I sat with my 7-year-old granddaughter, Eva, the other day as she wrote her 2013 Christmas letter to Santa.
Eva was staying home from school after having had an early morning dental appointment. She was lisping more than usual with a mouth full of Novocain, but that didn't stop her from chattering merrily with her opa (grandpa) –- me.
She and I were roomies for the remainder of the day, and we cozied up in the den. I read my Kindle, and she seized the opportunity to compose her Santa missive in her second-grade notebook.
At the outset, Eva informed me of this year's stratagem. She plans to be less wordy in her approach. She's learned over the years that Santa seems to be an auditory communicator, with lots of "ho-ho-hos" and "Merry Christmases."
He doesn't have time for hermeneutical word studies. Like any good solicitation letter, Eva's must be expressed with brevity and clarity.
"I can't yap, yap, yap, Opa," she wisely counseled. "Santa will have two letters with him on Christmas eve. He'll have mine with my list, and then he'll have another very long one containing requests from every other boy and girl in the world.
"So I can't write down everything I want."
Out of necessity, one must occasionally pare back one's lilting prose. It's agonizing. As Tolstoy once observed, "It's easier to write long than short." (If Tolstoy didn't actually say that, he should have!)
"Santa sees me all year and he knows me," Eva reasoned. "He can read my mind. He usually doesn't get me everything I want, but that's OK, I don't want him to work too hard. I know I'll like everything he gives me."
Cutting Mr. Claus some direct-marketing fulfillment slack is a savvy move on Eva's part. A little honey on Santa's biscuit can work wonders. He's old, fat and tired — just like Opa — and he shouldn't be unduly hectored.
Eva begins her letter with "Dear Santa," and then sets things in motion by employing the classic modus ponens argument form. To refresh, here's its structure:
If A, then B;
"I think I've been very good this year," Eva boldly asserts in her opening graph. "Of course, you know what that means — I get presents!"
"I want some more Lego Friends sets like the school, the cruise ship, the summer camp, the jet, Olivia's beach buggy, the sports car and others. Make sure you also get something for my sisters, Emma and Ellarie!"
That scores points for Eva within the family. She wants to keep her two biggest rivals at arm's length. No sense riling the opposition by seeming excessively avaricious.
"I made some big mistakes this year, Santa," she admits, displaying not a hint of false humility. "Can you fix them? I broke two dolls and I tied a pair of shoes too tight. I'll leave them on the dining room table."