Most children believe in the existence of Santa Claus just as our children did while growing up. Why wouldn’t they? After all, they always found the Christmas gift they prayed for under the Christmas Tree every Christmas Morning.
During the Christmas of 1994, I was posted as the Brigade Major at Binnaguri. Veteran Lieutenant General KR Rao, PVSM, AVSM, VSM was then our Colonel General Staff. Before coming to wish us ‘Merry Christmas’ he called up and our daughter Nidhi, aged three, answered the phone and asked him as to who he was. Colonel Rao with a tinge of humour said “I am the Santa Claus.” Nidhi was overjoyed and said “Thank you Santa, I got the Barbie which you sent across. How did you know that I really wanted it?”
Santa Claus – it all began with St Nicholas, saint of children and sailors, a Bishop who lived in the Fourth Century in Myra, Turkey. He was a very rich and kind man with a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people. The legend has it that a poor man who had three daughters could not get them married as he could not afford dowry. One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house which fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry. It was repeated for the second and third daughters. Thus commenced the tradition of hanging stocking by children expecting Santa to drop their gifts down the chimney.
St. Nicholas became popular in the Victorian era when writers and poets rediscovered the old stories. In 1823 the famous poem ‘A Visit from St Nicholas‘ was published by Dr Clement Clarke Moore. The poem describes St Nicholas with eight reindeer and gives them their names. They became famous with the song ‘Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer’, written in 1949. The other seven reindeer are named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.
Are these reindeer male or female? Obviously they are females as female reindeer keep their antlers throughout winter whereas the males shed them. It’s a mystery, though, why many of them have obvious masculine names, Rudolph for instance.
Santa in England became ‘Father Christmas’ or ‘Old Man Christmas’, in France, he was called ‘Père Nöel‘, in Austria and Germany he was ‘Christ kind’ a golden-haired baby, with wings, who symbolised the new born baby Jesus.
In North America his name was ‘Kris Kringle‘ (from Christkind). Later, Dutch settlers took the old stories of St Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle and St Nicholas became ‘Sinterklaas‘ or as we now say ‘Santa Claus.’
Canada is home to the tradition of children writing letters to Santa. Canada Post has been helping Santa with his mail for decades. Since the national program started in 1981, Santa’s North Pole Post Office has answered more than 27.8 million letters in 39 languages, including Braille. Look at the Postal Code – it is ‘Ho Ho Ho‘ – Santa’s signature laugh.
Santa is assisted by volunteers called ‘Postal Elves‘ who help him with this monumental task. They volunteer more than 260,000 hours to make sure all the children who write to Santa get a reply before Christmas.
The first snowfall or the Santa Claus parades held in most cities and towns across Canada is a trigger for children to write their letters to Santa. Schools, daycares and homes organise Santa letter writing. One needs to include full return address for the Postal Elves to deliver a reply. Postage is free, but Santa loves stickers. Children are encouraged to write about their favourite sports, jokes, school activities or family fun with pictures and drawings.
A child normally writes two letters to Santa, one from school and the other from home. In order to prevent a child from receiving inconsistent responses from Santa, all mails from schools and daycares are replied with a generic, poster-size group letter, which will include every child’s name. A letter from home will get a personalised response from Santa.
Santa is often asked interesting questions by children – “Does Rudolph have a girlfriend?“; “How many cookies do you eat?” and so on. Some even ask for reuniting their separated parents. He also receives requests for toys, pets, dresses, etc. The advent of modern communication technology has not reduced the number of hand-written letters to Santa, but has increased year to year.
Children dealing with issues write letters showing their concerns. These ‘special letters‘ are dealt with by a team of trained Postal Elves — from psychologists and social workers to police — who help Santa handle them. If they think the child is in danger, a process is set in motion to solve the issue. These Elves are trained to give a appropriate reply that will help provide some reassurance that someone is listening.
We must appreciate Canada Post, Postal Elves, teachers, parents and children for these letters and for keeping the tradition alive.
Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
(Images Courtesy Google)