Soapbox Sunday: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

GWAS is going to be a lazy blogger (a day spent battling it out at the mall is enough to make any gal fatigued), so she's going to do a cut-and-paste job for today's Sunday Soapbox. See below the most reprinted newspaper editorial ever, written by newsman Francis Pharcellus Church in response to a letter to the editor written by 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon to the New York Sun in 1897:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.' Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

See how powerful positive editorial can be!

Let's hope the world's women's magazine editors are encouraged to help make the lives of women – both their readers and those residing outside the revered A-B demographic – more enriched, meaningful and hopeful in 2008.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Soapbox Sunday: Go smug yourself

There's a disease infecting the hearts and minds of sophisticated city-folk, upwardly mobile urbanites and Byron-dwelling, yoga-devotee, rat-race dropouts across our nation, and it's having a drastic effect on human relations. Yes, people, smugness is rife, causing our colleagues to gloat, our friends to roll their eyes and the culture critics to point the finger.

From the SHE (Smug Healthy Eater) who casts an accusatory eye over your peanut buttered toast in the office kitchen before merrily chopping up her apple and kiwi fruit, to the all-knowing, newly minted exercise fanatic who lost 5kgs by taking up running ("You should do it too!"), and the time-frittering, friend-accumulating Facebook and MySpace loving Techno Smuggers, we have become consumed with self-confidence, fueled by our ability to consume information at supersonic speed, digest it, apply the parts we believe to be beneficial to our lives (or uproariously entertaining to our unique senses of humour) and happily share our newly acquired expertise/knowledge with any friend, family member, colleague or passer-by within ear shot. We've been slimed, Punk'd and fugged – and now we're being smugged ("I can't believe she smugged me!")

The Oxford Dictionary defines smug (adj) as the state of being irritatingly pleased with oneself and/or self-satisfied. Varying strains of smugness have infiltrated our lives and loved ones – technological, spiritual, political, material, marital, intellectual, musical, geographical, sexual – and it seems the more time one dedicates to refining his or her smugness, the less likable he/she becomes. The Smug-Busters must be called in, toting their humble-pie machines, before it's too late!

For the SHE (a term used in this month's Women's Healththe magazine for female health smuggers; self included), it's almost painful to walk through a food court without wishing to extol the virtues of eating protein-packed salads to those Maccas-munching mums and kiddies; for the marital smugger, single people become projects to be worked on; for the spiritual smugger, particularly newly-minted Christian folk, it's hard to hold back on the Bible bashing when you seek to save others from their seemingly meaningless and material lives (which is not to undermine this worthy cause; I could evangelise till the cows come home).

Perfectionists are the most irritating smuggers of all, such is their devotion to refining every aspect of themselves and their lives (daily exercise, diet, intellect...), though most smuggers specialise in one area. The symptoms of the smugging affected include gloating, a blinkered world view, a reluctance to be challenged, unfettered self-confidence and a fondness for sharing information, even when unwarranted. A failure to see one's own faults is an ugly side-effect.

Smugging has infiltrated popular culture, too, with bloggers, TV producers and book publishers all packaging and commercialising smugness for our consumption. Perez Hilton uses his contacts and 'takes one to know one' smugging power to out homosexual celebrities; the lovely lasses behind Go Fug Yourself delight in the fashion foibles of red carpet regulars; Trinny and Susannah take the common woman and spruce her using their smug knowledge of style; The Chaser boys use charisma and a dash of cockiness to tear down the pollies...

There's no doubt smug can be funny. And a little self-assured smugness is needed if one is to have the confidence to pursue his or her goals. But when the stench of smug hangs over a family gathering, coffee date with a friend or workplace chat, it can become toxic. The smugger is like an irritating fly that buzzes about making judgments about your every movement under the guise of a 'friendly suggestion' or makes you feel complicit in an evil scheme to undermine the upwardly mobile and, thus, the progress of the nation/world ("What, you don't have a Facebook page?!")

Whether you're a music or film buff, a nutritional nut, happily married, a social queen or Prada-toting fashionista, smug can be avoided with a little self-deprecating humour, the ability to bite one's tongue when an opinion has not been sought and a bit of self-reflection. It can also be avoided by using one's smug potential for good (i.e. helping those with a deficit in some area – financial, spiritual, intellectual – with a genuine desire to see change and improvement in people; not simply for the glorification of one's own superiority).

Do we want to be known as smugly pains-in-the-butt or a friendly little helpers?

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. GWAS realises she is totally complicit in smugly behaviour, given her preference for certain intellectually superior/aesthetically appealing magazines over others. But there's a fine line between smug and plain old good taste.*

* Jokes!

Sportsgirl rewind

One of the pivotal moments in my teenage existence involved arriving at my first high school mufty day (i.e. plain clothes/non-uniform) in my mother's oversized red woolly jumper and black stirrup leggings. I think I was attempting to channel Christina Applegate in Don't Tell Mum The Babysitter's Dead or something, but I just looked like a 13-year-old version of my mum swimming in a sea of itchy wool. The other girls wore tencil jeans, Sportsgirl logo t-shirts or flannel shirts, Timberland boots and looked like a cross between Brooke Shields in those Calvin ads and Dolly cover model Alison Brahe, who was a big deal back then.

It was all very preppy, trendy and sporty. Needless to say, the experience was traumatising (as these things are for sensitive teen girls who've migrated from Brisbane, which was pretty bogan back then, to sophisticated old Sydney). I pleaded with my mother to take me to Sportsgirl, where nothing really fit (size 6 didn't register back then and I was underdeveloped in every way), but my teen identity crisis was saved. Sportsgirl made shopping super-easy with their mixy-matchy outfits and gave me the confidence to attend all future mufty days (until it got very uncool some time in the mid-90s, at least).

These days, with its revamped image, catwalk-to-store-floor trend imitations and reasonable price point, Sportsgirl still exists as a kind of service for the fashion-clueless, as well as fashion obsessed young things who invest the majority of their weekly income in the thrill of lunch-time shopping binges. Like Topshop, H&M, Miss Selfridge and, arguably, Zara (which is really more on par with Witchery), Sportsgirl is a one-stop-shop for the every girl. Sportsgirl stores now stock makeup, walls of accessories, books and gifts, in addition to skirts, tops, shorts, pants, dresses, handbags and shoes. You can't go wrong – as my sister noted after style-stalking two teen girls on Saturday night, it's easy for PYTs to get it right with the likes of Sportsgirl (and, of course, those brilliant teen magazines) as a guide.

On that note, Sportsgirl has its own magazine, which I hastily pick up anytime I'm in store just for the novelty of getting something in print (that's not a bill) for FREE. The latest edition is 'The Silverscreen Issue', which is printed on thick matte stock and smells like an old book store. It includes items from the Rewind collection, which harks back to the early 90s, a selection of gift ideas which includes Nylon's beauty reference guide, Pretty, a list of suggested 'must see movies' (Taxi Driver, The Ice Storm, Cinderella, Easy Rider, Pretty in Pink, Risky Business, Paris Texas...), makeup tips from Jodi Oliver (she made up Cate Blanchett for the cover of December Harper's Bazaar), and three summery shoots (two of which are celebrity/screen icon-themed) styled and shot on the Gold Coast (the same summer holiday haven I shall be departing for soon).

Check it online at Ah, memories.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Soapbox Sunday: Pride's in the pudding

There's a lot of rhetoric being bandied about in the press about the opportunity for Australia to redefine itself with a new Government in power. We took a collective risk in voting in Rudd and co., though the overwhelming sentiment was that the time for change had come... or, at least, for Howard to step aside.

Glen Milne wrote in today's Sunday Telegraph:
"Mr Howard, former Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile and former treasurer Peter Costello all represented the epitome of what was once seen as the traditional middle class Australian family... In the case of John Howard, his championing of the family unit in both a policy and symbolic sense was legendary. The former Prime Minister saw the family as the glue that kept society together."

Hugh Mackay wrote in the Sun-Herald:
"We found ourselves thinking more about the state of society than the state of the economy... Even the concept of a sustainable future was being seen more as a moral issue than an economic question. Kyoto, Iraq, AWB, WorkChoices, Aboriginal reconciliation, refugees... They symbolised the idea that, this time, we were more interested in national pride than fatter wallets."

What will Australia look like under the leadership of Rudd? By outing a government that represented economic stability, conservatism and family values, we have left the door wide open for those now in leadership (and what a mixed lolly bag they are) to create the Australia of their imaginations. Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and withdrawing troops from Iraq are but the first symbolic steps in Labor's plan. But while Little Johnny's values were plain and clear for all to see, what does Rudd really stand for? We know he is a conservative, perhaps more so than new Liberal leader Brendan Nelson, but what of the man behind the suit?

Back in 1995, Rudd, then Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, was interviewed on ABC TV's Compass. According to the transcript, Rudd grew up in country Queensland in a religious family who did it tough. His father died in a car accident when he was 11. The family relied on charity and relatives to survive. His mother was "very much in that old style Queensland rural Catholic CWA (Country Women's Association) tradition", being one of service to others:

"When you see people in strife, I cannot be indifferent to that because that's the way I've been brought up. And I've given that as an adult form of political expression called the Australian Labor Party, which is, by the way, as flawed and as failed as I am. But we try."

While the family values espoused by Howard are all well and good, they still essentially turn our focus inward (Backyard Blitz wasn't popular during his term for no reason) – it's an insular, but admirable and traditional, way to look at the world; to look out for one's own family first. What if we were to, say, embrace the concept of 'loving thy neighbour', thereby looking out to the wider community and asking 'How can I help?' or 'How can I best service my country?' or 'How can I give back?'. To whom much is given, much is expected.

There are, of course, many people in this country already doing that – and the evidence is everywhere right now ('tis the season!), from The Choir of Hard Knocks to the people collecting money for the homeless on the streets to Good Weekend, which featured a brilliant story on Saturday titled 'The Kindness of Strangers' (if you missed it, try to get your hand on a copy). It's one of the most inspirational stories I've read in a while, and demonstrates how ultimately fulfilling a life lived in service of others can be. Each of the prominent charity figures profiled, from Elaine Henry (CEO of The Smith Family), to Robert Tickner (Secretary General, The Australian Red Cross) and Toby Hall (CEO of Mission Australia) had something profound to say about what drove them to a life less ordinary (and financially secure).

For Henry, a childhood memory of a disadvantaged girl bullied at school still resonates deeply with her: "She was different from the rest of us and – well, we were not kind... I hope to God that she made it, that there was someone who was kinder to her than we schoolgirls were."

Hall was once a successful banker whose focus was on making life better for him and his wife: "I was about 24 or 25 when I started feeling there was an emptiness to it all," he said. After studying for an MBA he worked in community development, where he came across 'social outcasts': "Society writes people off. It says you're done for – you don't get a second chance... It struck me that this was the kind of world we live in... The joy of seeing someone's life change is immense. I've never met anyone who has given, who has turned around and said, 'I regretted doing that."

Tickner describes how a near-fatal car accident when he was 18 – he almost killed a good friend – had a huge impact on his thinking about what really counts in life. The "footprint" you leave behind being more important than anything. He says: "We sometimes don't give enough of ourselves to others, in the sense of telling people that they're appreciated or supported. We don't say thanks enough. We don't praise enough. To me, those are also acts of giving."

How right he is. Not all of us are in a position where we can take over the leadership of a major charitable organisation, but our lives can be defined by the same values – compassion, kindness, goodness, peace and the will to serve others. Whether that means dressing up in a Santa suit, shipping off to a third-world country, serving Christmas pudding to the elderly, donating a portion of our income charity, writing positive stories to encourage others, or just living with the kind of purpose and passion that inspires other people to make the most out of their lives is, of course, up to you.

There's a check-out chick at my local Woolworths store who constantly amazes me with her positive attitude – she's worked there for years, being promoted to a senior managerial role, while also studying for her degree in nursing, volunteering at the local hospital and making mortgage repayments with her boyfriend. She always smiles, always asks how I am and is only too happy to meet the demands of customers. She's made the choice to live by a set of values that makes the world a more pleasant place. She gives of herself and expects nothing back (like a tax cut) in return.

I only hope that in his four-year term Rudd can inspire a nation to do the same – I'd like to have some pride with my pudding this Christmas.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel