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Ask Amy column

DEAR READERS: Many of us are spending a lot of time this week scurrying around, looking for the “perfect” gift to bestow on family and friends. And yet, looking back through our own holiday memories, we realize that the best gifts arrive in the form of traditions or objects that we can look at and know exactly where they came from. We invest these simple possessions with meaning and memories.

For the past three years I have advocated for a gift-giving concept that is simple, straightforward, inexpensive, and that reaps lifelong rewards.

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Like all my best ideas, this was stolen (borrowed, really). Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough once related in an interview that every Christmas morning during his childhood, he and his siblings awoke to the gift of a wrapped book on their beds, delivered in the night by Santa.

Thus was born “A Book on Every Bed.” I have teamed with the Family Reading Partnership (familyreading.org) in my hometown of Ithaca, N.Y. With its help, this simple concept has spread through libraries, schools, churches, and bookstores, across this country and beyond.

Here’s how it works: You take a book (it can be a new book or a favorite from your own childhood). You wrap it. On Christmas Eve (or whatever holiday you celebrate), you leave the book in a place where Santa is likely to find it. When I communicated with David McCullough about borrowing his idea, he was very clear: Santa handles places the book on a child’s bed.

In the morning, the children in your household will awaken to a gift that will far outlast any toy: literacy.

I know this for sure: No matter who you are, reading will unlock untold opportunities, mysteries, and passions. When you have a book and the ability to tell, read, and share stories, you gain access to the universe of others’ imaginations.

We have probably exceeded our original goal for one million children to wake up on Christmas to a wrapped book, and so this year’s appeal will be for parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians to continue to spread this concept in their families and communities.

To share stories and photos, check my Facebook page: facebook.com/Adickinsondaily.

Q. My boyfriend and I recently attended a Christmas party where a 5-year-old was asking adults if they believed in Santa.

Everyone around us responded “yes,” but my boyfriend responded “no,” which made the boy visibly sad (though he did not question further).

I believe that it was not our place to tell someone else’s child our true opinions about Santa, but my boyfriend maintains that he did not want to lie to the boy because he was angry at his parents when he found out they had lied to him about Santa. What is the proper etiquette in this situation?

A. It’s always a good idea to try to leave a 5-year-old pretty much as you found him. Unless the child has a close relationship with you, it is not your job to disabuse, confuse or make him sad.

On the other hand, this is a surprising question from a 5-year-old. The very question supposes that there is such a thing as “believing” (or not) in Santa.

The socially smooth way to handle such a straightforward question of belief or faith is to understand at the outset that the question itself contains a trap. And so one says, “Hmmm. Good question. What do you think?”

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

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