News & Opinion

New York Notebook

Santa’s little helpers: a tale to warm the heart

The Times

December 27, 2010


At Christmas, American television shows It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet Me in St Louis, Miracle on 34th Street and The Wizard of Oz on a rigorous, time-honoured loop. Charming as they are, this year the “Miracle on 22nd Street”, as The New York Times dubbed it, has supplanted them all as a story to restore your faith in, well, everything, especially if you’ve been on the eggnog, a cloying seasonal staple that I have been imbibing with the same fervour as Maggie sucks on her dummy in The Simpsons. (It’s also, by the way, the perfect drink for New Yorkers preparing for their first winter blizzard. Sixteen inches of snow is forecast to fall by 6pm today. )

This touching story began with a couple, Jim and Dylan, who out of nowhere started receiving letters addressed to Santa Claus at their apartment in the city’s Chelsea neighbourhood. The letters piled up, more than 400 in all, Jim revealed in a charming video about the couple’s seasonal mystery (you can see it at here). At first the men thought they were the targets of a scam or a hoax, but their detective work turned up no reason why their apartment had come to double up as Santa’s abode.

Often the letters were from less well-off children asking for gifts, or asking Santa to help their parents buy them. Dylan, the Grinchier of the two, said he found the letters more “emotional” than he’d expected. Jim wrestled with doubts about which letters to act upon, and questioned whether it was the men’s place to do anything at all.

Well, he and Dylan became Santa and started responding to the letters, buying some of the children the gifts they asked for and posting them out. Jim asked his colleagues if they wanted to join in this mass act of benevolence. One said “Sure!” and then, putting his hand in Jim’s bag of Santa mail, paused and asked: “They’re not going to want a PlayStation, are they?”

Next, Jim relayed the story via Facebook and more people signed up. Out of about 450 requests, the men reckon that between 100 and 150 were fulfilled. Jim has taken the rest of the letters to a New York post office, where — if customers are so minded — they too can play Claus.

In the video, Dylan dutifully wrapped gifts but stayed Grinchy almost to the end: “Are we really equipped to do this? We can’t reply to all of them.” Jim rolled his eyes. “That’s like saying, ‘Oh, I can’t fix all the world’s problems, so I’m not going to fix any of them’.” To which Dylan said: “You just give. That’s always been your way. I love that about you.” At this point, now thoroughly marinated in eggnog, I wept. Jim concluded: “Dylan and I are only two elves, and we made a little dent.” Really, Jimmy Stewart preparing to jump off an icy bridge has nothing on this.


Be sure to log on

On Christmas Day morning, I received a text from a friend saying he was relaxing watching “the yule log”. Thinking he might be depressed and looking at an inanimate object, I called him. But no, this was a Christmas Day tradition: from 9am to 1pm, one TV station here shows a burning yule log. There are even plans for a 3-D one.

The day was studded with other revelations. As they’re not celebrating Christmas, New York’s Jewish population — at least those who haven’t decamped to sunnier climes — frequent, en masse, the city’s Chinese restaurants. By Christmas Day evening, Andy Ho, manager of Shun Lee on the Upper West Side, said the restaurant had served 1,500 customers in 36 hours: Peking duck and dumplings were the most popular dishes. Reservations were made as far back as September, Mr Ho said. While not all the customers were Jewish (“We don’t actually ask”), carry-out trade was as brisk as the restaurant, with its 120 staff, was busy.


Made for each other

Every Sunday, many New York Times readers turn straight to the “Vows” section, in which recently spliced couples — privileged, Waspy, annoyingly perfect — reveal how they got together. Their smug-happy faces mock those New Yorkers, especially women, for whom the single life is less Sex and the City and more a wearying game of Dodge the Douchebag. It would be fair to say that “Vows” is read with a mixture of envy and derision.

A week ago, Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla revealed their story to the world: they fell in love behind the backs of their respective partners (with whom they had families), dumped them and married each other.

She said: “This is life. This is how it goes.” He said: “I didn’t believe in the word soulmate before, but now I do.”

The story became TV news, with public opinion leaning heavily towards the opinion of Bob Ennis, Riddell’s jilted husband, who claimed the two were “narcissists” who had presented a “choreographed, self-serving piece of revisionist history”, heedless of the effect it would have on their children. For one Sunday at least, it suddenly seemed brilliant to be single