Playing Santa

Playing Santa

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Playing Santa

The most vivid memories of Christmases past are usually not of gifts given or received, but of the spirit of love, the special warmth of Christmas worship, the cherished little habits of home.

Lois Rand

Every Monday night, nearly 100 students from around the world come to our free school for English as a Second Language. For seven years we’ve taught, befriended, and helped men and women of all ages from Bosnia, Kurdistan, Mexico, China, Vietnam, Korea, Africa, Russia, South America, Iran, Pakistan, and more.

The people have many differences in languages, customs, food, and clothing. They are excited, shy, and sometimes afraid. They are always grateful, and we are always left rejoicing in the help we can give them. We also have many similarities that blur our differences: mainly, we love our children.

Three weeks before Christmas, one of our students from Iraq approached my husband and surprised him by asking for help in creating a Christmas celebration for his children. We were surprised that a Muslim family would request this. We were curious why he would want this, but his children went to public school and were feeling left out of this exciting holiday.

The father was on disability from a job injury and the family had little. We put out the word to the other volunteers who taught, drove buses, and helped in child care for the English classes every week.

Six days before Christmas, we went to the family’s apartment, loaded with a gift for each of the four children, fruit, a basket of olive oil and spices, homemade cookies, beans, and rice.

We were greeted with smiles and led to the sparsely decorated living room. While we talked with the children, their parents put together a tray of sodas and sweet bread.

We talked about how they were doing with practicing their English, how they were adjusting to America, and we joked with the children, whose eyes strayed to the wrapped packages nearby. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I asked their parents if the children could open their gifts.

Everyone helped the eighteen-month-old daughter, who was almost completely blind. Familiar with the child’s problems, one of our volunteers had purchased a push button toy full of sound and bright lights. We laughed as this little girl, who had smiled very little when we came in, now laughed, and clapped her hands as she pressed the buttons of the toy with her hands, feet, and mouth.

The two-year-old daughter hurriedly unwrapped her gift, a see-through backpack full of blocks. Soon miniature buildings filled the living room. The twelve-year-old son gasped when he opened his package containing two small remote-controlled cars inside. And the fourteen-year-old daughter, her English near perfect, couldn’t wait for me to cut open the plastic that held her new cassette player and headphones. Soon, like any teenager, she was nodding her head to the rhythm of her favorite music.

Their mother smiled and made us promise to come back soon for dinner. We felt like the three kings bearing gifts; my husband, daughter, and I couldn’t imagine a nicer feeling. We made a new connection with this family that Christmas week.

Yes, there are many differences between us and our students. We speak different languages, eat different foods, celebrate different holidays, and see the world just a little bit differently.

But the reality is that when Muslims and Christians become simply parents, we are very similar.

Kathryn Lay

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