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This is the time of year when there is a pull toward the nostalgia of our childhood and all of the memories and traditions that go along with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But it seems that the jack-o'-lanterns and candy corn are becoming gimmicks to announce the beginning of huge sales to kick off the Christmas season. Santa Claus has become a marketing tool to help stores break even at year's end.

The idea of children getting coal in their stocking is a thing of the past. Who would know where to find a piece of coal, anyway?

Technology has, alas, invaded even the old letter to Santa. One toy store chain supplies its pint-sized customers with electronic "wish lists" so they can punch their yuletide desires into a nationwide databank. That way, grandma and grandpa in California can know what their grandchildren want and have it shipped to them. Who needs Santa and his old reindeer? Forget the stuff coming down the chimney. It'll come UPS.

It's difficult to not let cynicism and apathy crowd out the joy of Christmas and the message of a baby in a stable that it is meant to convey. Still, even in these days of self-centeredness and expected handouts, there remain some worthy causes for those in need.

There is an aspect of community concern that often goes unnoticed -- the demands put on local merchants for the myriad fund-raising projects and gift baskets that many organizations come up with.

Over the years, those of us who have been involved with assembling baskets of groceries for the poor have been guilty of expecting those who own businesses in the Southtowns to donate a few trifling goodies to help us fill our baskets.

We then deliver them and get our pictures taken as we do our annual good deeds.

In the past, many of us have expected local merchants to donate goods because we spend our money in their stores. This is their chance to do their share. But with the advent of the super retailers and the drift toward buying cheaper, foreign-made goods in the malls, this hometown supportive purchasing is largely a thing of the past.

Yet the demand on local merchants -- who have supplied sound systems, been quick to allow fund-raising activities in their stores and provided refreshments for pavilion activities -- continues to climb.

Unfortunately, the organizations that expect contributions to their charitable projects often go to larger out-of-town businesses that can give them a better price when they make major purchases of supplies, appliances, insurance or vehicles.

However, the better price is lost when there is a service problem and the large merchant has to admit that it doesn't do service. Or the item in need of repair will have to be shipped because there are no parts available here. Of course, if you need a service technician, expect to talk by clicking numbers on your phone. If you do reach a person, he will likely be in Costa Rica.

As one local merchant said to me with a shrug, "It wouldn't be so bad if they appreciated what we do. I have given a large quantity of items for their auctions or fund-raising events and I haven't gotten so much as a thank you or a postcard."

This season, let's make it a merry Christmas for our local merchants.

DON BOOTH lives in East Aurora.