I Write Letters As Santa Claus: This Is My Crazy Job
When you were a kid, did you ever receive a letter from "Santa Claus"? Ever wonder who it was actually from? No, it wasn't some random hobo who broke into the mail truck. A bunch of different companies write messages from "Santa," which range from printed form letters to personalized handwritten messages. Our source today, Sharon, has been writing as Santa for 30 years. The way her service worked was simple enough: Kids wrote a letter to Santa revealing their hopes, fears, and dream toys, and Sharon wrote back as "Santa." The letters she receives aren't always what you'd think -- and yes, that means this article is about to get pretty damn dark.
First, They Have To Screen Out The Pedophiles
Sharon has been a Santa writer since 1988, the year of Dukakis. She got into the business for the same reason Batman got into crime-fighting: revenge. Well, sorta.
"I started doing it after my oldest had wrote Santa and got a typed reply. Where they mentioned his name, Patrick, you could tell that it was more of a form letter and his name was typed in. He cried over it, because he didn't think Santa cared about him -- he didn't even sign it. It made me a little mad too. What was I supposed to tell him? Santa was too busy for him?"
The next year, she heard about another company that didn't use form letters, and even guaranteed each child a handwritten note. She called to order a letter, but "I was first asked, 'Are you here about the letter-writing position?' I said, 'Sure,' and after an audition and sending sample responses, I got a second job for that Christmas."
First she had to prove that she had "perfect penmanship," which somehow did not include cursive, because "we got complaints that their children couldn't read cursive anymore." If only our third-grade English teacher, Mrs. Murray, could read this. We told you cursive was BS, you old bag.
Writing fake letters from Santa is a heartwarming gig for a decent person, but it's also a ... something-else-warming gig for a creepy pedophile. "Recently, they've started doing FBI background checks. Even if we review every letter and we don't mail it directly to them, we get their envelopes and we'll have their return addresses." And that's because "We've nearly hired a child molester once, who I was told gave a great interview, but then the background check revealed that. You can't have a person like that talking to children through a fake name, even in a niche business like ours." Much less a fake name that comes with lap-sitting powers.
Kids Will Ask Santa Some Heartbreaking Questions
Santa is basically God to little kids. In fact, he's better than God, because God doesn't give you free Legos. And that means kids will beg Santa (aka Sharon) for some incredibly sad things. "There are always letters asking for Mommy and Daddy to get together. There are almost never additional details, but it doesn't help. There are always a few dozen each year like it. They think Santa can bring them something to be whole again."
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."
They Can Go To Unsettling Lengths To Seem Legitimate
There is an actual town called North Pole, Alaska. It even has an adorable sign you can take pictures with:
The town itself doesn't look all that Christmassy, and it has kind of a meth problem, like the rest of Alaska. But little kids don't know that. So Sharon and her co-workers mail all their finished letters to North Pole, where they're re-mailed to their final recipients. This ensures that every letter from Santa carries a believable postmark.
Sharon's company goes a step further in the name of Santa authenticity and spies on the kids. Wait, it's less creepy than it sounds! She and her co-workers communicate with parents and guardians via email to make sure they lock in a couple of personal details about the kid, so as to maintain the illusion of Santa's omniscience.
"What we'll also do is ask the parents for something personal we can write as Santa, so they'll think 'How could he have known that?' Usually it's an incident at school, like they got into a fight or a detention. And then we say, 'I saw your fight with Tim Johnson. I'm disappointed in you, but I've seen all the good things you've done through the year.' Recently, we've been having to say, 'My elf I sent to your house has told me ...' because of how popular Elf on the Shelf is."
But those stories aren't all as mundane as a fight with Tim Johnson, who knows damn well what he did. "The worst story is still from this family in Indiana about ten years ago. We asked for any personal stories to make it more genuine, and they told us how their child drowned two of his pet mice. We asked, 'Oh, by accident?' but they didn't answer that and went to a different story. We didn't think Santa would condone small animal torture and murder, so we had to ask for another story. I was stuck with writing him a letter on how he would be on the good list, and I worded one of my sentences, 'I'm not pleased at how you treat others who are perhaps smaller and weaker than you,' but that's as far as I went. Well, no. I left it open as to if he was on the naughty or nice list. I hope he got the message."
Now, that proto-serial-killer's parents didn't ask that their kid be put on the naughty list. But that is something parents can request from Sharon's company. They only seem to do it for really dumb reasons, though. "It only happens a few times a year, but I do need to write letters informing them that they're on the 'naughty list.' It's incredibly mean. Like the child who threw their brother down the stairs was still going on the nice list, but some of the 'naughty' children didn't help with chores, or simply forgot to do something and their parents were doing this to them."
Wow. We know who's going on the real naughty list. And by that, we mean straight to Hell.
Kids Will Share Their Darkest Secrets With Santa
Canonically, Santa is an immortal being who knows all your sins and failures. So if you're a true believer, there's no point in lying to him. As a result, Sharon reads a lot of confessionals from children. "They'll beg, 'Please Santa, I know I haven't been very good, but I really want a PlayStation 4.' Sometimes they'll give a list of everything they've done, and occasionally there will be something funny, like 'I peed in the woods' or 'I broke my iPad when I threw it out my window.'" Wait, did she mean to write "funny" or "perfectly understandable?"
Anyway, some confessions aren't nearly as cute. "There are always a few a year that confess things that can be considered crimes ... I've gotten ambiguous phrases like 'Please get mommy something nice after what daddy did to her.' How the hell are we supposed to interpret that? Did her dad hit her mom? Was it a divorce? Was it a playful kiss or hug she misinterpreted? We don't know, so we need to respond with something like 'Your mother may like something nice from you, like a hug.' And keep it like that. There is a threshold of what we need to report, but it needs to be specific. We've never reached it, but it's there."
Letter-Writers Watch Childhoods Die In Real Time
At some point, we all realize that Santa Claus is a convenient fiction designed to add some wonder to childhood / help the government cover up 9/11. Sharon noted that the older the kids get, the more skeptical their letters to Santa become. Part of her job is trying to keep that naive sense of magic alive for one or two more years.
"Around nine or ten, you can tell from how they write that it's almost over. [The average age is 8.8.] I've had children up until the tweens write me, but that's the farthest it's gone. When they start to say 'I didn't get what I asked you for last year, but my parents got me them,' they're starting to think it out."
Sometimes Sharon gets straight-up breakup letters from children. "I've gotten angry letters from children [that] their parents obviously didn't screen. The first angry letter I got was from a child who said, 'You used the same wrapping paper as my mom! Mom, why did you do this?' because they thought the letter was going back to her ... instead of someone like me. Last year, I got a letter from a child who said, 'My parents are making me write this, but I know you aren't real. Last Christmas, a box from you had a receipt with my Dad's name and credit card number on it.'"
And some kids decide the whole Santa thing deserves more investigation. "I also get the science class children who send me numbers of flight times and how much night there is on December 24 and 25, and they say, 'It doesn't make sense!' And every year, children go through the same numbers and the same theories and write about it. Some look like they're conversations they had, and are pleading for me to give a rational answer. Sometimes I get their theories, too. I liked the girl who once asked me if I sneak in with their relatives during Thanksgiving and hide out in their house until Christmas to deliver gifts." Somehow, that makes it even creepier than merely sliding down your chimney like a snake.
"Usually, we're supposed to say 'It's a secret' or 'I slow down time,' and more recently, 'I have helpers all over.' Something they can't easily go on. And they'll cling to it."
It's debatable whether or not lying to kids about Santa is good for them in the long run. Psychiatrists suggest it can erode trust in parents once found out. But it's not Sharon's job to answer that question, or to back down when it's clear some St. Nicholas Truther has stumbled onto reality. "There's not much I can say when they're that close. As a rule, we can't say, 'You got us, he isn't real,' but we can nudge them into the idea [that] 'Santa' giving things to people who behave is worth it. I'll say, 'Even if you don't believe in me, always remember that good behavior brings good things to you and others.' Yeah, it's corny, but it softens the blow a bit."
The internet age has not been great for Sharon's company. They receive fewer letters from kids now, and the letters they do receive are more likely to be skeptical. "Older children who still believe have said they've asked people online. They've never told me how it went, but if you look at a site and see the comments underneath, and now imagine that they're asking if Santa is real, you can imagine how mean some comments must be." Knowing internet commenters, those kids are lucky if they're only told that Santa is a lie, and not inundated with a 6,000-word essay on how he's ideologically a Nazi.
"We had a consultant come in and show us a few, and children were sworn at, and told to eat 'crap' (except it's not 'crap'). Every time, they were told they were stupid." Sharon hasn't yet received a letter from a kid asking why strangers on the internet said Santa wasn't real, but she's prepared a response for that inevitability. "'All of those people are on the naughty list, and feel so bad that they're on the naughty list that they do this to others to feel better.' It's not that far from the truth, is it?"
It's the truest damn thing we've ever heard, Sharon. You go on and preach.
Santa's always watching your kids, but sometimes the man needs a break. Watch your kids yourself with a video monitor from Summer Infant.
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