It’s been a wonderful 33 years for one Canada Post employee, who was very busy over the holidays writing letters to Niagara area children before Christmas.
In a world — and a country — where it seems that every tradition is being challenged and every difference is cause for divisive discussions and acrimony, our friends at Canada Post were soldiering on by spreading the love.
Right across our nation, a tradition that started way back in 1990 gets more popular each year.
Right here at our downtown post office, where many NOTLers still go to fetch their mail and pick up their copy of The Lake Report every Thursday, a festively attired longtime employee donated her time and enthusiasm answering letters to Santa Claus.
Yes, Sandy Sugarswirl is a Niagara-on-the-Lake gem. Known to some as Sandy Godard, she is one of many who takes pride in making our wee town a better place to grow up and live and grow old.
Someone somewhere had the idea, and like many ideas that just seem to hit all the right buttons, the postal code H0H 0H0 — “Hohoho” — contained the right number of digits to jive with the ingenious Canada postal code system.
The Letters to Santa program seems to transcend religious differences, to cross cultural lines, to simply do a wonderful thing.
I am so old that even during my six high school years in St. Catharines, there was no such thing as a postal code. Just the street address and the city and province, for postcards and letters and junk mail pieces to somehow find their way to the addressees.
And, believe it or not, our telephone numbers only had seven digits not that long ago. Remember the angst about 25 years ago when Big Brother dictated that we would have to dial area codes along with telephone numbers? Ten digits. Horrors. Not that long ago.
Right here in NOTL, our wonderful and personable Sandy Sugarswirl personally responded to some 300 letters to Santa.
During a recent interview amidst the frenetic activity at our Queen Street post office in mid-December, she told me that she is taken through a complete range of emotions when reading the carefully printed letters children write to Old Saint Nick.
Each envelope includes a clearly-printed return address, to allow Santa and his helpers to find the right place to leave requested gifts on Christmas Eve.
There’s the little girl in Welland whose daddy is serving overseas in a war zone with Canada’s military and won’t be home for Christmas — for the second straight year. She wants a gift to be waiting for him when he gets home in March.
Or, the five-year-old boy in Virgil whose mommy and daddy aren’t together anymore, and he knows they can’t afford to buy him any presents. He is OK with that and planns to somehow get them each a Christmas gift, plus one for his little sister. He knows that his parents both love him.
Plus, in Queenston, the little girl whose grandmother is battling cancer and may not make it to their house for Christmas dinner. She doesn’t really care about getting a Christmas present from Santa but would love some chocolates to share with Granny and her family.
Let’s all remember that Christmas can be the happy, happy, happiest time of the year, but for many people, it is the lonely, lonely, loneliest time of the year.
At post offices all across Canada, volunteers were being kind and spreading the love. Particularly difficult letters from Niagara were forwarded quickly to the huge Stoney Creek distribution centre, where special requests are sent out to charitable groups who have the resources and personnel to somehow make the Christmas season a little less painful and lonely.
It is so easy, and it seems to be the way of our world, to be negative and grumpy, to take shots at other Canadians who live differently than us.
Yes, oversized bureaucracies are easy and easily identifiable targets for our critical and often snide comments. Do they really earn their money, and how about the benefits and pension packages they enjoy? Those darn unions are sticking it to the hard-working private sector.
Let’s all take a step back and remember the thousands of good people like Sandy Sugarswirl who donate their time and enthusiastically spread their love.
Year after year, they do this just because they want to make the lives of their fellow Canadians a bit better. A bit happier. A bit more loving.
Merry Christmas, a bit belatedly, to y’all.