Did Your Kids Write Letters to Santa? A Surprising History (Spoiler Alert)
We were recently talking about the approaching holiday season when the subject of writing letters to Santa came up. Was it something your kids did and do kids still do it?
The responses we received were both sweet and funny.
Yes!! My daughter wrote a letter to Santa, put it in the mail box. I was suppose to take it out but I forgot. She got a letter back from Santa. WHAT? Santa IS real. The post office will send a letter back from Santa. - Karmen Wiesinger
But it also made us wonder what the history of this traditional activity was.
The information I discovered from Smithsonian Magazine, was a little surprising, but also more than a little interesting as a looking glass to view U.S. history.
By history's estimation, we got the Santa letter thing all turned around from when it started back in the 1800s. Parents wrote the letters to their children under the guise of being the Christmas guy. The motivation was to improve their children's behavior.
In fact, the earliest depictions of St. Nicholas showed him in clerical robes holding a switch, standing next to a weeping kid. The stuff he put in stockings amounted to weapons of discipline, not the goodies and toys in a kid's imagination.
Fast-forward a few decades and kids got tired of being chastised by St. Nicholas and started writing back (letters of explanation probably). During the Civil War, the price of postage dropped and parents were more inclined to mail letters to Santa.
Harper's Weekly magazine's depiction of St. Nicholas in 1871 helped to cement his appearance and address in the minds of children everywhere.
More decades roll past and the Postal Service offices around the country started coming up with ideas and programs that would handle this influx of letters to the (by now) "fat guy".
Operation Santa Claus got a boost from its appearance in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street and continues today with volunteers reading and fulfilling the Christmas wishes of children in the New York area.
The evolution of children's requests is also a reflection of our changing world. In 1913 a child pleaded for a new glass eye...
while in another, a boy negotiates with Santa to “trade you my sister when she comes from the stork for an elf.” A number of poorer children writing at the start of the 20th century even ask for coal—seeking warmth rather than viewing it as a punishment for naughtiness.
In 2008 a little boy named Travis wrote to Santa:
Dear Santa -
I would like these things:
2.My whole family to be there
3.Sick people to heal
5. A Million dollars
Just when you think the kid is the sweetest, most unselfish little tyke. . .!
Oh well, he did ask for world peace.