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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

December 20, 2009

Who Plays Santa?

It’s not every day that the children get to play Santa Claus and the grownups are the elves.

But that’s the way it goes at Christmas shopping days at my kids’ school, when each class gets an opportunity to do its Christmas shopping, browsing from displays of dollar-store and other merchandise, with the help of personal shoppers in the form of their schoolmates’ parents.

Once their shopping is done, they line up to pay, then get their gifts wrapped by more parent volunteers, who advise filling out gift tags immediately.

After an afternoon spent wrapping and chatting, I had a few observations:

Moms seem to make out the best when it comes to kids’ Christmas presents. If a child had one present that stood out, chances are it was for mom.

Dads (and some uncles and grandpas) from my kids’ school will be wearing lots of musical ties come Christmas morning.

After moms and dads, the most numerous gift recipients seemed to be pets, siblings and grandparents, in that order. But that might just be because the kids really liked the pet toys. And some couldn’t resist shopping for themselves.

But overall, most of the students who shopped while I was there – children ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade – took time and care to choose gifts that the recipients would appreciate, and even wanted to help choose and personalize the wrappings. They added up their purchases, balanced them with whatever money they had available, either from their allowances or a budget set by their moms and dads, and shared their ideas with their friends. Those whose parents were among the “elves” took care not to let them see their purchases.

In our house, Caroline and Frank came home with their bags full of wrapped gifts, ready to share what they got with one another. I guess they wanted to make sure that they duplicate anything for their cousins or other relatives. No one told me what they got for me; Frank actually said he didn’t get me anything, but he knows what he wants to get me.

I’ve tried hard to make sure Christmas in our house is not all about the shopping or the presents; I’ve made the case that Jesus is the biggest present of the season.

But I can’t help being just a little bit proud when my kids devote part of the holiday season not to thinking up things to ask for, but to thinking about what other people need and would like.

Jesus told his followers to love our neighbors as ourselves; isn’t putting ourselves in their place, and trying to please them, part of that? No, buying bangle bracelets for mom isn’t saving the world, or even feeding a hungry family, but it’s a start.

There is a Santa Claus, I always tell my kids. How can I not believe, when I see his spirit so clearly in them?

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].