This is a guest post by Rachel Gordon, educational programs specialist in the Library’s Informal Learning Office.
The approach of the holidays brings many things – festive food, choosing and wrapping gifts, and a host of traditions to enjoy with family and friends. For those children who celebrate Christmas and participate in the tradition of Santa Claus, one of the highlights of the season is the all-important letter to Santa. There’s a lot riding on this correspondence. It’s not only about presents for the letter writers themselves, but an opportunity to reflect on behavior during the past year, or to generously ask for gifts for someone else.
Perhaps Santa’s workshop is modern enough that there’s now a group of tech support elves monitoring email communications, but it’s likely that most letters will come the old fashioned way and be written by hand. They’ll seem even more special if they are on colorful, personalized notepaper. With inspiration and images from the Library of Congress collections you can produce eye-catching, artistic letters that will stand out among the thousands that arrive at the North Pole every day at this time of year.
Before beginning the actual writing, start out by downloading and printing a selection of images from the Library’s website. The project will go more speedily if you have a selection to hand, and looking through Christmassy illustrations is a nice way to generate some holiday excitement. The Prints and Photographs Division is a good place to start – enter keywords such as “Santa,” “reindeer,” “Christmas tree,” and “winter” to name just a few, and there’ll be plenty of options. With some careful editing you can customize your choices and focus on features that you’d particularly like to highlight. Since even Santa has to abide by U.S. copyright law, do scroll down to the “Rights and Access” paragraph under every image to make sure that you may freely use your chosen items. Once your letters are finished, you might compare them with these children’s letters to Santa from a century ago.
As always, perusing the riches on the Library’s website took me far beyond the specific search that I started with. There’s a lot of other Santa-related material that could make a nice addition to your holiday celebrations. Read about the history of Santa in the United States on the Library’s main blog, or listen to recordings made in the 1920s of the man himself. Two versions in the Library’s Recorded Sound Research Center have Santa reading nursery rhymes and talking to his fans from inside a phonograph machine. There’s also a 1914 rendition of Clement Moore’s classic poem, The Night Before Christmas.
This is also a perfect time of year for a family read-aloud; the collections include some classic digital books for you to choose from. There are versions for all ages, including some rather lengthy ones that should tide you over the whole holiday. The examples here are all in the public domain, so their illustrations are another good source of images for decorating letters to Santa.
In “A Christmas Party for Santa Claus” (1912, 102 pages), a little girl enlists her Fairy Godmother and other storybook characters from Fairyland and nursery rhymes to plan a party for Santa.
“How Polly and Ned Found Santa Claus” (1898, 28 pages), tells the story of a brother and sister who help an old man, which leads to them meeting Santa and discovering the true meaning of Christmas.
“The Santa Claus Story Book” collection (1900, 208 pages), begins with “Where Santa Lives and what he does,” followed by traditional fairy tales.
For older kids, “King of the Flying Sledge: the biography of a reindeer” (1915, 273 pages), is about Little Lightfoot, a reindeer taken to Alaska from his home in Norway. Do vet this story by reading page 3 before you share it with younger children. The cover of this book is used in one of the sample letters above.
Put on some seasonal music, break out the holiday cookies and hot chocolate, and enjoy your letter-writing session. Perhaps decorating the notes with seasonal Library images will be so much fun that everyone will be clamoring to do more – which may just be a way to get those post-holiday thank-you notes done in record time!
With many thanks to Weston, Fiona and Bianca for providing the letters in this post.