"At Christmas play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year. " (Thomas Tusser)
I have a seasonal job that's extra special, because I work for a man who's got to be the greatest boss of all. He's sweet, cheerful, an very kind. He makes children happy an helps dreams come true. Because of him, I not only earn extra money, but I also benefit greatly in many other ways each holiday season. Just who is this wonderful gent? Why, jolly old Saint Nick, of course! Yes, I'm Santa's secretary. My home base venture is called Little Letters, and in the past four years-thanks, in part, to a lot of medi- attention-that seasonal service has grow from a neighborhood enterprise into a na tional (even international) business. My crew and I answer hundreds of letters each Christmas season . . . and those messages come from all over the world.
When I first came up with the idea for Little Letters, it seemed as if it would be a real ly uncomplicated business. After all, I thought, what could be difficult about reading a child' letter of wishes and then answering it? But I soon discovered that there's much more it than merely jotting down a cute reply.
My first surprise was discovering the extent of the personal and emotional involvement my staff and I would have with our "clients". We have quickly become attached to every precious letter that arrives. For ex ample, if we receive a note dictated by a three year-old boy, I can clearly picture that little guy-eyes all lit up-leaning on the table or desk and telling Mommy just exactly what he wants Santa Claus to bring him. If I ge a letter from a four, five, or six-year-old, try my best to decipher the wobbly word penciled out for Santa with painstaking care.
Sometimes, a mother with a baby only a fe months old will write, and I make sure the tot's first letter from Saint Nick is a very special one indeed. Then there are the letters from the eight and nine-year-olds, many of whom are trying desperately to hold onto their belief Santa (but it's only a matter of time before they'll be letting go). Those missives are particularly difficult to answer. I feel as though I'm walking a tightrope . . . afraid of saying too much, yet also afraid of not saying enough.
It doesn't take long to realize that working for Santa is anything but simple! It require a great deal of time, responsiveness, and most of all-plain old fashioned love.
MAKIN' A LIST (AND CHECKING IT TWICE)
The words on the letters have to be unique and so, too, does the stationery they're written on. At Little Letters we use bright re paper with "Santa's Headquarters" emblazoned across the top. In one corner our sta tionery features a drawing of a stockin stuffed full of "goodies". We also use printed envelopes, although the return address did pose one of our biggest problems. Would an Illinois address destroy our credibility with sharp-eyed youngsters? I wanted to sound as though we were Santa's midwestern head quarters, so we decided to print our address this way: Santa Claus, c/o Little Letters, 344 Flagg Street, Pawpaw, Illinois 61353. (Often a mother will include her own self-addressed envelope-or will ask that no return address be given-and we'll honor those requests.) I charge $2.00 for answering each letter that's sent to Santa.
Naturally, as the volume of letters grows,there's a need to acquire a dedicated staff of assistants. In this respect, I'm truly blessed. I ran a four-line advertisement in our local newspaper and received 130 calls within two days! Every single staff member feels as I do about the youngsters' letters. I don't believe in letting anybody down, and in this case we're working with children's most precious dreams.
That doesn't mean my business is all seriousness, however. Actually, many of our working hours are spent chuckling over the cute letters we read. After all, where else can you find such gems as the following? "I have been bad all year. I hope you will come anyway."
"I had my sister write this for me, but I think I can trust her."
"My baby sister, Yvonne, is eight months old. Please remember her and bring her some teeth." In fact, an unanticipated problem has cropped up in recent years. Since I keep all.
I the letters I receive, I now have an acute storage problem!
My staff and I work day and night hand printing each response. We don't promise the children that they will receive everything they ask for, but we do guarantee they'll like what Santa leaves under the tree especially for them. Occasionally, we'll mention a specific toy if one of the parents has written and said a child will be receiving it for Christmas.
In addition to the assistance from my excellent staff during the hectic weeks when Santa's mail is at its peak, my family helps me out in many ways. My husband offers lots of moral support, and my two boys (aged four and eight) think it's grand that Mommy works for Santa Claus. Of course, we have our difficult moments, as all businesses do. But Little Letters is no longer just an enterprise for us . . . it's become an extension of our lives, and I look forward each year to sharing the Christmas spirit with so many others across the country and the world.