For 55 years, on the first Saturday following Thanksgiving, hundreds of children and families have lined Market Street for the Wilmington Jaycees annual Christmas parade that stars the one and only Santa Claus.
One of the parade’s special features that many children most look forward to is the opportunity to slip an early wish list to Santa by depositing a note in the North Pole mailbox on his float.
Parade organizers say Santa’s receptacle regularly gets as many as 500 missives from hopeful children. It’s easy to see how the jolly old elf might need some help reading and getting back to all these youngsters, given his global responsibilities.
That’s where Shannon McAdams and a few handfuls of volunteers drift into the winter picture each year, helping to sort, read, respond and mail letters for Santa back to every child who writes. McAdams says the effort is a labor of love for her crew, that helping Santa gets them all into the holiday spirit and brings delightful finds and unendingly creative new approaches to the big guy by children each year.
“We’ve had candy canes and stickers and homemade cookies,” said McAdams. “One child’s parent must have worked at a law office because he had the legal stationery with information on the law firm, and he opens up the letter saying, ‘Santa, I’m going to level with you, I haven’t exactly been well behaved this year.”
But every child with a decipherable address, naughty or nice, gets a response from Kris Kringle thanks to the hard work of McAdams’ team. Letters regularly come from writers in five regional states but sometimes they arrive from as far away as the Midwest slipped to Santa from children visiting family for the holidays.
In addition to requesting specific toys or other wishes, letter-writing children also have lots of questions for Santa.
“They ask what the reindeer eat, does he have any female reindeers, what Santa and Mrs. Claus do when Christmas is over,” said McAdams.
McAdams says about 20 volunteers go through the mail and respond for Santa, taking time from their family and own holiday planning at one of the busiest times of the year.
“The majority of our people who help have been doing it for years, so it’s a sentimental thing for them. They either were past Jaycees, and this was a project they did every year when they were members and now they helped out as alumni,” said McAdams, noting the letter-writing has become a bit of a social gathering at the University and Whist Club.
“It is a potluck – everybody brings something and they just make a nice party out of it.”
McAdams said the work itself can be surprisingly demanding. “I didn’t realize how hard it was physically, because the art of letter writing is gone — nobody writes letters anymore.”
Every child will receive handwritten replies
She says the Jaycees team has agreed Santa’s standards require handwritten replies. Creative juices need to flow in crafting detailed sentences about life at the North Pole, which can be a test for the letter-writing Jaycees who themselves have only dreamed of Santa’s fabled workshop.
McAdams says it’s important children plan ahead for this Saturday’s parade, and that parents help them include a legible home or work address.
As with Santa’s toymaking operations, his letter-writing process can rival the most impressive of Amazon’s logistical magic. Jaycees actually bundle Santa’s responses off to Alaska via the US Postal Service (seriously) by December 15, where the Big Guy quietly dips across into the US’s northern reaches to approve them.
From there they are processed and sent back by US Mail, postmarked “North Pole” to the happy little children who smartly got to the parade to drop Santa a line.
The Jaycees regularly “dasher” off about 300 letters on official Santa stationery while covering the several hundred dollars in postage required (what, you thought Santa got a deal?).