Merry Christmas to the boy in the blue T-shirt

Merry Christmas to the boy in the blue T-shirt

I went Christmas shopping yesterday for what I like to call “the wrap up,” which includes stocking gifts and last-minute impulse buys.

Every year I enter this period of the season where I question if I’ve bought enough gifts. I recognize this as a privilege because I can spend money and not worry about where my next meal will come from or where I’ll sleep tonight. I’m sharing the story I wrote years back called “The Gift” and thinking about the little boy who received it. He’s never forgotten how it feels to have nothing, and even if we’ve always had enough, neither should we.

Merry Christmas!

“The Gift”

The boy sat quietly on the pavement. Christmas lights twinkled in the trees around him. It was that time of year again. He could smell the churros being fried and sugar dipped. Tamales were being steamed, cozy in their nests of moistened corn husks. The sights and sounds were all around him, but this year they meant nothing. He was lost.

Two months before, his family had moved to a new town. He and his brother had been walking to school. He was only 6, and school didn’t sound that appealing to him. He had wandered off, ready to explore the new town they lived in.

At the train station, the train cars had looked so fascinating. Before he knew what had happened, the train had taken off with him in it. Now he was in this town where he knew no one. In the time that he’d been here, he had wandered the streets not knowing where to go. He couldn’t go to the police; he was afraid they’d put him in jail. They would think he’d run away; that he was a bad boy. Sometimes, he would stand on the street corner and cry.

One time someone had given him money when he was crying. So now, for money, he would do this every night on a different street corner. No one gave him a second thought. He would take a small portion of this money and go to the church. There, he would put this money in the alms container that was in the foyer of the church. He would pray, “God, I will always give you this money if you just let me find my way home.”

As the Christmas season approached, he felt sure Santa would come and bring him gifts, then take him home. The streets were filled with activities, people rushing and laughing. The 12 days of posadas were beginning. These were parties that were held in the days leading up to Christmas. They sang to the baby Jesus and passed out warm drinks. The boy went to these parties, just wanting to be part of something and perhaps get something to eat. He stuffed his pockets with oranges and whatever else fell out of the piñatas.

Most of the time, they shooed him away, for he was dirty and disheveled. He walked outside the market where he slept under a table. He could see happy faces inside the windows of houses. Glimpses of gifts and food tantalized him. With a hope still in his chest, he crawled under the table in the market and pulled the newspapers over him for warmth. Surely Santa wouldn’t forget him …

But Santa did forget him. For three years the boy lived on the streets. Sometimes people would take him in for a few days, but he would always run away. They only wanted him to work in their houses. Though he had grown used to this life on the streets, at 9 years old he was still a boy. He dreamed of going home, but it was getting hard to picture his mama’s face. It had slowly faded into the past.

On his third Christmas lost, he sat on a slab of pavement looking up at the twinkling lights. My family has forgotten me, he thought.

The next day he met a man who wanted to take him in to live with his family. He never said no, always went because he knew for a few days he would have food and be warm. When they arrived at the house, the man told him he would have to sleep in the shed. He had four other children, and there was no room in the house. The family also had a few farm animals, and they also stayed in the shed. The boy knew it was better than sleeping under a table outside, so he decided to stay until Christmas was over.

This family was nicer than most. He had to do chores, but at least he had food. On Christmas Eve as he lay down to sleep, the hope he had always had in him slowly died. He would never be with a family who loved him like his own. No one would ever wrap their arms around him with the same love and comfort as his mama had. He fell asleep with tears rolling down his face.

The next morning he woke up. It was Christmas day. The animals snorted in their stalls, and the boy lay and didn’t want to move. He was warm and just wanted to wrap himself in a cocoon and never get up. He glanced over and there lying beside him was a gift. A gift? It was a small package, and trembling, he picked it up and there was his name written on it. He carefully opened the package, and inside lay a blue T-shirt. A simple blue shirt.

Tears started down his cheeks. Nobody had gotten him anything in three years. He slipped off his dirty and matted old shirt and put on the new one. Pleasure was bursting through his whole heart. Someone had thought about him. Someone had cared. He felt a tiny part of his hardened heart soften.

Maybe he would find his way home, and maybe his mom was still looking for him. He had to hope, because without hope what is there? He stepped out of the shed and looked at the Christmas morning. He thanked God for not forgetting about him.

Melissa Herrera is a columnist, published author and drinker of too many coffees based in Holmes County. You can find her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” at or buy one from her in person (because all authors have boxes of their own novel). For inquiries or to purchase, email her at

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