Holidays with the Elf — 

Have you played the “Elf on the Shelf” holiday game? It’s based on a children’s book of the same name. We enjoy playing with our Elf at the Care Home where I live. The small toy elf, a simple stuffed doll, is hidden out of sight somewhere in the common areas shared by the house’s residents, staff and volunteers.

The person who finds the Elf (hiding between sofa cushions, in a plant, or perched on a curtain rod) wins bragging rights and has the duty to hide it for the next lucky finder. Sometimes the tension mounts when the Elf isn’t seen for hours or even days.


Sometimes the tension mounts when the Elf isn’t seen for hours or even days.

The spirit of the Elf game shows what I enjoy about the holiday season.  Keeping it simple and including everyone. I truly enjoy Christmas.  This a time of family, of light in the darkness and people taking special efforts to do good, despite the pain and problems of the world. In this season we see people come together, renew connections, surprise one another and show kindness.

There is a solemnity about the season that has nothing to do with religion, shopping or food. I think of the relaxed breeziness of the days of summer which are a different sort of pleasure. Now, as the solstice approaches, the contrast of the light and dark is so clear; there is a layer of formality surrounded by countless traditions that can be joyous.

I have enjoyed performances of Black Nativity and Christmas Carol in local theaters.  I once saw the amazing Rockettes at the Radio City Music Hall’s Holiday Extravaganza. Such happy energy!  I have fond memories of listening to carols sung by the choir members from a small Lutheran college in out-state Minnesota.  I recall attending midnight mass with candles, incense and special music. The experience was a joy of the physical senses, and offered a gentle and welcome place of quiet rumination.

These memories continue to bring me smiles and guide me as I celebrate this year’s holiday season. Decorating our house starts as soon as Thanksgiving leftovers are packed away. We have a wide range of items with which to adorn the home. They reflect the variety of personalities of our residents, staff and volunteers and the many, many donors who’ve shared with us over the years. As these are unpacked we remember our times with past residents, former staff and volunteers.

This is our special family.

A moment of quiet poignancy passes as we think of those with whom we have crossed paths.

There’s fun to be had in finding the perfect gift (often at a thrift store) or sharing a personal memento, wrapping it just so, and in sending hand-decorated Christmas cards. The house is busy with people dropping off things for their relatives and friends or for all of the residents to share.

The residents are eager to see each person included in the festivities. One year volunteer carolers dropped by and filled the house with the music of their lovely voices.

December in Minnesota is known for its long, dark and cold days; the heavy clothing we often need, and the sloppy wet snow we may, or may not, enjoy for a white Christmas. Celebrating the holidays takes the edge off of all of this. Personally, I’m not so much a fan of New Year’s Eve. I don’t make resolutions. At the house we might watch the dropping of the crystal ball at midnight in Times Square…followed by heading off to bed having celebrated the coming of the New Year in a different time zone.

Twenty-first century technologies have changed relationships in the homes of Clare Housing. Once the residents shared a land-line, and gathered in a common room for watching network television. Many residents now have cell phones and digital devices for personal use. So, as in most American families, we can be together but participating in separate conversations via messenger, text, emails and calls. This is nice, because now we can maintain contact with friends and family even when the weather or health would otherwise have us housebound. And still we share activities, and try to support one another in a season that isn’t easy for everyone.

This holiday season I will reflect on what they mean to me personally.  For me, the holidays are a time to heal and restore a part of myself that perhaps has been forgotten over the course of the year.  I welcome the holidays, as I use this time as an opportunity to restore my faith in humanity, to allow myself to slow down, and remind myself that there is hope, light and good in the world.

And so I strive to focus on what I have; and I realize that I am rich. This is the season for giving and showing goodwill to others. At this point I could put in a plug to share your time, talents and treasures with Clare Housing. I am deliberately refraining from doing so. Maybe this is a time when all you can manage is to give something to yourself – and that is what you truly need to do. I hope that you have a safe, joyous and rich season.

Photo CC Mark Baylor