STEINBERG: Step up and provide Christmas compassion our country lacks

Shopping for the Letters to Santa program is educational. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

So I was careless when grabbing a letter from the Letters to Santa bin this year, and only when I got home did I look at it and see neat printing on Citadel stationery.

“Santa I have been very good,” it read. “Please give me the following: one Polo Bear Ralph Lauren Tuxedo Bear Wool Sweater ($395); one Burberry Bandana in Vintage Check Cashmere ($595); one pair Lacroix LXR HD skis ($2,700), one . . . .” My gaze leapt to the bottom of the letter.

“Oh great, I got Ken Griffin,” I groaned to my wife, referring to the richest man in Illinois.

I liked the annual Letters to Santa program a lot more before, in the spirit of the new Congressional tax plan, it shifted from providing presents to under-privileged children to buying holiday fripperies for the wealthiest of the wealthy.

“We better head to Neiman Marcus,” she began. “I’ll grab the credit cards . . . .”

OK, none of the above is true. Well, except for the cruel, rob-the-humble-to-benefit-millionaires tax plan — that is all too true, unfortunately. And my being careless about selecting this year’s letters to Santa is certainly true. I took two letters, thinking that would make shopping easier: kids have a way of asking for some unobtainable thing, “The Danger Ranger Master Blaster” that sold out in September. With two letters I could fill the easier one, return the other, duty done.

But I mistakenly took three letters, which I only realized when — another blunder — I let my wife look at them, thinking she would pick one. Fool that I am. No sooner did she see what these children were asking for — winter boots, warm shirts, candy, art sets — than she announced we would be buying presents for our three new daughters.

“Life has been so good to us,” she said. I opened my mouth to argue, took one look at her look of steely Mama Lion determination and shut it.

No item was easy to find. Even merchandise that should have been easy — size 3 boots. Target seemed to have every size but size 3. It took 15 minutes of searching. I handled every pair of children’s boots in the store; when I finally laid my hands on a pair of 3s, it felt like triumph. The joy was short-lived. There were a lot of gifts to buy.

“I’m being robbed by 8-year-olds,” I muttered, shuffling after her through Target at 9 p.m, holding these inartfully printed letters three inches from my aging eyes.

As always, the process was educational. Did you know “slime kits” are a popular toy? They are. When one girl requested “Shopkins Shoppies” I naturally assumed it was a joke, or that my mind had finally snapped — that couldn’t be a thing, could it? Really? It was like asking for a “Little Miss Materialism.” Or a Buy-Me-Stuff Game.

Shopkin Shoppies. All too real, an entire world. “DISCOVER THE FUN OF SHOPVILLE WHERE THE SHOPPIES AND THEIR SHOPKINS FRIENDS LOVE TO HANG OUT!” trumpets the back of the Marsha Mello doll I selected, a creature so accessorized and overwrought, she makes Barbie seem like an Amish corncob doll.

And we worry about immigrants not adapting to our society. Maybe we should be adapting to theirs instead.

On the subject. I was buying for students at Hammond Elementary, on West 21st Street in Little Village. Ninety percent of the kids are Hispanic. A reminder that if you don’t want to buy some toys just so some real children living in Chicago right now will have better presents than they might otherwise receive, do it as a political act. The Ken Griffins of the world are certainly getting their Christmas goodies. Meanwhile Donald Trump is drawing his foot back to give the parents of many of these kids the boot. There’s nothing you can do until 2020 — unless you want to make somebody’s Christmas a little brighter. Sign up now. If I can make myself do it, with an assist from my wife, anybody can.

To be a Santa’s Helper, go to our website at www.suntimes/santa, call us at (312) 321-3114 or email us at elves@suntimes.com.

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