It's going to be quite a Christmas for Elian Gonzalez.
While officials mull his fate, the 6-year-old Cuban boy is being showered with gifts from relatives and well-wishers.
"We feel very happy that the boy will be able to spend Christmas in a free city, and in a free country like the United States," said Lazaro Gonzalez, the boy's great-uncle in Miami.
Elian left Cuba last month with his mother and stepfather, who drowned in their attempt to reach the United States. The boy floated in the Atlantic for two days before he was rescued on Thanksgiving.
Relatives in Miami, who have sheltered him since then, say the biggest present has come from U.S. immigration officials, whose delay in making a preliminary decision about his status has enabled him to stay here at least through the Christmas holidays.
Elian's fate has become the latest battle between the United States and Cuba. Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the boy's father, who lives in Cuba, says his ex-wife did not get his permission to take the child and wants him back. Thousands of Cubans have protested for the boy's return.
His relatives here are fighting to keep him in the United States, saying he will have a better life.
This week, a group of Miami city officials, including one dressed as Santa Claus, brought Elian a battery-powered purple, yellow and red dune buggy, an aluminum bat and a baseball glove and ball.
Elian beamed as he drove the dune buggy around a small tree in the front yard of his adopted home. On Wednesday, he helped his cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez put up a six-foot Christmas tree.
"I wish my cousin was here at this moment so he could know what his son was feeling when he was making that Christmas tree," Gonzalez said of Elian's father. "I look forward to having him here for next year with us."
Elian and his father spoke by telephone today, as the family in Miami prepared for the "Noche Buena," or Christmas Eve, feast.
Earlier, there was more excitement than they perhaps wanted when a police bomb squad blew up two packages that arrived with only send.com as the return address. Police discovered remnants of soaps and an invitation to a spa that had been presents meant for the family.
"We probably just blew up somebody's Christmas present," said Miami Police Lt. Bill Schwartz. "But we are in a position where we have to take everything that happens on this block very, very seriously."
After Christmas, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is to resume its work to determine who is legally fit to speak for the boy--a preliminary step in the process of determining custody. The custody question is to be decided in the courts.
Today, Elian rode his new toy around the yard of a cousin's house as two large pigs--one 68 pounds and another 80 pounds--roasted on a spit. After a first sample, Elian declared, "What I like is the ears."
He mugged for a television news camera and, at the prodding of adults, said in English: "I love you, Miami."
Meanwhile, lawyers for a U.S. fathers' rights group have filed a legal brief urging the U.S. government to return Elian to his father in Cuba.
Lawyer Jeffery Leving, acting for the American Coalition for Fathers and Children (ACFC), filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the INS in Washington and Miami on Wednesday to support Elian's father's right to regain custody of his son.
"Fundamental principles of justice, the laws of the United States and international law all call for Elian's return to his father," an ACFC statement quoted the brief as saying. "The fact that Cuba may have lower economic standards of living is not enough to constitute persecution."
"We think that there are father-child issues at work here independent of political issues," ACFC chief David Roberts said. "Custody disputes can often become long, drawn-out ordeals that are definitely not in the best interests of children and their families."