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‘‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

In our house, Christmas was a big deal.

Decorating the tree was a major undertaking, usually requiring a few days to get everything tight. (Yes, we were a “one strand of tinsel at a time” kind of family.) Gifts were all thoughtful, and their wrapping was to be done with care. Everything was meant to be savoured.

Christmas Eve was inevitably busy, with last minute gifts to wrap amidst visiting friends. But once dinner was done, we settled in. Final preparations were near.

Every year of my childhood we read Clement C. Moore’s classic, once the cookies were set out for Santa.

Santa had to get a sample of each of the baked goods we’d made that year. I remember my mom explaining he probably wouldn’t have room to try them all, having to see everyone around the world.

I used to be able to recite all the verses… my favourite was

My mom usually read the story, but one year we were lucky enough to have Gramps there – he knew The Man in Red personally, so that was extra cool.

As soon as the story was finished, my brother and I would kiss our parents good night, and then it was off to bed to await the magic. I don’t remember dreams of sugar plums but I did sleep well.

I still get up in the morning to check and see what Santa sampled.

I hope there is magic in your heart too – you do know that Santa checks in anyway, even if you don’t put out cookies, right?

I Know Santa Claus

Santa Claus Happy Gourmand

Okay, have I got your attention? That’s the idea. Santa Claus is an important part of Christmas and he doesn’t just belong to the children, either. He is an integral part of the spirit of Christmas I think, and his importance has very little to do with his big list of toys.

In an age where everything is about knowing the intimate details and having the “behind the scenes” scoop, people seem to think that reality is never what it appears to be. Famous people must not really be happy; there must be some scandal behind their smiles. Spectacular events are not really as special as you initially thought; special effects done on computer and stunt doubles are the reasons behind it.

This kind of skepticism is infectious and it makes us think twice before believing anything. But does that mean there is nothing worth believing in?  Quite the contrary – we need to believe now more than ever.

In 1897, Francis Church wrote that now famous letter to a young girl named Virginia. Today there is talk of the newspapers folding their operations because no one is reading them. Somehow we still need to get the message out to the world that just because you cannot understand the magic of how something good works does not mean you need to discount its value. If we are ever to achieve greater heights in our existence, there needs to be something out there we have not yet imagined to which we can aim our sights. Otherwise, quite frankly, what is the point?

In 1947, a movie was released called “Miracle on 34th Street”. It was the story of Kris Kringle, a department store Santa who showed skeptics how important it was to believe in Christmas… he also talked about the importance of imagination, and faith. All of those, he said, were wrapped up in the spirit of Christmas.

Christmas frame of mind Miracle on 34th

In 2004, Robert Zemeckis directed a movie entitled “The Polar Express”. In it, a child gets a ride on the mysterious train that goes to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and he learns the secret of Christmas. Believing in the power of Christmas – with its spirit of giving, and forgiveness – is the key to it all.

Christmas spirit Polar Express

I am calling on all souls that wish upon stars and throw pennies into fountains – you are needed now to share your faith with those less fortunate, and to ensure that children keep that twinkle in their eye that makes them want to believe. For you see, it is the children that save us all. Those of us who can hold onto the glimmer of wonder that comes from believing are trying to keep some of the magic of childhood with us.

 

And by the way, for you skeptics in the crowd, I really do know Santa Claus. I have touched his beard and felt his smile warm my heart; I have even shared coffee with him! He is alive and well, and quite busy this year I am happy to report. You see, there is hope for us yet, if we keep believing. If you would like to get in touch with him, you can always start writing again. He doesn’t mind if he hasn’t heard from you in a while 🙂

In closing, I am reprinting Mr. Church’s original letter for you here as I think it still says the right thing, more than a century later.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

From the Editorial Page of  The New York Sun,
written by Francis P. Church, September 21, 1897

Virginia, your little friends are wrong.  They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age.  They do not believe except they see.  They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.  All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s are little.  In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.  Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus!  It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.  There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.  We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight.  The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus!  You might as well not believe in fairies!  You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove?  Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.  The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.  Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn?  Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there.  Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.  Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.  Is it all real?  Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus!  Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever.  A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

What are you serving Santa tonight?

When I was a kid, what went on the plate for Santa was always a big debate. My brother and I would each have our opinion and we both wanted to have the shortbread we decorated on the plate. Santa got milk at our house, not scotch (as I learned was the norm at some other houses). And it wasn’t until I was older that I learned of the custom of leaving a carrot for the reindeer. (Maybe that’s how my Chocolate Lab learned to like carrots – Santa fed her some!)

I would love to know what is the cherished thing for Santa to get at your house on Christmas Eve. Or, what is your favourite thing?
Please leave your comments.

I will be putting out some shortbread, a mincemeat kiss, some vinarterta, and a bit of choocolate-covered sponge toffee. Santa told me he likes single malt, so in the interest of maximizing my chances at a full stocking, I shall leave him a wee tipple.

Merry Christmas everyone!

The spirit of the season

I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who believes. I believe in a happy childhood, and I believe in wishing on a star, and I believe in Santa Claus. In an age when we seem to be duped or even ripped off on a regular basis, I think it is important to have something as a counter-balance, and the spirit of Christmas is mine.

Santa busy at work in his shop

Last night we had Santa visit our Girl Guide troop. Our girls are 12-14 (they are called Pathfinders), and they were helping younger girls (Brownies, aged 8-10) to write their letters to Santa. I am sure you can imagine some of the looks on faces when they heard the jingle bells coming down the hall. The younger girls stopped in their tracks for just a moment, and then many of them rushed up to him for a closer look. He was dressed not in his official suit but rather a pair of red coveralls under his Santa jacket. He told the girls he had heard they were having a meeting and talking about Christmas, so he thought he would stop by.

The girls asked him questions and he furnished them with simple answers.

– “Is Rudolph’s nose really red?” – – of course. That story has been told for a long time.

– “Do the elves celebrate Hallowe’en?” — yes, but it’s hard to tell, as they are dressed up all the time.

– “How old are you?” — How is your math? Do you know my birthday, December 6th? (St. Nicholas Day, of course!) I was born in the year 343.

– “Do the reindeer need to practice?”– yes, and they love to practice in the Okanagan, where they can fly over the lake and under the bridge in Kelowna.

– “Do you use magic?” — yes, but only when I need to, like getting through some of those new green, small chimneys

They took it all in, and when he told them how important it was to “be prepared” (the Girl Guide motto) they all nodded knowingly. He told them to keep being good, and that he would see them all soon. Then off he went, down the hall with the Pathfinders.

You see, the older girls were helping out by writing the replies for the Santa letters. So Santa was there to make sure they knew proper protocols. He told them it was important to not promise a particular gift; he said he often told kids,”If you do your best, I’ll do mine”. He told them that if anyone asked for a pet, he would always check with Mom and Dad first before making a delivery. But it was when he mentioned a special secret for gifts that might not arrive promptly that he got everyone’s undivided attention. He told the girls that he had an example this year of a handmade gift that looked like it would not arrive for Christmas. So, he was going to produce the letter mentioning the gift to show that he hadn’t forgotten. One of the girls then piped up, “So, are you the real Santa?” He smiled, and reached in his pocket. “Oh, darn,” he said. I left my driver’s license in the sleigh. (I will mention here that I have seen said license, and it does indeed say Santa on it.) This group of usually rambunctious teenage girls got unusually quiet and thoughtful. Santa closed by saying that including personal details in the letters was also important – he knows what school they go to, and what awards they have won, etc. Then he headed out, back to the workshop he said, and as he went out the door he told the girls they would feel good about what they were doing.

The letters they wrote were wonderful. They all added their own touches – one girl is a beautiful artist, so for her girl who loved cats she drew a kitty with reindeer antlers at the bottom of the letter. Another has literary talent, and her letter was lovely prose. They were all proud of their efforts, and wished they could see the girls’ faces when they read the letters. For my part, I was happy that these modern girls had experienced the true meaning of Christmas.

When I talked to my Mom this morning on the phone, she told me I should be proud of sharing my faith in such a spirit. I was certainly proud of the girls and I am happy to be a part of making sure that despite all efforts to the contrary, we maintain a belief in something positive.

I wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas. May its spirit follow you into the New Year.

(If you need more encouragement to feel festive,check out the recipe page where I have posted a few more entries.)

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