I’ve been thinking about Christmas, and specifically the magic of Christmas. I try to do things to help myself and others feel the wonderful spirit of Christmas. One thing I’ve done which has been so rewarding and fun is to take nieces on an “Elf adventure” at Christmas time.
Several years ago I had a some extra money, including some which a dear friend had given me to give away. I ended up with $ 400 and went to the bank and got “brand new” money. I put it into 8 different envelopes — a $20, 2 $10’s, and 2 $5’s. Then I put a note in with each one:
MERRY CHRISTMAS! Yes, this is money. Real money. Not much … but a little extra to help you have (it is hoped) a happier Holiday. The one who shares wishes to remain anonymous but sends along a wish that the coming year will be one of the best ever for you and those you love. NUMBERS 6:24-26 – The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. He lives. He loves you. Joy to the world! Again, MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Next I called two of my nieces. Katie had just turned 16 and Tina was almost 13. I asked “What are you doing Friday afternoon?” This was just a few days before Christmas. Each was free, so I said I’d pick them up around 1:00 p.m., and we were going to go have a Christmas adventure. They were so curious and excited! I picked up Tina first, and then we went to get Katie. I showed them the decorated envelopes and had them look to see what was inside and asked them to read one of the notes. Then they REALLY started to get excited!! I told them a kind person had donated this money, and we were going to help her give it away to some people who needed an extra something at Christmas time. Next I asked them where people went to shop for groceries who had to pinch pennies — who had to shop very carefully and didn’t have extra money to spend. After some thought, they decided it was Maceys. So I said “That’s where we’re going — we’re going to Maceys.” I explained that each of them would have 4 envelopes to give away to someone who needed what was inside. Their eyes were getting a bit tear-filled by this time!
We talked about “criteria,” and they came up with great ideas such as looking for people who were buying basics rather than the more expensive prepared foods, and people who were using a list, and looking for parents who had children with them, and so on. They said they wanted to look at the way people were dressed and whether they had on a lot of makeup (I found that so interesting). I loved being with them and listening to their discussion and joining in their absolute excitement at this great Christmas adventure, compliments of my friend, a genuine Saint.
Eventually we also decided that the best thing we could do was to ask Heavenly Father to help us find those who needed the most help. So we had a little prayer together before leaving. We talked about what they should say when they gave the envelope to someone. We realized that unless they said something, the person might just think it was an ad or a promotion, and they might throw it away! So they decided on saying something like “You’ve been chosen to receive a little extra something for Christmas, and we hope what’s in this envelope will make your Holidays even happier. God bless you.” Isn’t that good!
We got to Maceys and parked in “the nethermost parts of the parking lot” and began wandering around out there. Katie spied our first “mark.” It was a woman just coming out, and she had a basket full of necessities and 2 children, with 2 other children running beside her. One of the little ones in the basket was screaming her head off, and the Mother was trying to push the basket while calming her baby. Katie went up to her (while Tina and I hid behind a car) and handed her an envelope and said her little part, and then came back to us. The Mother stood looking kind of puzzled and then smiled and continued to her car. And that was the beginning of our beautiful, unforgettable Christmas adventure.
Sometimes we’d go inside the store and sit on a bench where we could watch people checking out, and we’d discuss different ones, trying to determine if they were the right ones. We were all praying in our hearts, of course. Tina found one woman who had a cast on her leg and was giving directions to her children from a wheelchair as they bought their stuff. Later we could see her looking for us, but we hid so that she couldn’t find us, even though she saw us a couple of times.
Once when we were inside the store, back by where the milk, veggies and fruits were (we again felt like those who were buying the real stuff instead of the more expensive “ready-made” would be more in need), one of the store workers who had apparently seen us roaming and sneaking around came up and asked if he could help us. He was looking quite suspicious, we thought. (And I’m sure he thought WE looked suspicious!!). I said to him in a whisper “No — we don’t need your help, but thanks for asking. We’re ELVES, and we’re here on OFFICIAL BUSINESS!” He was so funny!! He kept saying “Shhhhhhh” and “carry on” and stuff like that. It was too good to be true!
Well, we eventually gave away all 8 envelopes, and we had incredible feelings in our hearts. I have to tell about another one specifically. We were back out in the parking lot, and Katie spied a young Mother, probably in her early 30’s, who was out on a bench near the front doors of the store. She had a basket with very little in it, and she had 6 children gathered around her, probably 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 (that’s how old they looked).
She was giving each of them a bag to carry. One had 2 loaves of bread. From what we could tell, it seemed she had purchased only what she really needed, and only what they could carry. This touched our hearts very deeply. She and the children were dressed very simply — even “humbly.” So we kept watching. When she’d given out the few bags, she took the cart way back to the front of the store (which impressed us further). Katie approached her and gave her the envelope and shared her little message. Then the 3 of us hid behind one of the posts near the entrance of the store where we could watch without being discovered.
This sweet Mother looked at the pretty envelope for a while, and then carefully opened it. She took the note and the money out and sat looking just stunned — as if she couldn’t believe it. She looked up our direction and we quickly hid further behind the post. She sat and slowly read the note, looking overcome with the wonder of it … the surprise. Carefully she put everything back in the envelope and then looked up again. We quickly hid. She started after us!! We started to run!! She called out “I can see you running! Stop right where you are!” And we did. She approached us, fighting her tears. First she “melted” in my arms, and I hugged and hugged her and kissed her, and the tears came. Then she hugged both Tina and Katie (who also started to cry), and then hugged me again. She just kept saying “Thank you … oh THANK YOU.” And she said “You don’t know … you have no idea….” Something like that. And then she turned and went away. We just stood there, wiping our tears and feeling quite overcome with feelings of love and the sweet joy that comes with sharing.
As we talked about her over and over, we were wishing we had given her all 8 envelopes. We went to see if we could find her, but she had gone. We sat on “her” bench, wishing we could do more for her. We had no idea who she was or where she lived or anything. Then we got an idea. Heavenly Father knew who she was and where she lived (duh!). So we decided we’d all three include her in our prayers, and that we would ask Heavenly Father to prompt someone — a neighbor or whoever — to do a “Sub for Santa” for her, or something special for Christmas.
Well, we had a most remarkable, unforgettable time together. We’ll never forget it. Never. Tina said “Well, I sure have my testimony ready for next month!” We all kept talking about how GOOD we felt inside, how TENDER, and how much our experience had meant to us. When we got to Katie’s, we went down to her bedroom and had a thank-you prayer. Heavenly Father was so good to us on that beautiful Friday afternoon.
The three of us still talk about that special Christmas adventure we shared. Has this brought some of your own memories back to you? Of course it doesn’t take $400 to have something similar happen. Maybe you helped with a “Sub for Santa.” Maybe you’re remembering when you gave part (or all) of what you’d have spent on gifts for each other to do something for someone who needed it more. In addition to memories, have any ideas come to you? Not just ideas about what you might do at Christmas time, but ANY time. Much of the joy is in the planning (I was going to say “plotting,” but it didn’t feel or sound quite right). This could be a great discussion for a family council, or a talk among neighbors or friends or anyone.
Sometime I’ll share some of the other “elf adventures.” I’m so thankful for willing nieces and great nieces!