Tag Archives: Santa Claus

Talk Like a Pirate Day


by Lillian Csernica on September 19, 2017

This is a very special day for me, dear to my heart for three important reasons.

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First, I met my husband of thirty years at the Northern Renaissance Faire where he was playing a pirate aboard the good ship Cardiff Rose, aka the fencing booth. See that tall, dark, handsome fellow in the middle? Bosun’s Mate Christopher Fortune!

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Second, my first published romance novel, Ship of Dreams, is a love story between an English Lady and a notorious French pirate. There are sea battles and sword fights and many people talking like pirates in English, French, and Spanish. I had such a good time writing this book!

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Third, I once received a letter to Santa Claus that asked Santa what he thought about pirates. (I volunteer every holiday season at my local post office, replying to the letters the local kids write to Santa Claus.) This took some thinking on my part. Hollywood has done a lot to romanticize what pirates were and what they did. Speaking on behalf of Santa Claus, I had to strike a balance between truth and a child’s sense of adventure.

In the letter from Santa I said that the real pirates of history weren’t very nice people. They tended to get a lot of coal in their stockings. Santa Claus does believe that pretending to be a pirate can be a lot of fun. You find out amazing things about sailing ships, life at sea, and all the different kinds of treasure pirates captured.

The boy who wrote this letter to Santa Claus happened to live in my neighborhood. The next time I crossed paths with his mother, she told me all about how excited her son had been to get a reply from Santa himself. She thought the answers to the pirate questions were just right. I love it when I hear how much the kids enjoy their letters!

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

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Filed under Christmas, cosplay, dreams, Family, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Humor, legend, love, marriage, pirates, publication, tall ships

Santa Claus Needs You!


by Lillian Csernica on December 5, 2016

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The letters to Santa Claus have begun to arrive. Right after Thanksgiving, I let the local post offices know that once again I’d be ready, willing, and able to join the network of Volunteer Elves all over the U.S.  We answer the letters children write to Santa Claus. We help keep the magic of childhood bright and sparkling.

If you believed in Santa Claus when you were little, please consider lending a hand this holiday season. There are always more letters than there are volunteers available to answer them. Would you like to know how much joy a letter from Santa Claus can bring? Let me share with you some moments from the more than ten years I’ve been answering these letters.

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One young lady asked for a gift certificate to a local bookstore. I called the bookstore, explained myself as a volunteer with my local post office, then told the clerk about this very specific request. Would the bookstore be interested in make a donation? The manager asked me to come on over and bring the letter with me. The result? The store donated a gift certificate for the full amount.

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Another young lady appealed to Santa Claus to help her convince the kids at school who kept telling her Santa didn’t really exist. Would Santa please send her some sleigh bells so she could prove to her classmates Santa Claus is real? I found two jingle bells, one large, one small, that looked a bit weathered and put them in a padded envelope along with Santa’s reply to the young lady’s letter. A few days later, my mail carrier brought me a note addressed to “The Post Office Santa Claus” from this young lady’s parents. It said, “Thank you so much for keeping our daughter’s dream and belief alive. WE LOVE YOU!”

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One year a letter came from two kindergarten age children, a brother and sister who included their school photos. It was clear to me that an adult had helped write the letter. The kids wanted Santa Claus to know that their family had just received housing assistance, so they were going to be moving. They were worried that Santa wouldn’t know where to find them on Christmas Eve. The children each asked for a single toy. Would Santa please bring their mother something nice, maybe perfume?

Thanks to the help of some enthusiastic postal workers, a very generous toy store, and my long-suffering and very supportive husband, we delivered two large, brightly wrapped gifts to the children’s home while the kids and their mother were out looking at Christmas decorations. Grandma was there baking pies. I discovered she’d been the one to help the kids write their letter. They watched a TV show about the people who volunteer to answer letters written to Santa. The little boy had asked Grandma if she thought Santa Claus really would answer their letter. Grandma suggested they give it a try.

One of the happiest moments of my life will always be the way Grandma burst into tears when we brought in the gifts for her grandchildren. I apologized for not knowing what perfume might be best for their mother, since so many people have allergies. Grandma said that didn’t matter. The best gift we could have brought Mom was how happy the kids would be when Grandma told them Santa’s elves had not just answered their letter but made a special trip to bring them their presents.

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Be a part of the magic. Stop by your local post office. I know more than a few mail carriers who have been the ones to answer the letters they pick up on their routes. The Post Office provides a starter kit, and there are lots of examples and suggestions online.

Happy Holidays!

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Filed under charity, Christmas, classics, creativity, dreams, Family, family tradition, fantasy, home town, legend, Lillian Csernica, love, mother, parenting, Writing

Santa’s Workshop: Open for Business


By Lillian Csernica on December 8, 2014

Time once again for me to put on the Santa hat or the light-up reindeer antlers and begin my annual effort as a Volunteer Elf.  The first batch of letters to Santa has come in from my local post office.  Eight letters, which is pretty good for this early in the month.  I am well equipped with stationery, red envelopes, and an enormous pile of Christmas-related stickers.  That supply came to me thanks to my sister, who likes to hit me with great surprises like this.  She ordered six rolls from the Oriental Trading Company, which is THE place to go for good quality and good prices on holiday and party-related supplies.

I try to keep my Secret Identity as the person who handles the Santa letters pretty low key.  The newspaper did a story on me, which I allowed on the condition that they did not use my name.  They did anyway.  Argh.  Fortunately, I moved, so if anybody had wanted to find me, they can’t.  The post office folks are very protective of me and my privacy.  The number of people who know about my annual effort to preserve the magic of childhood has grown a bit year by year.  This year, people are already asking me what they can do to help.  One dear lady in my writer’s group has given me two gift certificates to a local art supply store.  Should letters cross my desk that ask Santa for art supplies, those kids are in for a dose of serious magic.

The real magic is giving without seeking anything in return, not even a “Thank you.”  It’s nice to see the kids’ faces light up when they find out Santa Claus is really listening.  That’s been my only condition in all the years I’ve been answering letters.  If the postal carriers see the kids open their letters, I want to hear all about how the kids reacted.  This somehow led to the parents giving the postal carriers gifts for me, gifts of appreciation for making their kids so happy.  The gifts were usually homemade goodies, which made them doubly difficult to refuse.  I did have to refuse them, by asking the postal carriers to express my sincere appreciation and my preference for not receiving such gifts.  I’m in this to make the kids happy.  That’s what I get out of it.

I want to break down what I do so I can encourage other people to become volunteers and keep the Benevolent Order of Santa’s Elves alive and well.

The primary source of the letters is the Post office.  The children post their letters to Santa Claus and they get routed to me.  If you want to volunteer, just go talk to the postmaster or postmistress and ask for the kit they give to volunteers.  It helps to be creative.  I keep a file on my computer of good ideas I’ve come up with over the years in response to the questions the children ask.  Such ideas come in very handy as we get closer to Christmas Eve and my brain starts to get a bit frazzled.  Speaking of Christmas Eve, it’s my personal policy to see to it all letters are answered by Christmas Eve.  Some years that’s taken a bit of doing, but the postal carriers are great about helping out.  Sometimes they’ve sent the “package truck” as it’s called out my way with the day’s incoming letters.  I’d have them answered and ready to go out when my postal carrier came by.  That, or I’d hit the post office in person to pick up or deliver.  If you’re going to do this, folks, understand that you’re entering into a very special relationship with the children who believe in Santa Claus.  Follow through on the commitment.  My worst fear is a child whose friends have gotten replies from Santa Claus but that one child has not.  Can you imagine the disappointment, the confusion, the hurt?  That’s not how Santa Clause takes care of business.

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You may also find that local charity organizations receive letters to Santa Claus from the children in the families such organizations help.  Another friend of mine in my writing group is in charge of the local food pantry that helps the homeless and other people in need.  She told me that as part of their intake program around the holidays they have the children write letters to Santa so the volunteers can do their best to get at least some of the items on those wish lists.  Last year my friend’s organization received two hundred and fifty letters to Santa Claus.  Can you imagine?  So many families are in so much need these days.  Toys for Tots does an amazing job every year.  Other charities do their best to provide at least something for the children of the needy to open on Christmas morning.  I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about the occasional letter to Santa Claus that comes across my desk that stands out to me so strongly I do something about it.  I’m careful, I’m discreet, and I make sure what I do is appropriate.  For example, those gift certificates my friend gave me.  When I add one of those to the appropriate letter to Santa Claus, it will pass into the hands of a child who will suddenly believe wishes really can come true.  You never know what a chain reaction this can set off.  Perhaps that child will be inspired to donate some old toys to Goodwill or a local family shelter.  Perhaps there will be a delayed reaction, and that child will grow into an adult who remembers the kindness of the gift included in Santa Claus’ reply.

Let me address the issue of donations.  I’ve been very fortunate in that people who know about what I do have come forward and offered their assistance.  A few years ago I went out actively soliciting donations from business with whom I already had a relationship as a customer.  Toys R Us offered me ten per cent off anything in the store.  A local independent bookstore provided a gift certificate for a young lady who asked specifically for something from that particular bookstore.  All the manager wanted in return was a copy of the letter to Santa Claus.  That year I was able to go to the local charity that handles the most families in need and deliver a sack of toys, baby clothes, other items, and the donation of one hundred dollars from someone I will refer to as an anonymous benefactor.  The lady at the desk almost burst into tears.  It was quite close to Christmas Eve, and one hundred new families had just applied for assistance.

As I’ve said, various friends of mine have pitched in now and then with tangible items, offers of matching donations, and help with transportation.  You’d be amazed how many people are willing to lend a hand if you simply put out the word.  This time of year people are more prone to such generosity because we all remember being little kids who believed in Santa Claus.  Let it be known that you welcome any assistance people want to provide, but don’t ask unless you get a letter with a specific request you think you can meet in an appropriate way.

The bottom line is, do whatever you can do.  Whenever I go to the local Dollar Tree, I make sure I pick out a gift to give to a child.  At the register I tell the clerk that item is for the children of the military, and it goes into a special collection box.  These gifts are for children who have one or more parents on active deployment.  I really want to do what I can to see to it Santa Claus shows up for them.

Times are tough.  We have to take care of each other.  If you do choose to volunteer to help answer the letters to Santa Claus, please do so right away.  I guarantee there are letters waiting to be answered, and the more volunteers, the more children will receive replies.  If you have questions about any of this, I will do my very best to answer them, or at the very least point you to where you can find the answers.  Thank you, and God bless us, every one!

P.S.  This is the 300th post in my blog.  Woo hoo!

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Filed under charity, Christmas, Family, Food, Goals, love, Special needs, Writing

The Sisterhood of the Baking Aisle


by Lillian Csernica on December 23, 2014

Tonight was the night my husband chose to venture out in search of my mother’s Christmas gift and everything we’d need for Christmas dinner.  His madness must have been contagious, because I threw on my Santa hat and red Christmas light earrings and went with him, determined to hunt down the ingredients for the three types of “easy Christmas cookies” I’d chosen to bake.  The last four hours were full of funny moments and grand adventures.  I’ll tell one in the classic style.

Once upon a time, I went to market to buy flour and sugar and coconut and cream cheese and Heath bars and several other strange and wonderful ingredients.  I wanted to bake Christmas cookies, three different kinds because three is a magic number.

The market was so crowded I had to move fast, dancing through the gaps between carts and whirling to avoid the people who appeared suddenly behind me.  At last I turned the corner into the aisle beneath the sign that read “Spices.”  Ahead of me, each with her list in her hand, was a woman wearing the same frown of concentration or lost look of bewilderment.  I recognized them at once at let out a delighted cry.  “Ah, so here we all are!”

The other ladies laughed.  We made our ways up and down the aisle, some looking high, some looking low, all of us trying to find every last item on our lists.  We made room for each other.  We said, “Please” and “Excuse me.”  We sent other lost shoppers on their ways to the aisles they needed.  Soon we were calling out what we needed and someone would answer, pointing out the location.  The call for baking powder came.  I yelled “Here!” and pointed to the top shelf above me.  The lady who needed it was shorter than me, so she never would have found it on her own!

Item by item and cart by cart, with smiles and best wishes for happy holidays, we all went our separate ways.  For a few brief, wonderful minutes, a handful of strangers had joined forces to help each other find that special something that would make a holiday delight for our families.  We knew how tired we all were, we knew our feet hurt, some of us were hungry, some could use a cup of tea.

We were the Sisterhood of the Baking Aisle.

I don’t know their names, and we may never meet again.  I hope each and every one of them lives happily ever after.

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A Christmas Wish Comes True


by Lillian Csernica on December 20, 2013

Every now and then, in the middle of all the planning and sorting out schedule conflicts and the dread of last-minute disasters, you get lucky.  Every now and then, God reaches down and hands you a Perfect Moment.

On Tuesday, John’s aide and I scooped him up right after school and headed for the mall where he wanted to talk to Santa Claus.  I’d been careful to tuck John’s wish list into my purse so John could hand the original to Santa.  (I made a copy for the ongoing reference of all the gift-givers.)  Traffic was mild at that time of day.  I knew which parking lot would get us close to where Santa Claus’ photo booth was set up.  Sure enough, there was plenty of parking.  The three of us made our way into the mall and found the photo booth fresh and shiny with its Christmas trees and red carpeting and the bright blue couch where Santa sits, a couch big enough for family or group photos.

John led the way through the gate in the enclosure.  There was no line.  Nobody at all!  The photographer and her assistant were off to one side, chatting.  There sat Santa Claus.  Not the same man from years past, but a man who could well have been the actual Santa Claus himself.  He was everything you read about in “The Night Before Christmas.”  No pipe, but he did have that twinkle in his eye.

Santa Claus spotted John and beckoned him over.  I went to the exit where I could watch and still let John have his privacy.  Santa Claus made room for John on the couch and patted the cushion beside him.  John sat down and they went over John’s list item by item.  When John stood up to leave, Santa gave him a candy cane, then glanced over at me, flashed me a grin, and gave John another candy cane saying, “Here’s one for your Mom.”  They shook hands, Santa Claus blew John a kiss, and John walked over to me, his smile so bright it brought tears to my eyes.

But wait!  There’s more!

We turned to go join John’s aide where she stood waiting.  There, standing beside her, were my mother and my sister!  I had no idea my sister had taken my mother shopping in that very mall.  They had seen John and me walking over to Santa Claus’ photo booth and hurried over to stand with his aide.  Grandma and John’s Aunt got to be there to see John talk to Santa Claus, the one part of the season that really means the most to John.  My mother was so happy, and my sister was pleased too.  To have coordinated that moment on purpose would have been almost impossible.  There we stood, our family, all of us so happy for John.

It was a Perfect Moment.

Thank you, St. Nicholas.  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you so much for making my boy happy, and for putting all of us right there at the right moment to share his happiness.

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Filed under autism, Family, fantasy, Goals, Humor, Special needs, Writing

How To Be One of Santa’s Elves


by  Lillian Csernica on December 14, 2013

I’ve been a volunteer for the local post office answering letters to Santa Claus for almost ten years now.  During that time I’ve read requests that range from outrageous (in the funny sense) to really sweet to downright heartbreaking.  When adults grow up and leave the magic of childhood behind, I think many of them forget that in the minds of children, Santa Claus can be the court of last resort.  I highly recommend the movie “Dear God,” which is all about a ragtag team of post office workers who get together to answer the letters that get sent to the Dead Letter office.  These are the letters written to God, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other similar beings.  These are the letters written by desperate people in need of whatever help and hope they can get.

The letters children write to Santa Claus are not all about toys and clothes and the latest electronic gizmos.  Children will tell Santa what’s really on their minds and in their hearts.  One year I got a letter from a little girl who asked Santa Claus for just one thing: she wanted her mamma and daddy to stop fighting.  I talked to the Postmaster about how to reply.  When you volunteer to answer the letters to Santa Claus, it’s important to understand that it’s not all sugarplums and flying reindeer.  Some of the letters come from children who are in really difficult home situations, children who are delicate and need all the support they can get.  I’m no LCSW or MFT, so I’ve gone to people who are for advice on what to say to such children and how to say it.  The last thing these kids need is to have Santa Claus ignore their pain or brush aside their cries for help.

That said, I’m happy to report that there’s a great deal of joy in this wonderful task.

One year a lovely little boy sent Santa Claus a Christmas card.  That was it.  No wish list, no requests at all.  The boy simply wanted to wish Santa a Merry Christmas.  How sweet is that?

More than once I’ve received letters from children who have included a few dollars to help buy toys for poor children.  Doesn’t that just give you hope for the future of the planet?  (FYI, I always give the money to the postal carriers, who take it back to the kids’ parents.)

A letter came in once with a tiny Oreo that had mint green filling.  The young lady wanted to send Rudolph a special treat.  She had an unusual name.  This is important because while I was out and about, I heard this young lady’s name called.  I turned to her and told her that Rudolph really appreciated the Oreo.  Up at the North Pole we get a lot of gingerbread and sugar cookies, so the Oreo was a rare treat.  The girl’s eyes opened wide.  She turned to the girl with her and said, “I told you so!”  They wanted to know how I knew about the Oreo.  Under terms of strict secrecy, I told them I was an elf.  My long hair hides the points on my ears.

Lately there are a lot of requests for Duct Tape.  I’m almost afraid to ask what so many children are doing with that much Duct Tape.

One year a young lady asked for a gift certificate to the local independent bookstore.  Supporting literacy is very important to me.  I called up the bookstore and explained my role as a post office volunteer with a letter to Santa Claus that specifically mentioned that bookstore.  Would the bookstore be interested in making a donation such as a gift certificate?  They told me to come on over and bring the letter with me.  All they wanted was a photocopy of the letter, and they were kind enough to cut a gift certificate for a generous amount.  When I turned that letter in to the post office, complete with gift certificate, the postal carriers were amazed.  How had I done this?  All I did was ask.  People are happy to get involved with the magic of Christmas, especially in support of a child who wants to do something good and useful.

When I’m out doing my errands and my Christmas shopping, now and then I’ll come across a child of the right age to still believe in Santa Claus.  If I have the opportunity, I’ll ask the child’s mother or father if the child has written his or her letter to Santa Claus.  Depending on the answer I get, I will say rumor has it that if the letter is posted through (my local post office), it will get an answer.  The parent will usually take the hint, and then give me that slightly dazzled smile.  It’s the same kind of look I get when people see a copy of my novel and realize that yes, that really is me in the back of the book photo.  I’m one of those people who is part of a magical process most people don’t quite understand.

Please, if you have the time and imagination, consider volunteering at your local post office to answer the letters to Santa Claus.  The Post Office will give you a starter kit that includes a form letter you can tinker with within reason.  I make it my policy to give the answered letters to the postmasters unsealed.  That way my answers can be read and approved and there’s no risk to anybody of something weird getting through.  Unfortunately, there have been some volunteers who have written some inappropriate replies, so the Post Office does have to be careful.  My policy has insured that I’ve never had a problem or a complaint.

Children grow up too quickly these days.  Technology is taking the place of magic and folklore and old-fashioned traditions.  Please join me and all the other people who are part of Santa’s Volunteer Elves.  We’re doing our best to preserve the magic of childhood.  There are kids out there who really need it.

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The Special Needs of Christmas


by Lillian Csernica on December 7, 2013

Thanks to my last post, I’ve been asked to share some of the holiday traditions unique to the traveling circus that is my family.

My husband is old-fashioned about when it’s time to buy the Christmas tree.  We get ours about a week before Christmas.  It’s a big family affair to haul out all the boxes of lights and tinsel and decorations.  We put Michael in his wheelchair so he can help too.  Few things bring me greater joy than seeing Michael’s face light up when he points to the spot on the Christmas tree where he wants us to hang the next ornament.

John loves to bake, and he’s good at it.  When we bake Christmas cookies, John takes the tray of cookies over to Michael so Michael can shake colored sprinkles all over the dough before that tray goes into the oven.  Michael is very artistic, so we let him choose between red sugar, green sugar, or the jumble of fancy sprinkles.  John is careful to leave some of these cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Chris and John go to a tree farm and cut down a real live Christmas tree.  They’ve been doing this since John could only hold on to one end of the saw while Chris did all the work.  Now John can carry the whole tree all by himself.  (He could even carry Chris too, if he really needed to!)

Asking Mom what she wants for Christmas, which is a face-saving way of finding out what she needs but can’t really afford on her own. At this point in our lives, only the kids enjoy surprises.  It’s much better to give up a little mystery in order to make sure Mom is happy.

Not embarrassing my sister by making a big deal out of giving her something special. My sister is much happier giving gifts, and she does it really well.  Oh, I still give her at least one gift that relates to one of our in-jokes.  After all, I am the little sister and the brat of the family.

There are a few other holiday rituals that have evolved over the years, ones that I look forward to with a mixture of wary anticipation and gleeful dread:

Every year when we get out the boxes of Christmas ornaments, I wonder if this is the year when I should go for a Christmas tree with a theme. The magazines are full of so many great ideas. Now that I have this wonderful house with a living room big enough to have a decent-sized tree, will this be the year I achieve the style and grandeur of my dreams? My sister is good at theme trees. If we come up with a plan and I turn her loose, I’m sure she’ll create something spectacular. I also know that sooner or later John will find an ornament that just has to go on the tree, and we’ll probably end up letting the boys go wild with all of their favorite ornaments.

When it comes time to open our gifts on Christmas morning, my husband and I often exchange looks of good-natured anxiety. Who will it be this year? Who will be the one to receive my mother’s really tacky Christmas present? For a while it was always poor Chris. The crowning glory of my mother’s inappropriate Christmas gifts had to be the Garfield alarm clock that was as big as a truck tire. It’s a standing joke in the family that nothing can wake Chris up, not even a meteor strike.

Mom has this habit of finding out something a person likes, then locking on to that idea for every gift-giving occasion. My sister has gotten tigers year after year. My brother gets pelicans. Me, I’m the lucky one. Mom is always interested in my writing, so I get gifts that have to do with medieval history or Japan or living the writing life. And cats. I have so much cat-related stuff I could open a boutique. It got to the point where Chris absolutely forbade me to buy or accept any more cat Christmas ornaments. Some day I have to join a society for ailurophiles, just so I can volunteer to decorate its Christmas tree!

On the weekend before Christmas, I take John to see Santa Claus. Even though he’s been “too old” for a while now, he really believes in Santa Claus and I’m OK with that. John’s favorite Santa Claus is at a nearby mall. John is fifteen now, six feet tall and close to two hundred pounds. As we stand there in line with all the little kids who come up to John’s hip, people give us funny looks. John doesn’t notice and I don’t care. The first time we went to that mall about three years ago, I took the photographer aside and mentioned that John is autistic. The photographer was great, quite familiar with special needs kids. He and that Santa Claus have worked together for years and know how to handle just about everything. Of course John doesn’t sit on Santa’s lap, but Santa takes the time to have a nice talk with John every year when John brings Santa his wish list.

Last but certainly not least, every year I do my best to answer all the letters to Santa Claus the postal carriers deliver to me. I’m now in the happy position of being the volunteer for four post offices. (This isn’t as huge a job as it might sound, although last year I did answer almost fifty letters.)  I’ve been making my rounds, letting the postmasters know I’m at their service.

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