One of the things that is both a challenge and a joy for me every Christmas is the annual Santa letters. By this I don’t mean a holiday letter to my family, or a letter I send to the dead-letter bin at the Post Office, but rather, the letter I write from Santa to some of the special kids in my life.
I’ve been doing this for nine years now, and I think about them for months before I sit down and write them. I try and think of new adventures for Santa, and for the cadre of characters I’ve invented over the years. I try not to do too much duplication, and tried not to make them too scary.
I goofed one year, and one of the kids was really scared by the story, and, even though Santa triumphed in the end, it was scary for that kiddo in particular. Some of the younger kids weren’t bothered by the same story, it just happened to hit on specific fears he had, and I felt really horrible about it, not just for misjudging it, but, for not knowing my audience well enough to anticipate that.
I write the story first, either on the computer or long hand, then transcribe it onto Christmas paper in script. This serves two purposes, first, Santa would never print. He’s old school. Second, I always print, and no one would guess, from comparing my script to my print that they came from the same person.
I personalize it as much as possible, and try to refer to the things the kids are getting from Santa. I also try to mention things that “only Santa would know.” It takes at least an hour to transcribe the letter into script, and if I make enough mistakes, I start the page all over again.
The stories have had real white elephants, and black polar bears, and a whole mythology about the North Pole. Looking back on them year after year, they make me smile, and I try and imagine hearing them for the first time as a child on Christmas morning.
The hardest part for me is that I rarely get to see the kids’ reactions to the letters. Only twice have I been present on Christmas morning, when my sister read the letter for my nephews. I’ve missed seeing the faces of my namesake and my goddaughter hearing the stories for the first time, and I’m secretly wondered if they even liked them. I’d hear a few things from their parents, but, it’s not the same thing. And, I couldn’t very well ask the children about them.
I won’t wonder about that so much after this year. The letters seem to have a cumulative effect. First, the oldest child for whom I’ve written them (who just turned 12), still believes in Santa, which is later than I myself did, and I suspect that a good part of this is due to the fact that he’s gotten personal letters from Santa since he was three.
This year, when his family was putting up the tree, he collected all the letters from the past years, and took them to his room to study them. He analyzed the handwriting looking for secret codes, or a clue to Santa’s identity. He wanted to volunteer to go to the North Pole and help Santa fight the Nightmares. (The Nightmares are the very thing that frightened him six years ago.)
So, I guess, they had an impact.
Santa told him that while there wasn’t any coded message in the previous letters, it was a fun idea, and maybe next year he’d do that. I’ll work on it. Santa also told him that his sister needed him more than he did, but, that his offer was appreciated.
What I wanted to give these kids was a touch of magic, something that they would remember for their whole lives, even after they no longer believed in Santa. I would’ve done this with my own kids, but, as it’s increasingly unlikely that I will ever have kids of my own, I would just have to do it for other kids I love.
I don’t know how long it will last, and I suspect I will miss doing it for them when they’ve moved on. But, for now, I’ll enjoy that little touch of magic, and look forward to talking with the kids about the stories when they’ve grown. Maybe, they’ll let me write them for their kids one day.