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by Abigail Van Buren

Spreading Spirit of Santa Can Bring Joy Year Round

DEAR ABBY: I was disappointed in your response to "Grandma in Saratoga Springs" regarding her grandson's belief in Santa Claus. I don't disagree that the truth should be told, Abby, but HOW the truth is presented can make all the difference in the world in the eyes and heart of a child. The truth about Santa was shared with me in such a wonderful way, there were no bad feelings -- only a lifetime of inspiration.

When I asked if there really was a Santa Claus, my mother responded, "Santa isn't a real person who lives at the North Pole, but the Santa we see on TV, in stores and at parties is a reminder of the Santa 'spirit,' which spreads joy and happiness. Daddy is Santa Claus, and Mom is Santa Claus, and Grandma and Grandpa are Santa Claus. They buy you gifts and do nice things for you because they love you and want to make you happy. Now that you're old enough, you, too, can be Santa Claus."

I was, and am, Santa Claus. At first, part of being Santa was keeping the illusion of Santa alive for the younger children. I got to stay up late, and it was my job to wrap the stocking stuffers and stuff the stockings. It meant drinking the milk and eating the cookies left for Santa. Trying to make the carrots left for the reindeer appear "reindeer-nibbled" was more difficult, and not as desirable.

As I have grown older, the Santa spirit has grown and spread. In college, my dorm mates and I played "Secret Santas," delivering goodies and little gifts to each other during finals week. Later in life, I'd drop off a batch of Christmas cookies to the nearest fire or police station as I made my way to my parents' house on Christmas Eve. You can be Santa Claus while shopping -- whistle Christmas carols, wear sleigh bells that jingle while you walk, smile at those you pass -- be kind and patient with store clerks.

I love being Santa Claus because there is so much joy in giving. It's better than any present you can receive. I hope that my Santa spirit will be with me throughout the year, and that others will find the same joy that comes from being Santa Claus. -- A JOLLY ELF IN ASHTABULA, OHIO

DEAR JOLLY ELF: I'm certain that your Santa spirit will be with you throughout the year, and many readers will be inspired by your spirit of giving. Thank you for an upper of a letter.

DEAR ABBY: I have aunts, uncles and cousins I never see because we have nothing in common. I also have two siblings who detest me, and the feelings are mutual.

I have built my own "family" over the years, and I'm much closer to them than to my blood relatives, excluding my parents, with whom I am very close.

My problem is that it seems like the world expects -- and insists -- that you be close. Comments like, "But he's your BROTHER!" make my blood boil. Why do they insist that I like people I wouldn't bother with if I met them on the street or at a cocktail party?

I'd much rather give my love and compassion to people I care about than be a hypocrite just because of an accident of birth. Is it such a sin not to like a family member? Abby, please respond, as I respect your opinion. -- BEEKMAN PLACE

DEAR BEEKMAN PLACE: It is not a "sin" to dislike a family member. However, it is interesting that you have cut yourself off not only from two siblings, but also from aunts, uncles and cousins, and I cannot help but wonder why you are avoiding the majority of your family.

CONFIDENTIAL TO MY READERS: Have a merry Christmas, but also keep in mind: If you're drinking, do not drive; if you're driving, please do not drink.

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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