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Magic wishes

’Tis the season for lists and letters

By Carolyn Pogue

The mail-order catalogue lies open beside Michael. He carefully draws lines across the page. Using his best printing, he begins his Christmas wish list. It’s Nov. 9.

Michael’s list will likely change often before Dec. 25; that’s okay. Mine did too. This is the season for lists and letters. I always wrote to Santa, of course. But I wrote an earlier letter first: “Dear Aunt Rita, how are you? I am fine. Well, I guess the Santa Claus parade will come to Toronto soon. I hope I get to see it. Love, Carolyn.” I never believed in beating around the bush.

Dad drove my sister and me to the city Friday night to stay with Aunt Rita. Saturday morning, she gave us the lecture on holding her hands. Before we set out for the parade, she tucked a dime into our mitts, wrapped in a slip of paper bearing her address and phone number, and reminded us that “policemen are our friends.” We then rode a magical vehicle called a streetcar.

Later we stood mesmerized by Eaton’s and Simpson’s store windows as mechanical toys skated round, and Santa’s elves hammered and stitched what we believed all good children would receive Christmas morning. And there was more. We rode escalators, as amazing as flying carpets to us, to the toy floor where electric trains circled mountains, chugged over sparkling rivers and into miniature towns. Eventually, we saw the great man himself, flanked by an elf and Punkinhead (a cuddly brown bear who assists Santa). The afternoon, as if it needed anything more, ended with fresh baked bread and Aunt Rita’s homemade strawberry jam.

My childhood Santa letters were typical. But a story I read as a young adult about Santa letters was not. I’ve since lost the book, A Christmas Story, but every year recall it: There was once a Jewish boy who felt left out each year while his Christian friends celebrated Advent and Christmas. When he grew up, he changed things. While still honouring his Jewish tradition, he put up a Christmas tree and bought himself a Santa suit. Aided and abetted by his wife, he went to the post office every year to find a dozen or so letters from kids in need. He selected the ones that asked for things like “a blanket for my mom,” then set about collecting all kinds of additional gifts.

He made his deliveries Christmas Eve. He did it until he was too old to heft his sack. Then, at the urging of his children, he wrote his story.

Over all the years of deliveries, one visit stood out. He’d given each family member a gift. A visiting neighbour girl stood shyly in the corner. Because he always carried extra gifts, he simply reached into his sack and offered the girl a doll. She shook her head and whispered, “I can’t. I’m Jewish.” He whispered back, “That’s okay. So am I.”

My Christmas letters aren’t to Santa anymore; they’re to newspapers. Please celebrate the season of peace with gifts of peace. Please do not give violent toys and games to children you love.

Like Michael, I use catalogues for my lists. This year, they are from UNICEF and Gifts with Vision. Protecting at-risk children and buying chickens and school kits for people I’ll never meet gives me a terrific amount of joy. And that’s what I believe lists and letters are about.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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