As Christmas carols fill the air everywhere from shopping centres to temporary stages on local football fields, those of us who celebrate Christmas are busy planning and carrying out our festive season traditions.
The tradition of children writing a letter to Santa Claus dates back more than 150 years and, perhaps surprisingly, is still going strong. In 2016, over 130,000 letters from Australian children were delivered to the big man in the red suit.
In a time when communication is primarily digital, and mostly informal, the seemingly simple act of writing a letter to Santa retains a special significance. Children once wrote regularly to people such as grandparents, other family members and penfriends. Now, a letter to Santa may be a child’s only experience of formal correspondence.
Aside from the physical aspects of writing a letter (i.e. handwriting practice, addressing and posting the envelope), it also helps children develop an understanding of social conventions such as greetings and making conversation. For example, a child may ask how Santa is and what the weather is like at the North Pole.
A letter to Santa is also a specific type of letter (i.e. a wishlist) and this involves other skills such as:
- learning to ask for what you want (politely)
- distinguishing between wants and needs
- prioritising – ranking presents in order of preference
- persuasive writing – convincing Santa you deserve what you’ve asked for
- honesty – knowing if you actually deserve what you’ve asked for
- gratitude – thanking Santa for last year’s awesome present
- thoughtfulness – asking on behalf of someone whose needs may be greater than your own.
As well as being a valuable, and fun, Christmas tradition, letters to Santa are fascinating time capsules. Children’s stories (both funny and sad), language and even methods of delivery to Santa are all reflections of the times in which the letters were written and bring back memories of Christmases past.