Christmas Traditions - Letters To Santa
Many of us are familiar with well-loved tale of the little girl who wrote a letter seeking the truth about Santa Claus because her papa told her that if she read it in the newspaper it must be so.
I've seen almost every movie ever made about Santa Claus, but the one's based on this story certainly do tug at the heartstrings. I am particularly fond of the film version that stars Charles Bronson as the reporter assigned to satisfy the little girl's inquiry. I particularly love the ending, wherein we hear his answer containing that famous phrase, "Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus...", in response to the child's query.
That answer sowed the seeds for generations of young believers. Every year children all over the world to write letters to Santa. Some leave letters in their shoes, for Sinterklaas or Père Noel, yet another name for Father Christmas , to find on Christmas Eve. Some leave notes pinned to the Christmas stockings that adorn the mantle above the fireplace. Some children write letters to jolly old Saint Nicholas, or address themselves to Santa's Workshop in care of the North Pole.
Growing up a "Navy brat" as I did, I became used to moving to a new posting every year or so. That was the norm for us. When we were young, it did raise some interesting questions that tended to surface in early December - "How will Santa find us this year?"
My father, never one to let a challenge go unanswered - he never met a problem that had no resolution - came up with an ingenious solution. Several weeks before Christmas, long after after preparations at school were underway for special assemblies, classroom festive pageants and the school Christmas Concert, and shortly after our house had sprouted its familiar decorations, my father would make "the big announcement".
It was time to write our letters to Santa. We dutifully took up pencil and paper, and ranged ourselves round the dining table. We labored long over those most important missives, often querying one or both parents for a correct spelling. We asked if someone should write a letter our little sister, but we were reassured that Mom and Dad had already included her in their letters, which Dad had already mailed from work.
When we were finished, Dad would ceremoniously collect the missives. If we were fortunate enough to be living in a house with a fireplace, he would kindle a small fire and then, one after another, feed our letters into the flames. He explained that the wind would carry the smoke to the North Pole, where Santa would see it, and be able to decode the messages it contained from our burnt letters.
We had to wait a few seconds between each one though, so the letters of the words in one message wouldn't get mixed up with the words from the next.
He would take us outside after he fed a letter into the flames so we could see the smoke of each message rising from the chimney, solemnly assuring us that even if the wind mixed them up a bit, Santa would be able to unscramble everything.
...and we believed every word, passing on the tale to our little sister when she became old enough to write to Santa.
We had proof of the efficacy of Dad's plan on Christmas morning, when, sure enough, Santa would have brought several of the exact gifts for which we had petitioned in our letters.
We solemnly carried out the letter-burning ritual for many, many years, for our little sister's sake, as well as for the fun of it all.
Another ritual we dearly loved was the reading of Clement Moore's delightful poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas". Once we were ready for bed, we would gather in our robes, slippers and PJs, cocoa mugs in hand, to hear the lovely old tale...
"A Visit from Saint Nicholas
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap;
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and Saint Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle..."
- The Feast of Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, December 6
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Another favorite Christmas tradition
Another Christmas tradition I also remember from my childhood was the reading or viewing of Dr. Seuss' delightful tale, "How The Grinch Stole Christmas."
The first time I heard the story, it was read to us by my grampa.
We were spending Christmas with my mother's parents, and I still recall gathering in our robes and slippers to hear the story read.
Grampa had found it published in a special Christmas edition of the Vancouver newspaper - the Sun, I think - and had saved the pages just to read it to us.
We settled down on Hershey, my grandparents' polar bear rug, with hot cocoa, listening raptly.
My grampa was a first class narrator. He had a clear, warm baritone with just enough "granfatherly age" to make for a great reading.
Grampa also had a great memory, and an excellent ear for poetry.
Back when it was popular to make a record as a gift, Grampa took us all to visit a recording studio. The family made several records for my dad, who was away at the time.
My older sister sang "The Teddy Bears' Picnic," my mother read a special Christmas letter, and my grampa recorded a beautiful recitation of a Kipling poem, The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God."
We played those records over and over as kids 'til I'm sure we wore them all out.
I have always wished we had recorded Grampa's reading of the Dr. Seuss poem. He brought it to life for us in a way that has made all other versions anticlimactic - though Mr. Boris Karloff did come very close.
After the movie first aired on TV, we looked forward to seeing it again every year.
I still love these family traditions, and have passed them on to succeeding generations of children.
...and every year, I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with my beloved old friends, St Nicholas and the Grinch, courtesy of Mr. Clemens and Dr. Seuss.
"...But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!'"
----- by Clement Moore
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