Santa responds to children's letters
Published: Sunday, December 23, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 4:19 p.m.
Karen Pearson likens the importance of believing in Santa Claus to understanding the concept of love.
The deadline for the city's Letters to Santa program has passed, but children — with parents' permission and help — can still engage with the Jolly Old Elf. Here are some websites to keep tabs on Santa.
www.santaclaus.net: The North Pole Times, The Latest North Pole News and Santa's Official Newsletter: Ask Santa questions, track Santa's sleigh, check the weather at the North Pole and see how where you are on Santa's naughty-or-nice list.
www.history.com/topics/santa-claus: The man we know as Santa Claus has a history all his own that stretches back to the third century. Find out more about the history of Santa Claus from his earliest origins to the shopping mall favorite of today.
www.northpole.com: Download activities for children in pre-K to third grade, play online games, and write a letter to Santa. NOTE: Some links lead to gift shopping sites.
www.santa-claus.com/call: Get a pre-recorded, interactive phone call from Santa ($5.95), or talk to Santa live ($12.95) on this site. Only two hours notice required.
You can't see love; you can't touch love; you can't smell love, she said. But you can feel love.
Pearson, a school counselor at Stephen Foster Elementary School in Gainesville, says that writing letters to Santa fosters that understanding.
“It's important that children be able to believe in something, even though they can't see it,” she says.
Through the city of Gainesville's Operation Letters to Santa program, children in kindergarten through third grade, or children who believe, got the chance to write letters to Santa Claus and receive responses — with a little help from Santa's helpers.
The letters were mailed, dropped off at the city's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs office, or faxed. In addition to the child's top three Christmas wishes, the letters included two of the child's accomplishments.
The program began three years ago and is meant to encourage students to write, said Katharine Forbes, a marketing technician with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. It's based on the Character Counts curriculum, which teaches the six pillars of good character: respect, citizenship, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness and caring.
“We are the elves at the department,” Forbes said. “We want to help Santa hear about all of the good kids in Gainesville.”
The exercise not only helps parents figure out what their children want for Christmas, but it teaches children an important skill: letter writing.
“Writing letters is considered good practice for the FCAT,” Forbes said. “It's encouraging students to sit down and actually think about what they're writing,”
Elizabeth Sheward, a teacher at Stephen Foster Elementary School, had her third-grade class participate in the Macy's Believe campaign, which donates $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for every letter received.
Sheward had her students ask for what they wish for the world, and for things that would benefit others, not tangible gifts.
“My hope is that it helps them understand the greater good,” she said, adding that writing letters in a good skill to have.
Pearson agrees. “Academically, any time you're sitting down and organizing your thoughts, you're going to be a better writer,” she said.
Pearson emphasizes the exercise can have emotional benefits, as well, as long as parents prepare their children.
“We hope it's introduced in a way that they're going to be comfortable with the outcome. Parents should set parameters with their children on what they should expect,” she said. “Santa doesn't bring everything to everybody.”
The city of Gainesville's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs receives about 250 letters each year since the program began in 2010.
Before the Letters to Santa program, the city ran a Santa Calling program for more than six years. Mrs. Claus would call children whose parents had filled out forms and prepared them for a talk with Santa.
“It was a huge undertaking,” said Mary Harker, a staff specialist at the department. One year, the department made more than 1,000 calls.
Sometimes Operation Letters to Santa keeps children writing at a time where texting and typing trump sitting down with a pen and paper, Harker said. For every letter sent to the city, there is a return letter from Santa, including an illustration, signature and wax stamp.
Harker said she has helped respond to the letters since the program began. Her favorite letters, she said, are the ones where children don't ask for anything in particular.
“Some are really sad, and some are really sweet,” she says.
One boy, a 9-year-old named Jacob, wrote a letter to Santa last year citing his improved behavior in school. He asked for a new outfit for his grandmother, who was very sick.
“I just want her to feel better,” Jacob wrote.
Another child, second-grader Destiny, asked that other children in the world receive gifts as well.
“We all feel it's very important for them to write,” said Harker. “You've got to believe, and you've got to keep the spirit alive.”
LETTERS TO SANTA
Here's a sampling of the nearly 300 letters to Santa received by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs' Letters to Santa program:
Dear Santa Claus,
I would like a Nintendo DSi XL and a Lego Ninjago Ultraheaded Dragon and roller skates. I am doing good in school. I am nice to my friends, and I help around the house. Have a Merry Christmas.
(Age 6 1/2, boy)
I did soccer, I was really good.
I learned to read. Please bring me an Easy Bake Ultimate Oven, a Lalaloopsy, a Minnie Mouse Kitchen.
I love u, Jade
During this year, I traveled to Gainesville and I learned many things. I left the ESOL program in a few months and now I am one of the best in my class, also I ran a 5K race with my mom and sister. Here are my three wishes: First wish, a Lego Pirates of the Caribbean Black Pearl pirate ship, and second I want a Nintendo DS and three Lego games from the Ds.
(Boy, age 7)
It's Lauryn (girl). I am now 9 yaers old. I still live at the same place. This year I have done Girl Scouts and tennis and I am working hard in school. I would like you to try to bring me a Polly Pocket Roller Coaster Resort, Barbie Bridal Set and a bike. I hope you are well and your elves are doing great!
I want to ask you to please bring me: 1. DS game Mario Kant 2. DS game Ben Ten 3. DS game Kirby 4. GAK 5. Lego Batman 6 DS game Pokemon gold and silver 7. The Lego Star Wars with General Greevas 8. Pokemaon cards
I am in first grade and I am 6 years old. For Christmas I want Skylanders and a Furby and Orbeez. I was good all year! I got all Es on my report card. My owl at school stays on ready to learn. I hope that you are doing well.
May name is Lily and I am 3 years old (I'm still practicing my writing skills so mommy is writing this for me). This year I am proud of my accomplishments. I can write my name (like this, see: Lily) and I learned how to ride my princess bike. My Christmas wishes this year are: 1. A dog bone to give to my Nana's poodle, Basia. 2. Strawberry Shortcake movie 3. Spaghetti and meatballs.
I love you, Santa! Goodbye.
(This is a heart I drew for you.)
I hope you have had a nice year. Thanks for the roller skates, I really like them. I tried to be as good as I could this year. This year for Christmas, I would like a Denver Bronco football uniform with helmet and cleats like the Gators one, please. If not the uniform, I would like an LSU football helmet or a Missouri Tigers football helmet. I am nine years old and I am a boy. Two things I am proud of are getting straight As in school and qualifying for a Nationals in gymnastics!
I want a pink Baby Lips, I stand alone painting by Christin Cambrea, the movie Shark Boy and Lava Girl, a $10 gift card to Gap Kids, a camera.
I want a computer, a Princess Doll, a signed picture of you and Mrs. Claus, a My Little Pony Dolls of the whole group of My Little Ponys.
I want a truck car and an airplane and the new Jordens, and I want a small PSP with a game. That's all, Santa. And one more thing: I want an electric scooter. That's it. Santa, have a nice Christmas.