away the elves, a piece of me was a little sad that they won’t be back for a whole year. But then the thought whispered through my head but I am will stay with you every day. The elves are fun, whimsical and a way for the girls to enjoy Christmas. But, as much joy as the elves bring to our home, they don’t bring the fulfillment or the lasting peace that Jesus does. He isn’t going away to the North Pole—or anywhere because He chooses to live among us, to live within us, every day of the year.
For me, Christmas is so bountifully precious because it is a time for me to remember that I am not alone. Emmanuel: God with us. It is a time for me to quiet my heart and let it rest in a peace that I can’t find anywhere else. Adults and children may anticipate Christmas for different reasons but if it were to be summed up in one word, I’d say that both children and adults long for and revel in this holiday because it offers hope. For the grown-up me, I find hope in the kindness with which people treat each other during Christmas. Strangers paying off layaways. Homeless people spending money to buy food for other homeless people. Toy donations. Free gift-wrapping at the malls. Nearly every day, there’s an uplifting story that restores my faith in the human race and offers me tangible hope that mankind is still capable of compassion. For the child, Christmas offers the hope of a morning when gifts and family combine to make them feel adored. Hope is something we spend our entire lives trying to find…until we find Him and realize He is our hope. Christmas helps me feel that more strongly.
Tomorrow is Christmas.
My pastor pointed out that the day after the shepherds in the fields saw the entire night sky lit with the heavenly host singing praises to God, they had to go back out and tend the sheep. Their lives didn’t change; their responsibilities didn’t vanish just because they’d seen an angel. Life went on. But, although the circumstances of their daily lives didn’t change, their whole world was never going to be the same because they had something they hadn’t had before: hope that brought them joy. They carried it with them throughout whatever circumstances they had to face. They had hope that the pain could end, that someone cared, that they, in their lowly positions as shepherds, mattered.
I am sleeping on the couch in front of the beautiful Christmas tree so that I may see my girls’ excited reactions to the entire living room being filled with gifts. Tomorrow will be a beautiful day, sweet with good food, lots of hugs, laughter and delight. The day after life will slowly revert back to the same routines we always have. The bills will be here. The elves will be gone. School will resume. Work will commence. But then… when life tries to get us down, we will be like the shepherds, pull out His Word and feel our hearts lighten as we find comfort, guidance and hope through its pages. Because it, unlike the elves, unlike the Christmas tree, unlike the presents, is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
And that is Christmas.