Nov. 29, 2012 at 4:58 PM ET
PowerPoint presentations. Wish lists at online registries. Webcams and tweets. Welcome to writing to Santa Claus 2.0.
Today’s tech-savvy kids have put a new twist on the time-honored tradition of pleading their case for niceness before St. Nick and asking for whatever their hearts desire most. And Santa will even write back.
“The Internet and Santa’s magic work quite well together,” said Alan Kerr, head elf at EmailSanta.com, adding that answering the more than 1 million letters a year received by the site is nothing compared with delivering gifts around the world in one night.
EmailSanta.com allows kids to write directly to Santa, watch him checking out his map via a 24/7 Webcam, and follow his tweets at @KringleClaus. (A typical tweet might include a "HHHOL" and say something like: "Those silly elves are playing dinosaurs again! Roar! Roar! What a funny sight!")
Kerr started the business in 1996 from his home in Calgary in Alberta, Canada during a postal strike when his nieces and nephews were disappointed they wouldn’t be able to mail letters to Santa. He expected a handful of messages and instead got 100,000 in a few weeks.
“It wasn’t like nowadays where domain names are pretty obvious,” Kerr said. “Back then, the URL was longer than Santa’s beard. It wasn’t something people would find by accident.”
On a recent weekday, traffic to the site came from South Africa, Ecuador, the United States and Ireland. Pre-Thanksgiving, EmailSanta.com received a letter every 30 seconds, but Kerr said that number typically increases to several each second as Christmas gets closer.
The emails sent to EmailSanta.com have ranged from hopeful ...
Can I also have some magic cream to get rid of my Daddy's grey hair.
... to confessional:
I've been bad a few times this year but I hope you can still see the good in me and not just the naughty. I really can be a good kid!
Sory bout the exlaxx in the milk last yeer. Poppa wasnt to happi.
... to bluntly practical:
Santa, you know how it is nowadays, my parents are divorced, so please put me on your special delivery list to come 2 nights, Christmas Eve at Mom's and Christmas night at Dad's. Thank you!
Dear Santa ...
There are many other Santa-related websites and online methods kids use to connect with their main man. Michele Niec of Nashville, Tenn., said her 9-year-old son, Austin, has been receiving monthly e-mails from Santa Claus since September after mailing him a postcard through Macy’s last year.
“He was completely surprised about it,” Niec said. “He was very excited.”
Austin, however, doesn’t make a list for Santa, believing “if Santa is watching me every day, he knows what I want.”
But many young writers don’t take such chances. EmailSanta.com has received lengthy lists from Target’s gift registry, videos made by children, digital photos and even a PowerPoint presentation detailing must-have presents. The wishes themselves also have evolved.
“This year is very interesting,” Kerr said. “For the first 12 or so years, the top 10 always had a puppy, a bicycle, Barbies. Now those rarely appear in the top 10. It’s very much electronics.”
Kids can be just as creative online as on paper.
“It’s good to see kids pick up crayons and pencils and practice their handwriting, but on the other hand, it is a different era we’re living in now,” Kerr said.
Though they may be part of the digital age, many children do stick to old-school ways of writing to Santa, with a traditional letter addressed to him at the North Pole.
“Most are handwritten,” said Pete Fontana, chief elf for the U.S. Postal Service’s Operation Santa Claus. “Those are the ones I love the best, especially the ones who do the color drawings and put glitter and stuff on them to make them look really pretty.”
Fontana runs the 100-year-old program for the five boroughs of New York and has been a part of it for 16 years. After kids write letters to Santa, anyone can adopt up to 10 letters to answer. With 300,000 to 500,000 notes received each year just from the city, the art of letter writing is far from dead.
“There are funny ones, ones that touch your heart, sad ones, interesting ones,” Fontana said.
A unique bond
Children often write to Santa with their deepest concerns and wishes, not just to ask for tangible gifts.
“I discovered that quickly, the very first year, the very special relationship between Santa and kids,” said Kerr, who runs a computer program screening for certain words and refers children to police and other authorities if their letters indicate they have a problem that requires intervention.
“Kids share with Santa things that they wouldn’t tell anyone else,” he said. “You have to take it seriously. It’s serious being Santa. It’s a lot of fun but a lot of responsibility too.”
That has been reflected in emails Kerr has received this year, like this one:
"I just wish that the parents of a friend of mine really loved him (which they don't), as he now lives in an Aid Center for kids and I want him to get out of there!"
—Name withheld by Santa
Carole S. Slotterback, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania and author of “The Psychology of Santa,” said kids open up to Santa about their most heartfelt concerns.
“It’s more than just presents,” Slotterback said. “He’s kind of a confidant. Some of the letters that I’ve analyzed don’t ask for any presents at all. All they want is for their mom and dad to stop fighting for once and be nice to each other, or they want Santa to send an angel to watch over their grandmother.”
Current events often weigh on children’s minds. Slotterback, Fontana and Kerr all said the economic downturn in recent years has led to more letters asking for basic needs to be met. They anticipate an increase this year in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast.
“They’re kids. They’re not stupid,” Slotterback said. “They’re going to pick up on economic hardships.”
She noted that the tone of letters was much less festive after 9/11.
“In 2001, the letters were different after the terror attacks,” she said. “They were much more containing wishes for other people, not just themselves. The drawings were much more patriotic, and they were using flag stamps as opposed to using Christmas stamps.”
For New York’s chief elf, there have been many favorite stories over the years. Fontana said his new favorite letter was received last year from a family that was living in a basement and didn’t have enough beds for the kids. They were asking for a queen-sized bed.
“I put the letter down on my desk and my phone rang within 10 seconds — people think this is not a true story — it’s Sleepy’s [mattress store] on the phone,'' he said. "They wanted to help [with the program].”
Fontana managed to get the bed to the family with help from Sleepy's.
“I’m more like a doubting Thomas kind of guy,” Fontana said. “I felt like the guy in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ when they see the cane in the house. It’s just one of those moments that I can’t explain. That is either an extreme coincidence or something other. I’d like to believe there’s something magic with Santa.”