Dear Santa

All I want is everything

So you've always wanted to live out the scene in Miracle on 34th Street, the one where the cops dump all the kids' letters to Santa in front of the judge. You've wondered what it would be like to rifle through bags of those sweet missives, just to see what sorts of innocent longing you might find. Be careful what you wish for, is what I say.

I did it. I asked Santa's helpers if I could take a peek. I looked at letters from the downtown Minneapolis Marshall Field's, Burnsville Center, and the Mall of America, out of which I walked with six bagfuls of the sacred texts. Then I plopped them down on my desk and dug in. I'm not saying I got all misty-eyed or anything, but after a certain point of reading hundreds of young believers' notes, written carefully or hastily in crayon or pen or computer font or illegible kid script or perfect parents-manship on stationery or cards or cardboard or check stubs, there is simply no avoiding the transformation that happens, and the fact that after about letter 50 you are no longer a professional voyeur or part-time gumshoe, you are Him. And with that Himness comes some responsibility.

"I love you, Santa," says one, and that's all it says. In a plain white envelope, marked "From David," in dirty smudged pencil. I love you, too, David, you mutter, and you hope David hears you, and you thank David for not asking for a Swan Lake Barbie or a Hotwheels set or a Game Boy Advance or a remote control Zamboni, and you love him for not sending you a catalog with every page circled, or saying "I want" 17 times in a row, or a list with 154 items, because you get that a lot this time of year.

James O'Brien

Which is okay. It's your job. So is reading self-flagellation like, "Thank you for all the presents you gave me last year. I am trying to be better this year" (Cole); "Thank you for all my presents you gave me last year. I am being good and trying to share with my brother more" (Jena); "I have been good but not perfect" (Kayla); "I have been a very good boy this year. I share toys with my friends. I take turns. I'm nice to my sister. I pick up my toys. I listen to Mommy and Daddy. I don't have tantrums" (Matthew); "This year I have been working very hard in school and had a great report card" (Will); "I've been pretty good this year. I'm trying to be better all the time" (unsigned); "I am pretty good most of the time" (Ryan); "I am working on being good + doing what mommy tells me. I'm cleaning up. Love Molly."

You tell Molly that you hope she gets over her drug addiction in the new year, and you'll want to tell all of them that being good is overrated and behaving is a relative thing, and that tantrums are okay and that they should all relax and ho-ho-ho a lot more and pay attention to Luke, who wants only "a disco ball," or Bryce, who'd like "Guitar with amplifier. Guitar + microphone. Pirate Boat." Or Luke, who writes, "Santa can you leave a note to my mom that when I grow up to be about 10 that I would really, really, really want to be a rock star. Can you leave the note by the tray where the cookies were. Thank you."

You will be inundated with requests for all the hot new toys, which are too dull to mention, but also for stuff like "big castle that I can fit in" (Sam); "a real pet dolphin" (John); "a nice horse that talks and walks" (unsigned); "books to learn how to teach a hamster how to be potty trained and go to the bathroom in the plastic hamster toilet" (Snowflake); "a bed just the right size that Rusty can fit in" (Amanda); "a pig's ear" (Pepper); "a fancy cowboy suit" (Dustin); "cat" (Travis); "fish tank with a fish" (Emily), and "an unlimited supply of chocolate chips" (Max).

You will want to say, Don't we all baby? to Grace when she writes, "I want it all for Christmas." But even more, you will want to hang out with five-year-old Eric, an ascetic-in-training who seems to want for absolutely nothing, because all he needs is, "Some ideas from you. You pick."

I pick? Okay. What I want is more Eric and less of the likes of the unsigned one that goes, "I need a remote control monster truck, red siren, U.S.A. flag, helicopter, toy airplane, toy tank, remote car or truck that transforms when it smashes." I also could use the wisdom to know what to do with this one, which isn't the only one that ends the way it does:

"Patrick's Christmas list: 1. Michael Vick jersey (black) ($40). 2. Fox invert beanie (red reversible) ($20). 3. Infusion football (junior all pro) ($18). 4. Philips earphones ($15). 5. Holes (DVD) ($18). 6. Adidas basketball bag ($30). 7. Lizzie McGuire DVD ($18). 8. Vikings calendar ($8). 9. School of rock soundtrack ($18). 10. Jigsaw puzzle of New York (?). 11. Jenga truth or dare (?). 12. Football cards ($3). 13. Family feud (?). 14.Tech Deck mini skateboard ($4). PS I hope my Dad gets a job."

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