3: Christmas Elves

3: Christmas Elves

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Christmas Elves

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.

~Khalil Gibran

When my husband Ray and I were still newlyweds, there were a few forlorn Christmas seasons with just the two of us. Then, in early fall, a new family moved into our little town in central Alberta and they attended our church. There was Mom, Dad and about six kids, all under the age of ten. I learnt that Dad was a labourer and Mom stayed at home with the four youngest kids, while the older ones attended school.

It was obvious there was not a lot of money for extras for this family. In November I overheard the eldest girl saying she wanted a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas. This was quickly followed by the unkind words of two church ladies who were struggling to find just such a doll for their own children: “Not going to happen.” Those Cabbage Patch dolls were hugely popular that year, and selling out everywhere.

“Well, why not?” I thought. Commuting to Edmonton for work, I felt sure I could find just such a treasure. But it turned out to be not an easy quest. I began casting farther afield and enlisted the help of family and friends to widen the search.

Meanwhile Ray and I began making sure we sat close to the family in church, and shamelessly spied on them to discover what else might be needed for Christmas. We soon realized that everything was on the list. Again, we enlisted the help of our closest friends — two other young couples, also as yet without children. Everyone was given a list and, of course, the first item on all the lists was that Cabbage Patch doll.

I took on the task of making Christmas stockings and filling them. My spying paid off in garnering the names of all the family members, and another friend kindly embroidered the names on the stockings for us. I had fun finding all kinds of wonderful small toys, books, crayons, puzzles and candy for the stockings.

Ray took on the task of overseeing the gifts for each child. Our friends, Paul and Karen, helped him out with this. Bruce and Sue took on the task of putting together a traditional Christmas food hamper with a turkey, cooked ham, cranberry sauce, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, and lots of home baking. Their goal was to make sure that family ate well for weeks.

The quest for the Cabbage Patch doll was proving difficult. I did find and purchase a Cabbage Patch doll set that consisted of a child-sized doll carrier and baby bottle. Meanwhile the toys for all the other children had been gathered so we began gift-wrapping. But it was now December 19th and we were becoming anxious about that doll. I began thinking we’d have to make one. But while I was a good tailor, I had never ventured into sewing crafts and did not think I could pull it off. Nevertheless, determined to fulfill this child’s wish I went to the fabric store and then to the Army & Navy store for thread.

Guess what I found there? Yes, the Cabbage Patch doll! I couldn’t believe it! Choosing the best one of the four on the shelf, I could barely let go of it to pay at the cash register, and drove home elated. As I had already purchased the fabric, I then made up a little coat and an extra outfit for the doll.

Our next problem was how to deliver everything. Ray suggested we package it all up in big boxes. “We can probably sneak it onto their front step,” he said.

We decided everyone would meet at our place Christmas Eve, and we’d make our delivery together. Bruce and Sue arrived in their pickup truck with Paul and Karen squished into the cab with them. The food hamper was packed into three boxes in the back. Bruce also had a Christmas tree, totally decorated with ornaments and lights, tied in the back of his truck. Karen and Paul had filled a few extra boxes with warm coats, sweaters, mittens and scarves for everyone.

“Just in case they don’t have one,” Bruce explained, catching me staring at the tree. After we loaded the five boxes of gifts and stockings into the back of his pickup, Bruce covered everything with a tarp. We followed them in our car across town. It then began to snow and we became anxious, worrying if our boxes would keep everything dry.

When we arrived at the house, the only light we could see came from the kitchen. Through the window, we could see Dad sitting there, looking dejected.

Very quietly we sneaked everything onto the front steps. There were three boxes of food with candy and bright cookie tins on top, then five boxes of toys and four boxes of clothing sitting on the steps. We placed the Christmas tree, ready to be plugged in, at the bottom of the steps.

Giggling, we ran back to our vehicles. The snow was still falling. Bruce honked his horn.

The house remained dark. We honked our horn and Bruce answered with his. No action. After fifteen minutes we finally pulled away and met on the main street. We walked over to the truck and Ray phoned on speakerphone.

“Hello,” answered the dad.

“There’s a package of toys on your front step for the children,” Ray said.

The voice at the other end picked up immediately.

“Who’s this? Santa Claus?”

Ray was grinning from ear to ear. He repeated that there was a package on the front steps for them.

The voice on the other end of the phone had totally come alive.

“Why Dasher!” he said. “I was not expecting your call.”

We now could hear movement in the house. Dad’s excitement obviously was contagious.

“You say there’s a parcel on the steps?”

“Yes, well, the chimney is old in this house.”

We could now hear children’s voices, and Dad moving across the room and opening the front door. There was a hush, and then a huge shriek with the children all talking at once.

“There’s even a tree!” one of them shouted excitedly.

Dad came back on the line, his voice faltering.

“God bless you.”

Ray hung up then. Abashed now by the emotions we had heard over the phone, we quietly said our goodnights and returned home.

The next morning, all six of us went to church for the Christmas Day service and sat about two rows behind the family. All of them seemed to glow, standing proudly, and at peace in their world. I noticed that Dad wore a coat for the first time to church. And the little girl had that Cabbage Patch doll strapped in its baby carrier, and was as attentive to it as any new mother. That image continues to warm my heart every Christmas Day, along with the memory of the happiness on all our faces as we realized the full impact of our actions.

And while we certainly enjoyed our Christmas brunch together after church, it wasn’t the gift exchange that kept us smiling and regaling each other with stories. No, it was the recounting of the hunt for the Cabbage Patch doll, Bruce’s inspiration to get a tree and decorate it, and the baking and gathering of warm clothing for others who needed it. Our shared experience of giving had brought Christmas to life for us in a way it had never been before.

~Jan Piers

Edmonton, Alberta

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