Townsfolk in Santa, Ind., answer Christmas letters Volunteers fulfill a holiday tradition

December 02, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. -- In this small Spencer County town, letters to Santa are a common sight.

They come in a host of languages from all corners of the globe. The letters filter in like stray snowflakes, year round. But as the Christmas season approaches, the light flurry turns into a storm, with hundreds of letters pouring daily into the town post office.

And every year, a group of volunteers works tirelessly to make sure every letter is answered.

For the members of Santa's Elves Inc., the holiday season is a busy time as the group works to read and answer the 10,000 or so letters to Santa every year.

Santa's Elves board member Patricia Koch said the tradition of townsfolk answering Santa letters began in 1914, when town postmaster James Martin answered his first letter for Santa.

Koch said her father, Jim Yellig, joined Martin on the task when he returned from the Navy shortly after World War I.

"It grew into great volumes of mail," Koch said. "I remember answering letters as a little child, and he always had letters in his car."

She said about 25 volunteers will be busy between now and Dec. 23 answering children's letters to Santa. Koch said the volunteers read each letter and respond with a personalized form letter.

The letters arrive with a wide variety of addresses.

"It will happen with just 'Santa Claus,' or it'll happen with, 'Santa Claus, North Pole,' " Koch said. "Sometimes, they come in with no postage.

"I got one yesterday addressed to 'Santa Claus, Arctica,' and it got through."

Koch said reading children's letters is a moving experience for volunteers.

"We get some sad, poignant letters," Koch said. "They write Santa all of their fears, their secrets and their joys."

Some of the letters contain interesting requests.

"The funniest one I got last year said, 'Dear Santa, I want my dad to be smarter,' " Koch said. "Some of them ask for an airplane, and some of them are pages and pages of things. But then there are the wonderful ones that say, 'I want my mommy to have something because she works real hard.' "

Koch said letters to Santa or donations to cover postage costs can be sent to: Santa Claus, P.O. Box 799, Santa Claus, IN 47579.

Pub Date: 12/02/98

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