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So I was listening to CBC’s Radio One on Friday, and they were talking about Canada Post’s annual Letters to Santa program. In its 26th year, the program is praised for keeping childhood innocence alive and introducing children to old-fashioned letter writing: more than one million kids worldwide write letters to Santa, with over 11,000 Postal Elves (current and retired Canada Post employee volunteers!) ensuring that every letter gets a reply in the language in which the letter was written. That’s over one million replies in 30 different languages, including Braille (only letters that include a return address will receive a reply; emails are answered in English or French). I love the spirit of the program, and though I’ve never written to Santa and or realized he actually replies, I’ve always thought Santa’s addy was cute (it’s the jolly postal code):

Santa Claus
North Pole HOH OHO

Now, what piqued my interest in Letters to Santa this year was the letter read on that CBC program. It was from a little girl whose only wish for Christmas is to spend more time with her dad (because he works so much). I actually started crying while listening to the letter. Granted, I’m a sap for anything sentimental, but the idea of wanting more time with someone is something we all can relate to. This child didn’t ask for the latest trendy toy – all she wants for Christmas is more time with her family.

I second that. This time last year, instead of spending December with my family, I jetted off to Costa Rica for the month. After arriving in Drake Bay in a private 9-seater plane, I was ready to chill in a hammock in my own beachside bungalow in the jungle. I spent a week and a bit at Pirate Cove, which is situated beside the Drake River and on an isolated 2 km stretch of beach, far from “downtown” Drake Bay to the north (which consists of the airstrip, a school, a church and a soda stand) and the overrun-with-accommodations village of Agujitas to the south. I loved the solitude and also the adventures of the area, mainly hiking Corcovado National Park, as well as snorkelling, birdwatching, horseback riding, kayaking, and mucking about the mangroves on a night tour (all of which I essentially did solo or accompanied by a private guide, because that’s how off the tourist map Drake Bay is).

But as much as I loved exploring Drake Bay and making my way up to Fortuna for whitewater rafting, hiking and spa time, and then settling in Santa Elena to do a home stay while volunteering at the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, I missed the whole lead-in to the holidays. The only Christmas carols I heard last year were played by the marching school bands performing in a parade one night in Fortuna. I didn’t get to decorate the tree with my mom or bake shortbread for my dad. No fighting with my brother over watching It’s a Wonderful Life and The Sound of Music. No Christmas shopping, even (except for the hammocks I bought at an arts co-op in Monteverde and the 12 bags of coffee I stocked up on in Santa Elena).

In fact, not only did I miss the holiday preamble, I nearly missed Christmas altogether. Finding out my flight was cancelled and waiting 7 hours standby for the next flight from Atlanta to Toronto was not how I’d envisioned spending Christmas Eve. Neither was arriving at the Atlanta Sheraton at midnight with a bunch of fellow passengers grateful for the comfy comp’d bed but desperate to wake up at 6 a.m. Christmas Day to guarantee themselves a seat on the first flight out. (Consider us fortunate, as almost every other flight was cancelled due to a freak snowstorm that hit the southwest that morning. Had I missed that flight, I would have been stranded in Atlanta for 4 more days!)

It’s not that I’ve never spent the holidays away from home, but “home” is with my family, and I’d never spent Christmas away from them. Booking my return flight for Christmas Eve was a no-brainer because it shaved $600 off my flight, but I’d chosen that flight specifically because it was cheaper and I’d be home in time for Christmas Eve with my loved ones. Spending time with strangers at an airport instead of with my family really sent home the message that more than anything my family is the most important thing in my life.

And even though we’re only a few days into December and people are already starting to stress about the season, I want to wish everyone an early happy holidays with loved ones. Don’t forget to pause and cherish the time you have with those close to you. That’s all I want this Christmas.