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Holidays are a time to celebrate gifts that endure

December 28, 2016

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, December 28, 2016

For many, gift giving is customary this time of year. And while we honor both Hanukkah and Christmas traditions in our home, my wife, Lori, and I place simplicity and moderation ahead of excess. Still, Zoe and Adam, our 10 and 7 year-olds, are wildly enthusiastic about gifts.

And while Zoe is more focused on the joy of gift giving these days, Adam, brimming with innocence and curiosity, is in tireless pursuit of a comprehensive understanding of the gift supply chain.

Back in October, he and I teamed up for our annual chimney-cleaning project. Adam’s job is to stand guard in the doorway, making sure the plastic bag we duct taped to the bottom of the stovepipe remains fastened, preventing soot from filling our living room. Apparently, while I was perched upon high, ramming a circular brush attached to a 16-foot pole up and down the pipe, Adam was pondering the physics of chimney travel.

Back on the ground, we celebrated the success of our collective efforts. Then, Adam, with a bit of a grin, asked: “How does Santa fit down the chimney with our presents with that metal pipe in the way?”

Pausing, and grinning in return, I said, “Great question. Maybe he uses the back door.”

“Yeah, but how does he get in if the door is locked?” he asked.

I just shrugged and we moved on to lunch.

About a month later, Adam advanced the conversation.

“Dad, how do the reindeer fly around the world in one night?”

I reminded him of the paradigm shifting idea he postulated last year, namely there must be more than one Santa and more than one set of reindeer, and that together they are able to get the job done in one night, a blue print for a Santa franchise.

Wiser in the ways of planetary science this year he reasoned, “Yeah, because since night-time comes later some places than others that means they have more time to get to all the houses.”

These musings reminded me of my own childhood, when at a tender young age I tried to make sense of the mysteries of the Santa tradition, wanting to debunk its validity, while still clinging to hope that it was real.

But access to high-tech tools and big data have bolstered Adam’s methods of inquiry far beyond my wildest childhood dreams.

For example, he recently picked up my iPhone, pressed the main button and spoke, “Siri, Is Santa Claus real?” Fortunately Siri, the artificial intelligence voice embedded in Apple products, generated the same type of inconclusive response that my parents offered when I was a kid.

Undeterred, Adam reframed his question, “Siri, What is Santa?”

A week later, after considering additional data — the steady flow of delivery trucks in our neighborhood — Adam shared his updated thoughts. “I don’t think the elves make all the presents. I think they order some from Amazon and have them delivered by a UPS truck. That’s how they can get so many presents to all the houses on time for Christmas.”

I don’t know when Adam’s fascination with the Santa tradition will end, but I will be sad when it does. And, I hope one day he will experience the joy of this tradition, as a father.

In the meantime — amid the crazy, commercialized, high-tech gift industry of our rapidly expanding global economy — I will cherish the enduring gifts of joy, curiosity and family.

And, despite my commitment to go local, I am considering adding shares of Apple, UPS and Amazon stock to my wish list.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website


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