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MARTHA SEZ: ‘For me, Santa Claus was no big deal’

Hey, did you get my present (Christmas card, cookies)?

That time-honored excuse, “It must have gotten lost in the mail!” has taken on new credibility this holiday season, as the United States Postal Service, Fed-Ex and United Parcel Service all founder in a sea of undelivered envelopes and packages.

When I brought my giant cardboard box of gifts to the Keene Post Office and heaved it up onto the counter, somehow maneuvering it under the virus-proof plastic shield separating me from the employee behind the counter, it was still 10 days before Christmas. Maybe 9. Anyway, I was a lot earlier than usual, and, according to my receipt, my grandchildren in California could expect delivery Dec. 18. When I mentioned this to a friend who works for the Post Office, she said “They’ll be lucky if they get it by Christmas.”

I chalked this up to pessimism–holiday postal worker burn-out. And who can blame postal workers? The stress this time of year must be terrible. Remember the expression “going postal?”

No, the head of a private local shipping and receiving department told me, my friend was correct. COVID-19 has infiltrated our USPS in Essex County, causing many employees to be quarantined and thus hampering the flow of mail. The same phenomenon is seen around the country.

“And it’s not just USPS,” she said. “It’s also United Parcel Service and Fed-Ex.”

A recent “Washington Post” article states: “Nearly 19,000 of (USPS) 644,000 workers have called in sick or are isolating because of the virus, according to the American Postal Workers Union.

Meanwhile, packages have stacked up inside some postal facilities, leading employees to push them aside to create narrow walkways on shop floors.”

Speaking of foundering in the sea: My arduous research on the US Postal Service was rewarded with the serendipitous discovery of a scientific article with the title: “Octopuses Observed Punching Fish, Perhaps Out of Spite, Scientists Say.”

University of Lisbon marine biologist Eduardo Sampaio published the paper in the “Journal of the Ecological Society of America.” It seems that while engaged with fish in collaborative hunting, an octopus will sometimes intentionally punch –lash out at, with a swift, explosive motion of one arm– a fish for no apparent reason.

While some people are already receiving the new COVID-19 vaccines, people have been advised to stay home for the holidays, not celebrating even with family members unless they are living together. If you live alone, then so be it. It may be hard to dredge up the magical Christmas spirit this year.

For grown-ups, anyway. Christmas spirit comes naturally to children. For me, Santa Claus was no big deal. For my daughter, Molly, it was a different story.

The Christmas Eve Molly was about three, she wouldn’t go to bed. I wanted to hang the stockings and put the presents around the tree, and I couldn’t do it until I was certain Molly was sound asleep.

“You know, Santy can’t come and leave your presents until you’re asleep,” I told her. Then I learned the reason for her restlessness.

“I don’t want that little man comin’ down my chimney!” Molly was fierce, Molly was staunch. There were no two ways about it. I imagined this tiny person stationed by the fireplace with a shotgun. Bring it on, Santy!

I spent the next hour or more convincing her that there was no such thing as Santa Claus–no, really, Mousey, Santa Claus is just pretend, like goblins and monsters–until she finally relaxed her vigilance and drifted off to sleep.

Discussing whether children should be made to believe in Santa Claus is a good way to start an argument this time of year. But then again, maybe there won’t be that many people around to argue with.

“This year can’t end fast enough,” said Jennifer Lemke, a director at American Postal Workers Union Local 170 in northern Ohio.

Maybe we can think of the delayed Christmas cards as New Year’s cards; those of us who haven’t even sent out our cards will be given unexpected leeway this year. If you wanted to send Christmas cards but were too harassed and hassled to buy any, why not decide to make your own Valentine’s Day cards instead? Your friends and family will love them, and you can always change your mind when it gets closer to the day.

In the meantime, I’ll pray for the strength to avoid lashing out spitefully, like an octopus.

Have a wonderful week!