Santa Claus Alive and Well in the Hearts of Caring Strangers
“If your child addresses a letter to the North Pole,” The UPS Store tweeted out last Sunday, “you can leave it with us. We do shredding.” The tweet, which has now been deleted, was probably meant to be humorous — a nod to what we parents know about Santa Claus but our wide-eyed, hopeful little ones do not — but it fell completely flat. Why? Because even we who know the truth still, deep in our heart of hearts, believe.
We aren’t delusional. We know, I hope, that a fat guy in a red suit doesn’t slide down our chimneys every December 24, eat all our cookies, and leave behind some presents (I mean, face it, that would be creepy). But Santa — the idea of Santa — is still alive and well, hard at work in the hearts of people all over the world. Underneath the political chatter, the tweets meant to “own” whomever we disagree with, the name-calling and the back-stabbing in supposed service of one ideology or another, regular people are quietly living out the spirit of Christmas.
In the southwest corner of Indiana is a little town called Santa Claus. And every year at Christmastime Santa Claus’s elves assemble and get to work. They are led by the chief elf, 87-year-old Pat Koch, who is carrying on the legacy of her father, Jim, who called himself “the real Santa Claus.” Each year Koch and her army of volunteer elves answer almost 25,000 letters to Santa.
A video from The New York Post explains that the USPS started unofficially forwarding Santa letters to Santa Claus, Indiana, after the town was featured by "Ripley’s Believe It Or Not" in 1930. Today, funded by donations, the elves send personalized letters back to every child, writing as Santa. The elves are careful. “Santa’s elves never promise to bring whatever the child wants,” says Joyce Robinson, 72, a volunteer elf and former children’s librarian. But they do make sure that each child knows that they’ve been heard.
Sometimes the letters ask for things that no one — Santa or otherwise — is reliably able to give. One letter, for example, asked for a cure for sickle cell anemia. Pat Koch calmly told her elves to write back that “Santa is absolutely hoping and praying for a cure for sickle cell anemia.” For children whose parents are deployed, Joyce Robinson always writes, “When I fly over Afghanistan or Iraq I’ll dip down and see how daddy’s doing, okay?” Pat Koch says, “Santa Claus embodies everything we all ought to be: somebody that cares so much, somebody that loves so much, somebody that’s giving, and making people happy, right?”
But it’s not just the people of Santa Claus, Indiana, who are keeping the Christmas spirit alive. And it isn’t just the actual, physical letters to Santa that need to be answered. Sometimes its just a good deed or a friendly face that reaches out from one heart to another. Because if Santa is anything at all, he’s the idea that we are not alone and that no matter how isolated we feel, we are seen and we matter. And everywhere, all across the country, are people working hard — for no personal gain — to make sure that idea isn’t shredded in the hearts and minds of the people who need it most.
An anonymous man in Vestal, New York, handed out envelopes with $50 bills inside to every shopper in a Goodwill store. “I’m a mother of two kids and the holidays get really tight,” said Liz Vallet, who received one of these envelopes. “It really, I don’t think he or her could realize how much that made my heart sparkle. It was really unbelievable.” The man left without anyone ever learning his name.
The mother of a disabled man in Clearwater, Florida, wrote a letter to the editor of the Idaho County Free Press to thank the stranger who bought their son a new walker after his fell out of the back of his car and was run over.
A teacher at Livingston Elementary School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, raised enough money to buy a Christmas present for every single child. “For me it was the best Christmas experience I ever had,” fourth-grader Jesus Diomicio told News12 New Jersey.
As Francis Pharcellus Church so famously wrote in The Sun in 1897, “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy . . . he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
Shred the letters to Santa? Ha! You couldn’t if you tried. Merry Christmas.