Deborah Knight Snyder: Keeping the faith in North Pole, Alaska
We still have the letter, handwritten in green and red ink, and the now-tattered envelope in which it came.
It was December 1998. A letter arrived in our mailbox addressed simply to “Willie”, my then-9-year-old son, at our address. In the return-address corner was written: “Santa, North Pole.” The point of origination on the authentic U.S. postmark: North Pole, Alaska.
Willie had already heard the vicious rumor being bandied around his third-grade classroom. You know the innocence-robbing rumor I mean: the one that asserts that there really is no Santa Claus.
When Willie asked me about it that year, I, deciding he was too young, assured him of Santa’s authenticity.
Then I want to write him a letter, Willie said.
In his letter, my son told Santa that Christmas was his favorite holiday, and, not wanting to be too greedy, asked only for Shel Silverstein’s book, “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” We addressed the letter to Santa at the North Pole, stamped the envelope with a real stamp, and headed to the post office. I made a big ceremony of putting his letter in the mailbox. There it goes — off to Santa! He’s real, and he’s going to read your words, I declared.
The post office visit alone seemed enough to assuage his there’s-no-Santa fears, but we couldn’t have anticipated the fairytale delight of the return letter, which arrived just a few days before Christmas. Its words: Dear Willie, You have good tastes in holidays. Christmas is my favorite holiday also. The reindeer, elves, and Ms. Claus also like Christmas the best. We are all united. MERRY CHRISTMAS! Your friend, SANTA
It was a magical experience for all of us.
When the North Pole letter had first arrived, it was so extraordinary that my husband and I weren’t quite sure what to do. What is this letter? Should we open it first?
Then I recalled a long-ago-read article about people in North Pole, Alaska, answering letters to Santa. Volunteers there sit down and answer as many kids’ letters as reach them.
That North Pole letter was all Willie needed as absolute proof that Santa existed.
“I really wanted to believe that Santa was real. That letter cemented it for me,” Will, now a sophomore in college, recalls about his third-grade self.
Thanks to that letter, the magic for Will lasted a few more years, perhaps even longer than for many kids. When he ultimately learned the truth, he said he felt like he’d “lost an old friend.”
So it was with a feeling of melancholy for the simplicity of yesteryear that I read last month of the U.S. postal service’s decision to discontinue its practice, begun in 1954, of delivering Santa letters to North Pole, Alaska.
Postal security has apparently been tightened over the past few years, understandably so, with access to children’s names and addresses needing to be restricted, the result being a lot of extra work for the post office.
The straw that broke the camel’s back apparently stemmed from an incident in Maryland, where a postal worker recognized an Operation Santa volunteer there to be a registered sex offender. Though nothing bad happened, the situation was enough for the postal service to decide to end the practice of delivering kids’ letters, with their return addresses, to North Pole, Alaska.
I can certainly understand the postal service’s position, but still, it’s sad.
According to The Associated Press, the volunteer elves in North Pole aren’t taking this lying down. They pride themselves on all things Christmas, and the letter response program is a backbone of their holidays. A group named Santa’s Mailbag is working on getting a formal address: 101 Santa Claus Lane, North Pole, Alaska, so that local volunteers will have a legitimate address and can bypass the postal service’s new rules.
Here’s hoping the Santa’s Mailbag elves prevail, because, with the stroke of a pen, they have the ability to prolong a child’s magical belief in Santa Claus — the excitement of anticipating his arrival, of leaving cookies out for him, of waking up Christmas morning and running joyfully to see what he brought during the night — for a few more precious years.
It’s a gift better than any Santa himself could bring.
Deborah Knight Snyder is a longtime correspondent for Massachusetts' Mansfield News, Norton Mirror and Easton Journal. She can be reached at email@example.com.