The standard response is "Only your mother and father are in charge of that." Sharon and her colleagues have to be very careful not to send a reply that might be seen as taking one parent's side in a conflict. "The reason we need to write like that back was because one year we had a writer who, when writing as Santa, said that his mommy was right during an argument the child mentioned. The dad opened the letter first, and he called and let our manager have it. It's why we need to type before what we're going to write and have it approved."
Sharon did let us in on a little secret: Having a sibling die apparently guarantees you a spot on the nice list. "After a devastating loss like that, they need some kind words, and when we tell them they're on the nice list, a little good news can go a long way. It's not much, but it's something good in their lives at a time like that."
Hey, there's a reason suicide peaks around the Yuletide season, and we're not even done yet. "Some orphanages and foster homes pay for this service as something nice for the children. And they ask for parents. A few years, I answered letters that pleaded for parents." Yep, we're diving into a Russian nesting doll of horrible here.
"About five years ago, I got [what] turned out to be a letter that several other writers couldn't answer. I called my boss and he said the buck stopped with me, and when I read it, I understood why. He wanted [his] parents -- who had 'hit him' -- back for Christmas." Several other writers at the company tried and failed to craft a proper response. What do you even say to a kid in that situation? Santa can't call an abused child's estranged parents garbage people, however correct that might be.
"What we settled on was saying that his mother and father had to work on their emotions and actions themselves, but in a way a seven-year-old can understand. You can't promise them back, and you can't promise a new, more loving family. What you can say is that adults need to work on it themselves, but Santa will do everything he can to make it a better Christmas. For that letter, we actually called his foster home and asked what he'd be getting so that we would know that we wouldn't lie with that. That led to a conversation with the foster parent about what really happened. It was ten times ... darker than what the child said in the letter, but we were told he was a sweet boy who only wanted love."
A significant number of children seem to think that Santa can raise the dead. We're not really sure how that rumor got started (to us, he was always just the fat dude who broke into houses with a bag full of toys). But Sharon deals with a lot of requests for resurrections. "I've had requests to bring grandma and grandpa back to life, like Santa can reverse death. For them, we give a 'We can't bring them back, but if you remember them, then they're never truly gone,' which is a really sweet thing to say that parents have complimented us on before."
A lot of kids ask Santa to give them a baby brother or sister (and we desperately hope they simply don't know how that whole process works yet). Sharon had one story that gave us hope for the future of race relations in America: "The best I got was a letter from a five-year-old who stipulated 'White or black is fine,' but just 'please make them like wrestling.' Which was amazing."