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FIGURE OF SPEECH

The perfect gift

By Gerry Turcotte

12/17/2014
Gerry Turcotte

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above
James 1:17

For the last three years now I have faced insistent questioning from my 11-year-old daughter Sophie about whether or not there is a Santa. Her sense of hopeful wonder has been struggling mightily against the majority of her classmates and their clear certainty about the ruse. And as we talked this through I told her about a wonderful story I have always loved. It was about a similar child who, upon hearing from classmates that Santa was fictional, fled to his matter-of-fact grandmother for the truth. His grandmother never sugar-coated anything and he secretly feared that she would support his classmates. Instead, she insisted that Santa did exist and took little David to a general store to prove it. “Buy something for someone who desperately needs it,” she said. “I’ll wait in the car.” And she left him there with $10.

The young boy agonized over whom to pick. Then he remembered a classmate who never took recess because he couldn’t afford a winter coat. So David grabbed a warm-looking jacket from the rack and placed it on the counter, explaining to the shop owner that it was for his friend Billy, who was destitute. The shopkeeper paused, and then packaged the $100 coat and placed it in the boy’s hands. Needless to say the young boy was thrilled when he saw his friend on the playground wearing the new coat. When he told his grandmother she squeezed his hand and said: “Well done . . . Santa.”

I have always bristled at the commercialization of Christmas, and especially the emphasis on gifts at the clear expense of Jesus who should be the heart of the season. So it is critical to recall, at this extraordinary time of year, that at heart we can all be Santa — if we remember why we give.

I’m reminded of this when I look at all the caregiving organizations in Calgary alone. Each year, one of my favourite charities — the Our Lady Queen of Peace Ranch — opens its doors to the most disadvantaged families in Calgary for a remarkable Christmas party. Once at the ranch, children can load up on winter clothes, stuffies, food and Christmas cheer, all provided free of charge by the ranch’s owners, and distributed by an army of volunteers. Each year St. Mary’s University in Calgary sends scores of students, staff and faculty to this remarkable event. Last year almost one fifth of university students signed up to help!

So although I remain cranky at commercialization, I have no issue at all with the giving culture as long as it’s wrapped in the spirit of good and the commitment to all that is the hallmark of Christ’s teaching. In that context I remember the unsung Santas: certainly the volunteers, but also people like the shopkeeper or the owners of the ranch. And in that context I can comfortably say, Yes, Virginia — and Sophie — there really is a Santa.

Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.