The urge to send greetings at Christmas time seizes people of all ages. Businesses prepare hundreds of thank-you notes for their customers. Adults salute family and friends with CHRISTMAS CARDS. Even children get in on the act by sending letters to the child JESUS and to SANTA CLAUS.
Letters to the Child Jesus
An old Austrian custom encouraged children to write letters to the child Jesus on the night before ST. NICHOLAS’S DAY. These letters contained lists of things the children wanted for Christmas. The youngsters placed the letters on the windowsill before going to bed. When the children discovered that the letters had disappeared overnight, their parents assured them that ST. NICHOLAS had taken the letters back to heaven to deliver to the child Jesus. In that way the Christ child knew what to bring the children on Christmas Eve (see also CHRISTKINDEL). In some South American countries old customs suggested that children leave their letters for the child Jesus in front of the crib contained in the family NATIVITY SCENE. They did so between December 16 and 24, the days on which the Hispanic folk play called Las POSADAS was being enacted. Older family members explained the disappearance of the letters by hinting that ANGELS delivered them to heaven.
Letters to Santa Claus
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries children in many lands adopted Santa Claus as the Christmas GIFT bringer. In the 1880s American cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) gave Santa Claus an address, the NORTH POLE. Soon afterwards American children began writing letters to Santa Claus, hoping to guide him in his choice of gifts for them. Since 1929 the United States Postal Service has been trying to answer these letters. Each year postal employees and community volunteers read and respond to the letters. Some volunteers, touched by the earnest requests of underprivileged tots, find ways of sending the children some of the requested gifts.
In 1997 postal workers all over the country reported the first decline ever in the numbers of letters sent to Santa Claus at Christmas time. Some postal divisions noticed a steep seventy-percent drop in these letters. No one knows why so many kids all at once lost interest in writing letters to Santa. Perhaps they suddenly discovered e-mail. In any case, the Postal Service hired actress Maureen O’Hara, who starred in the 1947 Hollywood Christmas film, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, to head a campaign publicizing the volunteer program dedicated to answering these letters and encouraging children to continue sending letters to Santa.
While American children believe that Santa dwells at the North Pole, Finnish children know that he lives in Korvatunturi, in the far north of Finland. Korvatunturi means “Ear Mountain,” so it is the perfect abode for a man whose primary job is listening to and fulfilling children’s wishes. Since the 1950s the post office in the small northern town of Rovaniemi has been handling Santa’s mail. Ap-parently, the Finnish belief that Santa resides at Korvatunturi has spread. These days Rovaniemi receives about 500,000 letters to Santa each year from children in 160 countries. The Finns also make an attempt to answer these letters. To reach Santa Claus via the Finnish postal service, write him at Santa Claus’ Main Post Office, 96930 Arctic Circle, Finland. In 1997 even children who didn’t initiate contact with Santa could receive an unsolicited letter from him. To make this happen, an adult needs to send the child’s name and address in block letters, along with four international reply coupons (available at your local post office) to the address above. Please note that the Finnish Santa is fluent in twelve languages and needs to know which of these to respond in.
Some Icelanders wish to popularize the idea that Santa Claus lives in ICELAND. At one point the government-run Iceland Board of Tourism answered the thousands of children’s letters to Santa that arrived in Iceland. After funding cuts decimated this program a private foundation stepped in to answer these letters. For a fee of $4.95 (U.S. dollars), an organization called North Pole, Inc.—whose mailing address is P.O. Box 358-121, Reykjavik, Iceland—will send your child a return letter from Santa, along with a little story, photos of Santa Claus at home, and a diploma with the child’s name on it.
Other far northern nations, such as Sweden, Greenland, and Canada also claim to be the home of Santa Claus. Sweden receives tens of thousands of children’s letters to Santa Claus each year. The Swedish post office makes every effort to answer these letters.
Letters to Other Gift Bringers
In ENGLAND children send letters to FATHER CHRISTMAS listing the gifts they would like to receive for Christmas. English children developed a clever way of delivering these letters. They toss the letters into the fireplace, relying on the flames to transform them into a kind of magical smoke that wafts up the chimney and across England to Father Christmas. In ITALY children write letters to La Befana requesting that she bring them certain toys and treats when she visits their home on Epiphany eve. Spanish children write similar letters to the Wise Men, or MAGI, in the weeks before Epiphany. French children send letters to Père Noël, hoping to influence the gifts he brings them on Christmas Eve.
Seals and Stamps
At the turn of the twentieth century a number of charitable organi-zations hit on a way to use the flood of Christmas mail to raise some badly needed revenue. They began to sell CHRISTMAS SEALS which could be used to decorate envelopes and packages. In the 1960s the U.S. Postal Service chimed in by producing special Christmas stamps during the holiday season. Unlike the seals, the stamps function as valid postage. They add a further decorative note to holiday season mail.