Community Spotlight | Secret Santa
The holiday season is marked by tradition. Keeping up with old traditions can bring a sense of rootedness and belonging. It’s also beautiful to see how new traditions begin as a sense of belonging is being formed. This is the case of a beloved tradition led by Eden Invitation community members: Secret Santa.
It all started back in 2019, when Lily, a community member, wanted to build the friendships she had made through Eden Invitation. “I’ve done many Secret Santas before (from middle school sports teams to the long-running Reddit Secret Santa) and have always found the exchanges a whimsical, often thoughtful, and just fun bonding experience. Of course I wanted to share that with my Eden Invitation family!”
Using our online community platform, Lily and others who have coordinated the event communicate with fellow community members, getting mailing information and gift preferences. Then the list of “Santas” is drawn up, and each participant is emailed with the needed information and a timeline. After sending their gift, the Santas wait with bated breath until they see their receiver post on the Secret Santa community channel “Mine came in today!” Then, over zoom, all participants gather to open their gifts. Lily shared “When so much of our interaction is done online by the nature of the community, it adds a more personal (and silly!) element. I love seeing people’s creativity and individual interests when we do the gift exchange. Plus, who doesn’t like presents!”
That first year was a huge hit, so others wanted to help and make this one-time event a tradition. It became an opportunity for people to step forward, offering their unique and unrepeatable selves to serve others. “Organizing this was my first time volunteering with Eden Invitation.” shared Miranda. “I didn't have time to give to a longer-term role like a book club guide but wanted to give back to the community. Secret Santa was a great way to facilitate a joyful event.” Monica, another Secret Santa coordinator, added, “[And] people were so grateful that I helped organize it! I had no idea how much it meant to people.”
Every event has its hiccups and difficulties, but even then, these community members have worked hard to make keep this tradition alive. Monica laughed, remembering “[In 2021] I got a cold, and took night cold medicine… trying to put together a list of 30+ people got really hard.” When seasonal sickness isn’t hitting the scene, coordinators do their best to help participants communicate package delays and other mishaps while keeping the secrecy that makes the game so fun.
This event is particularly important to this year’s organizers, Jacob and Robin. For them, this was an opportunity to uphold a tradition that had given them joy as participants for several years. “I wanted to make sure the tradition continued this year. So naturally, if I wanted that to happen, I knew I needed to volunteer and help organize it.” Jacob shared. “It’s just such a fun place for community members to engage with each other and show each other love, especially during a time of year that can be particularly challenging for those of us with an LGBTQ+ experience.” The longing for family and community is keenly felt by those who feel separated and alone. For some, that is a physical separation. For others, it’s an emotional one. During the holidays, it can be hard to watch the joy of other families when you are unsure how God will provide that joy for you.
The gifts from Secret Santa are held in a special way by participants because they so attentively honor the unique interests and joys of each member. “I still have my first Secret Santa gift,” Robin shared “[It is] a candle and a book (the croissants were quickly consumed) and I think of [my secret santa] to this day whenever I use either.”
“Last year I was gifted a t-shirt with a meme that's related to my work.” Miranda shared.”I get complimented on it every time I wear it to work. It's a cool, small way that the joy and love I have received from Eden Invitation has spread to other aspects of my life.”
Though we’ve come together because of a shared experience of longing, this shared experience of joy and celebration can be carried throughout the years too. These memories are another reminder of the mutual support found in this community, that each of us is worthy of being known and loved, and that we can give of ourselves in joyful hope.