Have I been giving Santa a bad rap?

Santa reading letters in front of fireNow that Christmas has come and gone, I question whether I’ve given Santa enough credit for his thankless job. He spends months at the North pole sorting through children’s letters and, with the help of his elves, readying the sleigh for Christmas Eve. Then he has to harness all those temperamental reindeer to the heavy toy-laden sleigh. Finally, he loses a night’s sleep delivering gifts around the world for the meagre payment of milk and cookies.

In the midst of all this, Santa has another arduous task that goes largely unappreciated: his secondment to the local shopping mall. Long lineups of children wait their turn to share their Christmas wishes with Santa. Some wishes are easy to fulfill while others are more of a challenge. I didn’t appreciate how tough this task was until I read an insightful article in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail.

Every Saturday, the Globe has a column entitled “Five Questions with….” The interviewee may be a local important businessperson or philanthropist or artist. Often it’s a familiar name from the recent news. Last Saturday the interviewee was none other than Santa Claus during a break from his pre-Christmas posting at a local mall. Santa’s responses to the interviewer’s questions were surprisingly thoughtful and insightful (read the article here). Among other things, the interviewer asked what kind of people get coal in their stockings (very selfish people, he said).

I was particularly struck by the interviewer’s query about how Santa deals with wishes he can’t grant. According to Santa, there are many such wishes. Children have asked Santa whether he can bring a parent home from somewhere afar for Christmas (“I don’t traffic in people,” he replied). One child asked whether Santa could cure diabetes (beyond his skill level, he acknowledged).

Santa noted that increasingly, rather than asking for tangible gifts, children are asking him whether he can make someone they care about happy. He tells these children that sadly he cannot. As he put it, we are responsible for our own feelings; no one can make someone else happy. Whoa, Santa, where did you learn that?

I spent years training to become a psychologist yet I still often have to remind myself of this ultimate truth. If someone I know is having a bad day, often I want to jump in there and cheer that person up. Consider, for example, the odd occasion that J. wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. (I am much more likely to wake up on the that side than she is, by the way; J. awakens singing most days, which is also a problem since I am not a morning person.) On J.’s bad days, I spend hours thinking of ways to cheer her up. Let’s just say it never works.

I feel helpless knowing someone I love is struggling and I can’t do anything to make that person feel better. I can listen and be of support, but I can’t change anyone’s mood but my own. Thanks for reminding me of this, Santa. I may be Jewish, but I appreciate your wisdom.

Now go get some rest. You’ve earned it.

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