Every year at this time, I remember Christmas, 1974. It was mid-December, we had just moved from the Bronx to our first house and were watching Johnny Carson one evening. He and his sidekick, Ed McMahon, were jokingly reading a few children’s letters to Santa Claus and mentioned that similar letters were available from most post offices.
The next day, my wife, two year-old daughter and I made a brief stop at the Bronx Central Post Office at 149th Street and the Grand Concourse to pick up a letter. I walked into the superintendent’s office, asking for a Santa letter, and he pointed to a pile on a table saying, “I haven’t had time to sort them yet, just take them, pick out the one you want and bring back the rest.” So I did and left.
I asked my wife to read them and pick one out. It was the only time there was total silence in our car. When we parked, I asked her which one she would select and she said that I would have to make that choice. Once I read the letters, I understood why. Not one single child asked Santa anything for himself or herself alone. They asked for their family — a doll for a little sister, a puzzle for an older brother, a sweater for a mother, gloves for a father — and only lastly, if Santa could, maybe a baseball or a scarf for him or her.
I was stunned and humbled by their selflessness and consideration for others. I could not choose one so I chose all. Every letter was copied and with the help of a friend of mine — Phil O’Brien, also from the Bronx — a number of businesses and organizations were contacted for whatever contributions or items they could donate.
We contacted virtually every FDNY firehouse and NYPD precinct in the Bronx where we were able to post the “Letters to Santa” along with our phone number and address. Soon thereafter, firemen and policemen began stopping by my house with “gently-used” toys, games, clothing and other assorted items for the families. My entire dining and living room were soon filled with these gifts, carefully wrapped and tagged for each family member — almost three hundred gifts for seventy-three children.
In the early morning of December 24, 1974, Phil O’Brien and I set out in our cars — brimming with Santa’s presents — down to Yankee Stadium where we were met by two NYPD patrol cars serving as our escorts. We delivered Santa’s gifts, beginning in the South Bronx and slowly working our way north throughout the entire borough. We made a couple of dozen stops, knocking on each and every door, as Santa’s helpers from the post office, delivering his gifts to them and their families. It was a richly inspiring and rewarding day filled with a kaleidoscope of emotions.
Every year around this time I think about those children and what their future was like. I still have their letters and am amazed to realize that they would now be in their forties — older than I was that very distant and yet so ever-present Christmas Eve.
For the last few years, I’ve found their letters all the more poignant since becoming a grandfather. I now relate to those “children” not just as older contemporaries of my daughters but also as being only a few years older when they wrote their letters to Santa than my grandchildren are today… that distant but yet ever-so-present Christmas Eve…
The following are a few of those forty-year-old letters. I have included their grammar, misspellings and punctuation in the interest of authenticity…
Dear Santa claus
My name is Maria. I’m nine years old. I’m in the 4th Grade and I believe in Santa claus. My Father does not work because of his disability. He can’t buy me any toys for me and my Sister gladys who is 7 years old and my brother Nicky who is 5 years old and my little brother Norman who is 2 years old. Santa claus any toys you can sent for me and my brothers and Sister we will apresheate with all our hearts and souls.
thank you Santa Claus
merry christmas and a Happy new year to you and miss claus
I love you very much
(On the front of her Letter, Maria attached a 1×2 inch photo of herself that read – this is me. On the back of her envelope Maria wrote:
Santa claus don’t forget me
My name is Elizabeth. I am 11 year old and I still believe in you and I am write to you for something to do because you see I am always in the Hospital because you see I am a kindy Piaent and I go to the kindy machine. I go there 3 times a week 4 hours each time. So I am to you for a set or a kit of Something to make or do.
I love you Santa
Please send it
Elizabeth enclosed a very small 1” sketch of herself entitled “me”
Dec. 13, 1974
My name is Sherri.
I am 7 years old.
I am a good girl.
I do a lot of work in school.
My Daddy is sick and cant go to work and we do not have money.
Rachel is my sister. She will be 2.
And I love her very much.
Mommy crys alot plees send her a preesent.
Give me anything Santa.
Dear Santa Claus,
I am writing to you because if anyone can help us you can. My mother is very sick and has diabettes and have to take neddles every day. We have had a lot problems this year. We had to move from our place and stay in a hotel which was fun. But my mother cried a lot so i guess she didn’t have no fun. We aren’t going to have a Xmas because my mother doesn’t have any money. We don’t even have a tree. All I want for christmas is a train. I have 5 sisters & Brothers. My little sister want a doll and my two brothers want racing sets. My oldest sisters wants a record player.
Do you think you could do something for us Santa
I love you