For the past month, my little host sister Rafaela has been counting down the days until Christmas. Each day she comes into my room, asks me what the date is, and proceeds to tell me how many days until Papa Noel (Santa Claus) is going to come, and what she wants him, and me, to bring her. Gift requests range from Barbie dolls to her favorite sweets to new shoes and everything and anything in-between. This wish list is normal for a young seven-year old Ecuadorian girl in a happy home with ample food and even ampler love to go around. She has never gone hungry, never been neglected, never been abused. She has never been given any reason to wish for anything but shiny new things to occupy her time. For those who do have reasons to hope for different lives, the wishlist looks quite different.
The past four months, I have spent my days working in a safe house for women and children of abusive households. The women and children living in the home vary in age, nationality, and background, but they all share one very important thing in common: all of them have taken the courageous steps necessary to escape their aggressors. At the home, they live in relative peace and with relative happiness. The children are vibrant and active, making it easy to forget sometimes that they have demons I will never be able to understand. On the surface they are normal kids. They too count down the days until Christmas, making crafts and gifts and anxiously waiting for Santa to come. They too want dolls and candy. But under the material surface, their lists are populated by wishes that no child should ever have.
Last week, we asked the kids to write down what they wanted for Christmas on foam ornaments we had made for our homemade handprint Christmas tree. What they came up with nearly broke my heart. Here are a few examples:
“I wish for my Mom to be well in all ways” “I wish to be able to see my family” “I wish that my Dad will not hit my Mom again and that they will be together again” (Names are blocked out for safety)
Although these are not representative of all the children’s wishes for Christmas, they are the most poignant in these children’s lives right now. Right now, they wish for peace for their families, homes of their own, and happiness. Although I have never actually celebrated Christmas, I feel that part of its magic is that it always comes around the next year. No matter what happens throughout the year, another Christmas, another wish list, and new hope will always come around. My Christmas wish is that next year, no child will need to wish for happiness or safety. I hope that all children will be blessed to only wish for Barbie dolls, shoes, and candy.