Letters to Santa Reveal the Emotional Toll of the Pandemic in Children

“Children have been very affected by COVID-19, more than we think. They are very worried. And what they want most, apart from the gifts, is really to be able to have a normal life, the end of COVID, a vaccine," says head elf Jamila Hajji.

Un buzón del correo donde niños pueden poner sus cartas a Santa Claus.

Jim from Taiwan slipped a mask into the greeting card he sent to Santa and marked A "I (heart) to you." Meanwhile, 5-year-old Alina asked in her letter from Santa Claus to use the front door when entering, because the back door is reserved for grandparents to minimize the risk of contamination.

And pouring out her little heart to "Dear Santa Claus", Lola, 10 years old, wrote that she wishes "that my aunt will never have cancer again and that this virus no longer exists." The little girl explained that her "mother is a caregiver and sometimes I am afraid for her", in a letter that she signed with the message "Take care of yourself, Santa Claus and the Elves."

The emotional toll caused by the pandemic is jumping off the pages in the deluge of "Dear Santa" letters now arriving at a post office in southwestern France that sorts and responds to your mail from around the world.

Arriving in the tens of thousands, the letters, notes and cards - some simple scribbles, others elaborate labor of love in colored pens - are revealing windows into the tender minds of their young authors and adult Santa fans who also ask for a respite and happiness, at the end of a year of sickness and tumult.

Like this letter from young Zoe, who limited her requests to a music player and tickets to the amusement park because "this year has been very different from the others due to COVID-19."

"That is why I am not asking you for many things to avoid infection," Zoe wrote, closing with "Merci!" and a heart.

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In theory, and often in practice, any letter addressed to "Père Noel" (French for Santa Claus) and slipped into any mailbox around the world is likely to reach the sorting office in the French region from Bordeaux who has been handling his mail since 1962.

Working out of sight among vineyards, his secretary of workers (who call themselves "elves") spend the months of November and December opening envelopes decorated with hearts, stickers and colors, and spreading the magic of Santa Claus answering on his behalf.

From the first open letters at the secretariat on November 12, it quickly became clear how the pandemic is affecting children, says head elf Jamila Hajji. Along with the usual pleas for toys and gadgets, vaccinations, visits from grandparents, and for life to go back to the way it was, were also requested. One in three letters mentions the pandemic in some way, Hajji says.

A Bristol, Va., man decided to put his Christmas lights back up to cheer people up during the coronavirus pandemic. "If I'm driving by, it makes me excited, so imagine what a kid is going to be like if they see this popping up," he said.

“Children have been very affected by COVID-19, more than we think. They are very worried. And what they want most, apart from the gifts, is really to be able to have a normal life, the end of COVID, a vaccine, "she says.

“The letters to Santa Claus are a kind of liberation for them. All this year, they have been locked up, they have been deprived of school, deprived of their grandparents. His parents have been busy with the health crisis and all that. So, of course, we can say that the children are putting into words everything they have felt during this period. We are like therapist elves, "he adds.

Responding to 12,000 letters per day, the team of 60 elves set aside a few that move or attract attention. Lola's is one of those that have stood out so far, with her sincere confession to Santa that "this year more than the others, I need magic and I believe in you." The elves say they get the feeling that children confide in concerns that they may not have shared with their parents.

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As the letters arrive, it also becomes clear that this goes beyond childhood. Santa is also proving to be a beacon to adults, with some writing to him for the first time since they were children.

One called for "a pandemic of love." A 77-year-old man lamented that “the confinement is not fun! I live alone." 

"A grandfather asked Santa Claus to say 'Hello' to my two grandchildren who I will not be able to see this year due to the health situation."

"Your mission will be difficult this year," wrote Anne-Marie. "You will need to scatter stars all over the world, to calm everyone down and revive our childhood souls, so that we can finally dream and let go."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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