They asked for apples and oranges, puppies and candy, new shoes and dolls with dresses. Some wrote in heartfelt verse; some made heartbreaking appeals on behalf of needy loved ones. Some asked for things that just cannot be delivered by sleigh, like joy in a house that has lost a member of the family.
They were children who sent their Christmas wishes to Santa Claus generations ago, in letters addressed to the jolly old elf that ended up at the post office. The US Postal Service this year marked the 100th anniversary of the official start of its Letters to Santa program, which seeks to match the neediest writers with benefactors. But post office workers were fielding children’s wistful missives years before that.
“Please bring me a pair of shoes, a trunk for a doll and a doll. I guess I will close with love to all,” wrote a girl in Greenfield in a letter addressed to Santa Claus, the North Pole, published in the Boston Daily Globe in 1903. “P.S. — There is a baby in my house; don’t be afraid when you come in, and don’t run out and not give us any presents. He might be hollering.”
Poetry was apparently popular among younger writers back in the day. So was sibling generosity.
“Dear Santa Claus: I should say Mr./Though you skip me, remember Sister//She has been ill, but she is better/So I ask you not to forget her,” one Thomas F. Porter of Lynn wrote in a 1919 letter published in the Globe. “She wants a doll with pretty dresses/and eyes of blue and waving tresses.”
The Letters to Santa program allows postal workers to comb through letters to try to identify families in need and then make the letters available to people who wish to help out. This year, the Greater Boston district received thousands of letters, including about 1,000 it set aside for possible philanthropists, said Christine Dugas, spokeswoman for the district. About half were adopted by benefactors, she said.
The program is a lot bigger than it was in 1921, when Roland M. Baker, postmaster of the district, received 37 letters between Dec. 1 and Dec. 13, according to the Globe. Six were addressed to Santa Claus in Boston; six more were sent to Dorchester; and four young writers located St. Nick in the Back Bay. (The rest were addressed to colder locales: Iceland, Greenland, and the North Pole.)
The 1921 Globe article quoted the letter of a girl who requested toys and clothing for her brothers and sisters and ended with a tragic note.
“Dear Santa, I’ll tell you something what happened at our house Nov. 3,” she wrote. “Our father died — and will you try to help us?”
Kids generally do not write letters anymore. Why take up a pen when you can tap on an iPad? Why type when you can text? But this is the one time of year when the iGeneration still puts crayon to paper, because as far as anyone knows, Santa Claus does not text.
Some of this year’s letters are heartfelt, some are heartbreaking. Some, still, ask for things that just cannot be delivered by sleigh. And many more than you might think ask not for themselves, but for someone else.
“Please let there be peace on Earth and donate to the home less, unforchanit, and hungry!” reads one letter, adorned with red-and-green wreaths, that showed up at the Fort Point station.
“You get the needy, the greedy, and everyone in between,” Dugas said. “You get the ones that make you cry and the ones that just really make you appreciate the season.”
Dugas, who has worked in the Postal Service for 26 years, recalled a letter written by a little boy who sent a portrait of a baby, so that Santa could send his mom a new one, to replace a sibling who had died.
“Saddest one I ever got,” Dugas said. “There are some things you just can’t get for Christmas.”
Another year, she recalled, a boy requested heat for his cousins, whose family was having trouble paying its bills. A benefactor donated $1,500, and the next day someone paid for the following year.
District manager Charles Lynch, who has worked 45 years in the service, recalled a letter that arrived a couple of Christmases ago.
“The girl was 7; she wanted warm clothing for her brother,” he said. “I know I was not that altruistic as a kid.”
The Fort Point station this year has received a lot of letters from children asking for toys for their friends. And some aim higher.
“Santa for Christmas I don’t want any presents,” reads one letter. “I just noticed that Christmas isn’t just for toys, Christmas is all about love and families going together. My only present is only for me to get good grades in schools.”
“. . . Well, I better go, it was nice talking to you.”