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Santa letters a sweet, enjoyable duty

Dec 21, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Over the past week, members of The Ranger news staff have collaborated on the job of typing more than 700 letters to Santa Claus from local children.

We have been both amused and touched by letters, often at the same time.

It is a gentle, tender duty.

For many years the late Carolyn B. Tyler was our designated "Santa's elf." One of the consequences of her death in July is that the Santa letter work now is dispersed among a half dozen. It has been an enjoyable job, with no complaints other than an occasional bit of eye strain as we do our darndest to arrive at an accurate determination of what the young correspondent meant when she wrote "Wrlstlylognpn" on her list of wished-for gifts from Santa.

The gamut is wide in the realm of Santa letters. Many are the simplest of things, crayon-lettered messages in the tortured penmanship of the youngest kids able to attempt a letter. We were unfailingly interested and entertained by the effort put into spelling certain words necessary to describe a gift. "Remote control" was rendered in tons of different ways. "Mocintrole" stood out in an early letter. "I want a Mo King Troll Car," wrote another youngster. Many, many other writers followed a similar suit.

The hottest gift requests this year? The DS or 3DS, xBox, and the assured "i" gifts -- iPod, iPad and iPhone.

"I want Taylor Swift," reads one letter. Get in line, kid.

The big-headed, big-eyed doll named Lalaloopsy was on many lists, as were the Monster High Dolls. Nintendo's Wii video game system is highly sought this year. And don't worry, you traditionalists, Barbie and all her accessories are hanging in there.

Kids often stress that they want the "real" versions of things. "Santa I want a real dog, not a play one," was a version of a common refrain.

Animals in general continues to fascinate children. I'd bet half the hundred or so letters I typed either made reference to Santa's reindeer or asked for an animal. "I want a pet hog," wrote one boy, whose letter accompanied many wishes for ponies, turtles, fish, kittens and puppies."

One letter took the opposite tack, urging Santa to "take my cat up the chimney" because he was on the "naughty list."

The naughty-and-nice context of Christmas is deeply affecting to the young writers. "I have been good," "I have tried to be good," "I have ben good but my bother has not," and "I have not been good, but I am sorry," appeared in similar forms dozens and dozens of times.

"I have not been good, but I will try to make better choices," read one letter written, purportedly, by a 4-year-old.

While letters from the youngest kids usually are simple lists of desires, the Santa letters by older kids, but not too old, are a singular art form. Some writers sweet talk the old man. Others plead with him. Others present reasoned arguments. Some are downright chatty.

"How's it going, cool dude?" wrote one boy. "Santa, you are so generous and kind," penned a girl with an agenda. Santa's married life proved interesting to several writers as well. "Are you and Mrs. Claus still together," asked one.

A few memorable letters gave glimpses of a less-than-joyous Christmas season. Some kids asked if Santa could send a missing parent (usually a dad) home for Christmas. Others wished that a grandparent's illness would be cured, or that a lost one might be returned.

Santa letters often are a school project. As more and more classroom time is spent preparing for standardized testing to meet strict reading and writing mandates, some teachers have made the Santa letter part of the class a writing standard. Kids keep to a set outline and appear to have been given a set of guidelines that must be met in each letter. Page through the two Santa sections, and you'll see the ones I mean.

Kids promised Santa many treats. My favorites: "I will leave you a salad," and "I will leave you a pineapple."

As always, there are a few lecturing letters, written not by kids but by parents wanting to settle a score with an estranged spouse or lecture the world on a larger subject.

Fortunately, almost all the letters are of the traditional stripe. They are similar but distinct, each a tiny creation unto itself, earnest and moving, instantly and deeply evocative of childhood wonders.

Katie Roenigk and Jamie Drendel handled the bulk of the letters. I did a fair number as well, and Eric Blom and Alejandra Silva, our two newest staffers, typed a dozen or two. In Lander, intern Seth Dayton carried most of the load.

Spend some time next to the fire on Christmas Eve and look through the letters. You'll be touched, as we were.

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