I made the mistake several years ago of telling a friend that I do not wrap gifts for children on Christmas, it being a long family tradition not to do so. This friend, who is wild about wrapping, was horrified. She also doesnít think Santa Claus should get credit from her children for all the gifts under the tree, either, since he has done nothing to get them there. Iím a big Santa believer and donít mind handing over the credit.
That is the difference between us. Think about it. When you see an artistís painting of Santa Claus in his sleigh on his way to deliver presents to all the good little boys and girls, do you see neatly wrapped packages with carefully tied bows? No, you see dolls and trains and teddy bears. Same with pictures of Santa with his pack slung over his back. Is it full of boxes that would poke him in the back? No! Itís full of nice soft toys with smiling faces.
I donít doubt that waking up Christmas morning to a tree surrounded by packages wrapped in brightly colored paper and shining bows is exciting. But in my experience, most of those packages have been there for over a week, well before Santa has left the North Pole, and with plenty of time for shaking and squeezing (and poking holes in the paper) by the intended recipients.
But think about my childhood. Six wild, noisy, nosy kids. Small house. Nowhere to hide gifts (they were hidden at my dadís office, I found out much later). Busy dad, busier mom. What does a person do? On Christmas Eve, each kid put his or her stocking in a special place in the living room, where Santa would be sure to notice it, and where there would be plenty of room to leave presents. I favored the corner of the couch nearest the Christmas tree, as I figured if Santa was in a big hurry, heíd be likely to dump most of the stuff there. The older of my two brothers liked the big chair that my dad usually sat in, because he figured it could hold a lot of big gifts, which he was sure he deserved.
Then on Christmas morning we would tumble down the stairs, and could tell immediately that Santa had been there. A train on my brotherís chair! A ballerina doll for my sister! A huge teddy bear for the baby! A dog for me! (Oh, itís not real, itís stuffed, but I love it anyway). Maybe the Santa at Jordan Marsh was actually him, not just one of the real Santaís helpers! We could love our gifts and immediately play with them, all at once. No ripped and crumpled wrapping paper (not cheap to begin with!) to be thrown away (and sometimes a gift caught up accidentally in the flurry), no bows to try to save for next year, no mess all over the house. And no cleanup making us late for Christmas morning church at St. Stephenís, where the dark Advent purple had magically given way to a glorious and luminous white and gold, and the Christ Child was in His place in the crŤche outside the church doors.
Just gifts that magically appeared right where we were promised they would be.
We never missed the wrapping paper. We got plenty of that on gifts from our grandparents and aunts and uncles. Santa didnít need to wrap. He came direct from the real source of all wonderful gifts, and I had never seen an elf wrapping presents. It also never occurred to me to wonder why we didnít get presents from Mum and Dad.
It worked so well for my parents that I used the same method for my children, and am using it for my grandchildren. I do wrap gifts now for my adult children. Adults need a little mystery to get into the holiday spirit, unlike children, who are naturally infused with it and to whom everything in the world is a mystery to be pondered and solved.
Last week Winona lost two friends ó Maria Faust and Kevin Ryan ó both taken well before their work on earth was done.
Maria called me a few years ago and wondered if the Post would be interested in running recipes from a handful of women who were passionate about local foods and wanted to encourage people to shop the produce at the Farmersí Market. It sounded like fun to me, and ďFrom the Seasonal KitchenĒ was born. I had met Maria on several occasions, but until the recipe column began didnít realize how passionate she was about making Winona a better place. I was impressed by her writing and her energy in choosing a goal and pursuing it. Her death is a loss to the entire community.
Kevin Ryan I have known for years. He was a frequent letter writer, and would often call to discuss an editorial we had written, or a news story he had read. He was a talented musician, and along with his wife, Heidi, and children, Rachel and Christian, formed a string quartet that played such beautiful music it could bring tears to your eyes. Kevin was also a passionate person, always standing up for what he believed would make a better life for Winonans, never avoiding involvement.
We will miss both of these wonderful people, and Winona will miss their passion and advocacy.