The holidays have always been home to some quirky traditions. With September nearing its close, some are quick to prepare for the much-awaited Christmas season which is sure to be a festive event anticipated by families around the world. Besides the act of gift giving and the occasional family reunion Christmas dinners, one tradition that may have been overlooked by our adult minds is the act of writing letters to Santa. Whether we have outgrown the practice or have turned merely to holiday cards as a more modern alternative to writing a message, the long-standing history of writing letters to Santa is one that is full of peculiar instances that has shaped our generation’s view on Santa.
The myth of Santa Claus
The birth of the legend of Santa Claus is from Saint Nicholas of Myra whose good deeds and acts of charity led him to become the saint of charity and generosity. Though based on a real-life figure, he is far from being the jolly old fellow riding a wagon pulled by magical reindeer. The current iteration of St. Nicholas’ fictitious name Santa Claus had Dutch origins. The Dutch gave him the name ‘Sinter Klass’ which would later become the basis of the name Santa Claus.
His iconic red suit was loosely based on his traditional red robes and pointed hat which were everyday bishop garment of the time. His jolly figure and current character design originate from cartoonist Thomas Nast’s depiction of him which spread as early as the late 1820s.
The postal service dilemma of the late 19th century
Soon after the publication of Nast’s illustration of Santa Claus depicted sorting his mail of ‘naughty’ and ‘good’ children, swarms of children who saw the image took to their writing desks and awaited their chance to mail a letter to Santa to convince them of their innocence. The U.S. mailing service received thousands of letters from children writing to Santa which left the service in disarray with what to do with the letters that they could not send to one receiver in particular. The notes would either have to be stored or manually returned to the senders which caused a great deal more work for the holidays.
Continuing the correspondence
The holidays are rooted in historical tradition that is reflective of society’s spirit and the acceptance of the unknown as a part of our daily life. Entertaining the idea of Santa isn’t about being silly, but about being hopeful. The thought of sending a letter to a magical figure, let alone receiving a message from him, is a bizarre yet charming acceptance of the child-like heart in all of us. Besides the US, getting a letter from Santa in the UK and various parts of the world has become a tradition that is done by parents and charitable organisations to spread the message of hope and joy to the future generation of our youth.