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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Newtown, Connecticut, the holiday season has been a time of mourning. Local store owners say this past weekend was the first time many people came out to shop for Christmas.

NPR's Margot Adler visited a crowded toy store and found Newtown residents struggling to celebrate the holiday with some semblance of normalcy.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This store is so cute.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: We've walked into the Wishing Well in Sandy Hook, a lovely shop filled with local crafts, Christmas ornaments, pottery, potpourri. Tamara Doherty, the owner of the shop, says business is picking up.

TAMARA DOHERTY: It's been a little delayed, obviously. I mean, this is the first, you know, real day that people seem to be shopping.

ADLER: There are free cookies in the shape of angels, which have become a symbol of the Newtown tragedy. And all the people who come in seem warm and open.

DOHERTY: It's been a friendlier atmosphere, you know, people that, you know, are just reaching out and hugging. It's not something that you would normally do, but, you know, I think it's definitely brought us closer. It's difficult, you know? Everything is magnified now 'cause everybody is just so devastated still, so...

ADLER: Doherty's 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son are helping in the shop today, but it's been hard on them too. And with the crowd, everyone's emotions are right on the surface.

DOHERTY: Don't cry, sweetie. I have to help her.

ADLER: But soon, the family is back to taking money and wrapping presents.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you...

ADLER: At the Newtown Youth Academy, it's a day for kids, and a very special couple dressed in red.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi. I'm Mrs. Claus. My husband's here somewhere. I don't know.

DAN PUZA: You know, you walk in. There's - they're giving away candy canes. I think hot dogs just arrived.

ADLER: Volunteer Dan Puza heard the news of the Newtown shootings while he was in Singapore. He's come home to be with relatives this Christmas and to lend a hand.

PUZA: You know, it's a tragedy, but it makes it kind of, you know, sweet to see everybody pull together and kind of act as a community during the holiday season.

ADLER: But if you want to understand how this tragedy has impacted people all over the country and the world, just visit the Newtown post office.

CATHY ZIEFF: Because people need to send something. They need to know that they did something. The simplest way to do something is to send a card.

ADLER: The postmaster is Cathy Zieff. They have a special P.O. box just for mails that sends greetings of support for this community.

ZIEFF: We have four - what they call cages or wire containers that hold probably 260 packages, just one day. It's tremendous, and it's from all over the country, all over the world: Sicily, Italy; from England, from Hawaii, from every state in between.

ADLER: And letters and cards, thousands more every day. Zieff says the callers who phone asking where they can send things are often crying. And she has to comfort them, and then she begins to cry. And then there are her coworkers.

ZIEFF: My employees, my staff have watched these kids grow up. They've got pictures of them that the parents have given them. They're part of this community.

ADLER: There's always more mail during the season, she says. The packages are heavier. The word heavier reverberates with a very different meaning here. Outside a local deli in Sandy Hook, Tim Byrn, originally from Dublin, says he does plan to celebrate the holiday.

TIM BYRN: We have a fifth grader, so, yeah, we're going to celebrate it as best as we can, you know, just hold our family close.

ADLER: That's something that everyone in this community seems to be doing. Byrn, like so many of the people we've interviewed, wipes a tear from his eye.

BYRN: We just go on.

ADLER: Margot Adler, NPR News, Danbury, Connecticut.

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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