By now, just about all the letters have arrived at the North Pole and Santa knows what you want under the Christmas tree. There are few surprises.

The children, as usual, want toys and candy. Merchants want a quick upsurge in sales. Dad wants "paid in full" stamped on his bills from the store. The homeless want a full stomach and a clean, safe place of their own to sleep. The affluent want something, anything, a bit more lavish than what they already have. Political leaders want a way to provide more government programs but charge less for them - which is exactly what the taxpayers want, too. The care-worn want hope.But what about the giver of gifts? Who can say what he himself would like for Christmas?

At the risk of sounding smug or immodest, we can.

A few days ago, a public relations firm in Los Angeles called Hill and Knowlton conducted a survey of Santa's helpers in department stores around the country. For the first time ever, they disclosed what Santa himself wants to find under the tree on Dec. 25.

The trouble is that the survey didn't dig as deeply and diligently as it should have.

The requests from Santa, as outlined in the survey, mentioned only such basics as peace and prosperity for the world, with a little fun thrown in, too. But anyone who has been on the receiving end of Mr. Claus' generosity for very many years knows he is much more benevolent and altruistic than that.

Here, we can confidently say, are the other main items on the list of what Santa would like to give to himself by giving to others, if only he could:

- Fewer unrealistic expectations of what material products can do to for us.

- Greater appreciation of the fact that true happiness is a gift each individual gives himself or herself, mainly by giving to others. The simplest forms of giving are usually the most satisfying for all: Some moments of companionship for the lonely, a visit to those separated from loved ones by death or distance.

- More willingness to forgive the wounds that careless, fallible people inflict on each other. Increased readiness to laugh at ourselves without excusing our own faults. A greater tendency to treat one's own family with the respect and courtesy that one would treat a guest.

- Above all, a greater realization that Christmas is not about getting and glitter. Rather, it is about what happened at Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. It is about the baby born in a stable because his parents could find no room at the inn. It is about the lessons taught by precept and example after that child grew to manhood - eternal lessons of love for each other as the brothers and sisters that we all are. And it is about the greatest gift that ever can or will be given - the gift of eternal life flowing from his holy, atoning sacrifice.

How sad that so many people know only of Santa Claus but not of this glorious saga. How tragic that some who know it believe it to be fable, not eternal truth. How unfortunate that the celebration of Christmas so often elevates the profane and trivializes the profound, rendering them indistinguishable.

Though it isn't easy to get the full benefits of the most lasting and beneficial gifts that this season offers, they are well worth the effort. Among other things, it involves becoming as a little child - trusting and teachable. Please seek and accept them this Christmas and from now on.