Overspending is not the key to a Merry Christmas


The spirit of Letters to Santa is a great reminder of the simple joys of the season

By Holly M. Gill


Back in 1980, when I was the young news editor at the Madras Pioneer, we started the annual tradition of including a special "Letters to Santa" section in paper just prior to Christmas.

The letters, sometimes accompanied by drawings, were thoughtful, funny or even precocious, and gave us the opportunity to look at the world through the eyes of a child.

In that very first special section 36 years ago, Brian Huff (yes, that would be the Jefferson County fire chief) wrote to Santa: "I wish to get a ride on Rudolph, and for Christmas I want some flash cards and a remote control car. I wish you would have dinner with us. If you don't eat dinner with us I will leave some hot chocolate for you."

Christa Vibbert (Callanan) had a lot of questions for Santa: "How are you in the North Pole? Have the elves been good? Have the reindeer been good? For a Christmas present for the deer I'm going to give them some carrots. For a Christmas present for you I'm going to give you some milk and cookie. And for Mrs. Claus I will give her a card. And I want a globe."

Tim Busch didn't even ask for a gift — just snow: "Please let it snow on Christmas night and morning and don't let it melt. I love you."

Without any attempts at buttering Santa up, Ryan Simmons got right to the point: "For christmas this year I want a 1. foot ball 2. remotecontrol race car 3. racetrack 4. light saber 5. punching bag 6. pair of boxing gloves 7. dart board 8. set of darts."

Holly Marie Tingle opened with a thank you before getting into requests: "I want to thank you for the Halter and lead rope you gave me last year. This year I want an English saddle & Bridle to ride my Horse with. Well I do not have much to say. Merry Christmas Santa and don't get sick on candy & milk. Good by!"

Manuel Galan was happy to have a new baby brother: "You are a hero. Thank you for my baby brother Carlos. Please bring me a car and a gun. Please bring a tricycle for Carlos. I will leave candy canes on the tree for you. I like the slay. I hope you will bring me a bike. I hope you will bring me a Christmas tree for me. I love you Santa."

Those were definitely simpler times. Compared with today's requests, most were asking for relatively inexpensive gifts. According to the American Institute for Economic Research, a dollar in 1980 would be equivalent to $2.91 in today's dollars. That means today, a child asking for a $500 computer would be like a child in 1980 asking for something costing about $172. I'm not sure what saddles cost back then, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have been equivalent to a moderately priced computer in today's world.

My first Christmas here, in 1979, I was so broke that I couldn't afford food, much less gifts for family members. I remember spending only $35-$40 a month on food — and snacking on the generous offerings at the office. Thank heavens, that year, I was the lucky winner of the second-place prize in the Madras Retail Merchants' Christmas drawing. The $100 I won was more than enough to buy or make gifts for everyone on my list.

Nowadays, that $100 seems like a drop in the bucket. This year, the American Research Group estimates that shoppers will spend an average of $929, up from $882 last year, but still below what people were spending in 2001, when spending peaked at $1,052. Those numbers definitely seem excessive, and make me want to scale my own Christmas spending back to more reasonable levels. Maybe next year.

This year, as my family gathers for the holidays, I'm going to try to spend less time stressing over decorating, wrapping presents, cooking and cleaning, and more time experiencing the wonder of the season through the eyes of my grandchildren.

Enjoy the special section brought to you by local businesses and local children. Merry Christmas!