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Christmas is emotionally messy for foster families and kids. Here's how you can help now
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

My grandparents on my dad’s side always did Christmas big. Their tree had ornaments with little moving parts, there was always wrapping paper and ribbons in one of the bedrooms and a Christmas village was set out across cabinetry in the living room.

On my mom’s side of the family, the tree was chopped down from their lakehouse property and was always a scraggly little thing with tinsel on it. My nana would lead us in Christmas carols on her guitar.

At both houses, there would be a traditional Christmas feast of some kind. 

Though all the “kids” are in their 30s now, we still open one gift on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning open gifts one by one, youngest to oldest or oldest to youngest. 

Since 2014, we’ve had a few guests with us on Christmas — the kids living in our foster home. 

Of course, they don’t feel like guests to me, but holidays have a way of reminding us our life isn’t as picture perfect as some of those Christmas cards we get of families in matching holiday sweaters.

Christmas is messy for us as we navigate expectations from our families, their families and the kids themselves. 

Our Christmas traditions aren’t their Christmas traditions.

I imagine it’s hard not being with your family on Christmas — I’m lucky I’ve never known that pain. Our kids have always been gracious about it, though I wouldn’t fault them if they expressed some hurt feelings.

But one thing we haven’t worried about is having gifts for them. Fall is often the time agencies begin asking for our wish lists — in case you’re wondering why I’m talking about Christmas in October — so that these children will have gifts come Christmas morning.

We’ve received gifts through the efforts of the Division of Family and Children Services, Court-Appointed Special Advocates and our private child-placing agency. 

The kids usually are able to visit their family at some point during the holidays, too, and in our experience, that means they come home with at least a few gifts.

By December, we usually end up with an abundance — so much so that I’ve saved some of the gifts for later.

But our kids’ wish lists have been simple — toys. They’re not asking for cellphones or gaming systems.

This year, many involved in foster care in Hall County are coming together to do Christmas a little different and make sure even the teens have their wish lists fulfilled and the whole effort is more streamlined.

Hall is Home will be putting on a Christmas event in December for the kids. And in the meantime, they’re raising funds to help cover all the wish lists, even the big stuff. 

They plan to have a database of all the families and wish lists that they can cross reference with private agencies so there’s less duplication. They’re even planning to get transportation for kids placed outside of Hall to make it to the big event in December.

It’s the kind of idea I wish I’d been able to pull off as I’ve struggled for years with how best to care for our kids during the holidays.

People often ask me, especially around Christmas, how they can help. The Christmas gifts have usually been taken care of, and I never know how to answer. So, I’m saying it now: check out Hall is Home, or 678-696-0807, and learn how you can help. Christmas is covered at my house, but if there are needs out there in the foster care world, these folks will know about them. 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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