Every year on the Eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas, the children write a letter to Saint Nicholas and put it in their stockings. This is an Austrian tradition I found in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Van Trapp.
In the letter, they must say that they have tried to be good all year. Then they ask for their top five wishes, promising to be good in the future. Although they hand me a longer list around Thanksgiving (so I can get a jump on my shopping), this makes them really think about what they want the most, and why.
They also know they have to be reasonable. My second daughter would love to have her own real live African elephant; but she knows this is not possible, so perhaps she will ask for a stuffed elephant. This teaches them to really hone their expectations, a skill that will prove invaluable one day when they have to negotiate salaries or contracts. Most of the time they will get everything on their “top five”, as well as some of the things from the longer list.
My 12-year-old helped my 4-year-old to write her list. Top on the list was: “Five Barbie dolls”. When I asked her, “Why five?” she could not explain. Every day she would tell me to please make sure Santa got her the five Barbie dolls. “Nobody needs five Barbie dolls,” I thought, and bought her one Ballerina Barbie.
The week before Christmas, my 12-year-old was playing Santa with her. “Do you really need five Barbie dolls? Won’t one do?” she asked, at my request.
“Well, maybe two?”
“Okay. I think you can have two.”
The day before Christmas Eve, we were all hanging around, thinking everything was done. Then a story came out.
It sounded like a version of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery “And Then There Were None”. Apparently, over the summer, her five Barbie dolls suffered some rather cruel fates at the hands of some visitors, ending with the decapitation of the last doll, whose head our poor preschooler found floating in the toilet bowl. I was horrified.
“I have to run to the store,” I told my husband. He understood.
I walked into the store, cart-less, hoping to get through the crowds easily and get out of there. I picked out two more Ballerina Barbies…four sleds (“good sled” was on everyone’s longer list)…toothpaste, soap, a dog bone, and three other small toys.
So there I stood in line along with everyone else, shopping at the last minute, with exactly twelve items balanced in my arms on the non-moving 12-item Express Line at Wal-mart.
I entertained the women around me with my tale of why I was there.
“I hope she enjoys her Barbies,” said one, “My daughter used to make her Barbie be the teacher with a bunch of crayons being her students…now she’s a teacher.”
“She talks about me like I’m not even here!” her daughter exclaimed.
Christmas morning came and the three Barbies danced along with Angelina Ballerina and Strawberry Shortcake’s friend Rasberry Torte. They got along just fine.