Sunday, December 4, 2011

All I want for Christmas

From Western Illinois Family Magazine

It's been a long time since I put together a real Christmas list. Back in the day, my siblings and I would scour the Christmas catalogs and wander the aisles at the local five and dime, looking anxiously at all the great and glorious things we hoped we'd find under the tree or jammed into the beautiful handmade stockings our mother made for us. We knew that Santa Claus had a distinctly practical side, so underwear and socks were a given, but hope sprang eternal in our needy, greedy hearts as we gazed longly at the really good stuff we hoped we'd get.
My older brother and I would compare notes, judging the odds.
Me: Do you thing he'll bring me a pony?
He: Naaa. You probably haven't been good enough for something like that. But maybe if you make me a peanut butter sandwich and give me the football you got for your birthday, the elves will see you and tell Santa.
That was the ultimate catch around my house. We were, you see, true believers in the musical promise that goes like this:
"He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake."
We (or at least I) knew that Santa was keeping track of us (me) via his relentless gangs of elves that kept an eye on us (me) all year long.
I knew I was doomed.
In a desperate attempt to even things out, the most critical part of the pre-Christmas process for me was the all-important letter that would be placed in an antique jar to be delivered, via elf-mail, to the North Pole.
I've spent my entire adult career as a writer of one kind or another, with a lot of the work I've done intended to cajole and convince in one way or another. But while I managed to promote everything from baked beans to beard trimmers to microchips to tractors in my days as an advertising agency copywriter, it was all pure drivel compared to the selling job I attempted to put over on that jolly old elf. That yearly letter-writing task was a veritable training ground for what I'd do for the rest of my life.
I would write a cheery, cordial note to St. Nick. "How are the reindeer?" I'd ask. And "how about Mrs. Claus?"
Finally, I'd get down to business.
I'd start slow, asking for the kinds of things I needed anyway, thinking Santa would admire my thrifty attitude. So I'd list the aforementioned socks and underwear. Then I'd step it up a bit, mentioning that I really could use a new baseball glove and that I had generously given my brother my new football.
Then came the pièce de résistance.
"You know, Santa, some people think that owning a pony teaches kids a lot about responsibility," I wrote. "I think I'm up to the challenge."
Now I knew the elves knew that even my goldfish was only hanging on through the daily efforts of my mother, but, hey, it couldn't hurt to try, could it?
And finally, in one last do-or-die attempt to show just how good I really was, I'd mention a few items I thought my brother would like, thinking Santa would appreciate my altruistic spirit, while keeping in mind that I'd probably end up with most of the stuff he got after he outgrew it, wore it out or got bored with it.
My sister, being a girl, and irritatingly good, to boot, was strictly on her own.
Santa, along with being jolly and generous, is, apparently a sensible sort of guy, so I never got that pony.
In fact, I don't really remember much about what he did bring me from year to year, as important as it seemed at the time. But I do remember that Christmas in my house was always filled with laughter and warmth and love.
It was a wonderful day.
I hope yours is, too.

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