With the Christmas season upon us, this precious little elf I acquired over thirty years ago was one of the first ornaments I placed on this year’s tree. Technically it belongs to our grown son, Matt. But when we turned the ornaments over to him, I couldn’t bear to part with it-yet . . . the bright red attire on the elf reminds me of a very special gift I received over half a century ago; a gift that would forever change my life.
On a snowy Christmas Eve in 1957, I gazed out the window, watching a plethora of snowflakes float to the ground, wondering as most nine-year-olds do about what this particular Christmas might bring. As a foster child shuttled between homes for the past four years, I had a cynical outlook on the holiday season, having spent each one in a different foster home. Although this one felt different, I’d learned at an early age not to get my hopes up.
“Time for bed, kids. Before you head to bed, you can open up one gift each.” My foster mom had a twinkle in her eye as the three of us raced over to the Christmas tree, rummaging through the small pile of gifts. Before any of us could grab a present, she retrieved a gift and placed it in my hands. She quickly did so with all the other family members. I stared at the long, rectangular box, certain it was some type of clothing. Like most children, toys trumped clothes. Her next comment confirmed my suspicions. “Go try on whatever is inside the box and then come out here so we can see what you got.”
I raced into my bedroom and tore open the box. Examining the contents, I reached inside and pulled out the crimson red and white flannel material. Holding it up against me, I realized it was a pair of pajamas I’d seen in the Sears and Roebuck catalog. I slowly removed my slacks and top to put on what I hoped would be the only article of clothing I received during my first Christmas at the Roselands.
By the time I strode back into the living room, everyone else was already gathered around the tree, whispering something I couldn’t quite make out. Each member of the family stood with their fists knotted at their sides, grinning at me as I entered the room. Squinting from the glare of the twinkling, jewel toned Christmas lights, I looked on as both my foster parents, Lloyd and Elaine Roseland stood, along with their daughter, Melody smiled. My brother, Billy stood beside them; all were donned out in the same red and white striped pajamas that I wore. In unison, we broke into peels of laughter.
For some children, this was simply a funny joke–almost a prank, but to me, it was personal. For the very first time in my life I was truly a part of a family. The pajamas were a symbol of that unity. Thankfully, I remained with that family until I headed off to college. I kept touch with them over the years and will be eternally grateful that they welcomed me into their home with open arms.
So, as you might have guessed, giving back the little elf proves difficult. I suspect it’s because he wears the very same shade of red that those pajamas were–the ones I first wore on that crisp, snowy Minnesota Christmas Eve so long ago.
Christmas blessings on you all. I wish you joy and peace, but most of all, I wish you a sense of belonging–a sense of community. May you find the acceptance and love from others who surround you–just as I did in the winter of ’57.