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LIII. Santa Claus agencies.

No one seems as yet to recognize that if Santa Claus is to continue in the field, he absolutely needs agents and auxiliaries. With the increasing wealth of the community and the growing complications of shopping, the mere ordinary preparation of Christmas presents is becoming a very arduous matter. For many well-to-do households, especially in the suburbs of large cities, it absorbs an alarming amount of time and strength, even endangering, in many cases, health itself. The Christmas trade, which formerly kept the retail shops crowded for a week, now fills and overfills them for nearly six weeks, and during December the simplest purchase involves such confusion and difficulty as to take hours instead of minutes, and to drive even experienced shoppers to despair. Many a family seriously contemplates each year the alternative of foregoing all Christmas presents, rather than grapple with the formidable task involved. There are the children's stockings to be filled, something really pretty and appropriate to be got for Uncle John, and just the right thing to be [270] selected for that unsatisfactory corner in Cousin Mary's drawing-room. Day after day passes; nobody can find time to go to the city, or, if some one goes, it is dark before she has got half-way down her list of errands. At the end, Cousin Mary's awkward corner remains unfilled, the children's stockings are stuffed hap-hazard, and Uncle John gets only a third smoking-cap, though he took pains to explain last year that the doctor had ordered him to quit smoking.

I am surprised that some enterprising woman does not see how clearly all this makes a providential opening for Santa Claus agencies. In many other departments we do not now go to purchase articles needed; they are brought to us. Instead of our going to market the market-man rings daily at the back door, and orders are taken and filled for chickens and celery, canned tomatoes or Hubbard squashes. If we wish new window-curtains, the upholsterer comes with plans, patterns, and prices. Why does not some agent for Santa Claus come in the same way with samples, circulars, and above all, suggestions What a boon to many a struggling family would be the sudden arrival at the door of some competent and clear-headed woman, replete with information, running over with measurements and prices, and carrying specimens of a hundred unthought — of treasures in a little handbag! [271] She must have all the resources of all the shops in her memory; must be learned in lace, competent in china, and an encyclopaedia as to rugs. She must be an embodied Lilliputian Bazaar in regard to children's clothes and toys. She must be as comprehensive in her aptitudes as Lord Beaconsfield's imaginary Israelite, who was prepared to trade for a pennyworth or for a million pounds sterling. All with her is to be a business transaction; the laborer is worth his hire, but a part of her stock in trade — the only inexhaustible part-is a genial good-nature. She simply undertakes to fit out the family with Christmas presents, as the upholsterer fits it out with window-curtains and portieres, on any scale that is desired. You sketch out for her what you want, naming your general standard as to plan and price; she tells you what can be done upon that scale, and, if you wish, she makes the actual purchases. Very likely she can make them at a price lower than you could; but that is a secondary matter. We are not now planning to save money so much as time, strength, and the nervous system.

It is, of course, possible that all this agency might be filled by a man, but it is altogether better that it should be undertaken by a woman. The purchasers will usually be women, even though a [272] man pays the bills; and it is to be remembered, moreover, that the whole position is a confidential one, and involves sacred secrets in every family. Much of it would be done, very likely, with closed doors, conspiring with Bessie to surprise mamma, and again with mamma to astonish Bessie. The Santa Claus agent should therefore be a woman, and, if possible, one well known in other ways to the household, in order to win entire confidence, and to keep above all suspicion of being unduly under the influence of some particular dealer. If she does her work well, she will soon have influence for herself with all dealers, going straight to headquarters with that assured precedence possessed by the stewardess on a steamboat, who quietly walks into the clerk's office and sweeps off the very last state-room before the enraged eyes of a whole line of men, who are vainly cooling their boot-heels on the windy deck outside. She will be a sort of embodied power — a veritable Parnell of the Christmas trade, knowing that both dealers and customers must conciliate her at last. Indeed, the only danger is lest she become too powerful, and be a despot; in which case she too must be dethroned, and some new substitute inaugurated.

Meanwhile, who would not welcome the Santa Claus agent? She will be sent for, let us suppose, [273] by a family with whom she has dealt already, and whose peculiar tastes she knows. They will unfold to her their needs and exigencies-so many uncles and aunts, so many deserving relatives at a distance, so many children of different ages. Something will readily occur to her for each : have the household seen those lovely new things, so cheap, in Fayal goods? those pretty boxes of colored crayons for little girls? One of her great functions will lie in the simple answering of questions; the information that would otherwise involve the ascending and descending of a dozen elevators in warehouses is here obtained by simple cross-examination in five minutes. Supposing that you take absolutely nothing that she brings or recommends, the mere suggestions she offers are worth the fee you pay. Simply to hear from her what you can not find this year, or what project will be utterly impracticable-this will be a great deal.

To know what she had not to trust to
Was worth all the ashes and dust too.

I cannot doubt that, some time or other, the proper agents for Santa Claus will be found; and if their sphere ultimately extends also to weddings and birthdays, no matter. It is idle to say that their services will destroy all individuality in prescnts; [274] there is no real individuality except in preparing every present with your own hands; and when you once buy your gifts, it makes no difference, as to the sentiment of the thing, whether you go to the shop or the shop comes to you. By all means let us have Santa Claus agencies.

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