Christmas stories tend to involve a selfish man, whether Ebeneezer Scrooge or the Grinch. I suppose the man doesn't have to be selfish—George Bailey comes to mind. He just needs to be a man, with all the implications of dimness that being a man implies.
For today's purpose, that man will be me. Though Christmas season approaches, our hero goes on with his usual routines, working and grumbling. In my case, I'm particularly armored against the holiday, because I'm Jewish. No tree. No presents. No nothing.
I take that back. Every year there is the Chicago Sun-Times Letters to Santa Program. The paper invites readers to take a photocopy of a handwritten letter from an elementary school pupil, then go out and buy gifts for that student. Every year the paper asks its top columnists to write a column urging people to go out of their way, dig deep, buy presents for needy Chicago schoolchildren, every year I do, with what I hope is a certain amusing-though-very-real reluctance.
My colleagues weighed in. Mary Mitchell wanted to help them all. "Each one tugs at my heart." Mark Brown shone, tracking down an adult who had received these presents, wrote about what it meant to him. “I was that kid,” Adrian Gonzalez told him, of being a needy child 22 years ago.
A high bar. But this year I was all set. I would expense the presents—turn in the receipts, include my boss's aghast response. A bit of holiday fun, then of course end up paying for it myself.
But the paper didn't ask. That surprised me. I was disappointed and liberated. Freed from the obligation: no pawing through the pile of letters looking for something suitably heart-tugging. No schlep to Target with the wife, no squinting at childish scrawl, trying to figure out what was being requested. No being confronted with some heretofore unimagined realm of toys, "A Mister Poo-Poo-Dee-Doo Dispenser?"
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