Each year, the Times-Gazette newsroom processes hundreds of letters to Santa. A few come in by e-mail; even those require some work to be properly formatted. But most of the letters have to be typed by hand, and we all pitch in to do that.
It's a labor of love; we enjoy reading the letters and often comment to each other here in the newsroom when we run across one that's particularly funny, or sad, or unusual. There are kids with long lists, kids with short lists, kids who say they don't want anything at all. Some in that latter group appear to be sincere, others appear to be using reverse psychology.
We're happy to do this for the sake of the kids -- and for Santa. But it's the adults who sometimes leave us scratching our heads.
Although the deadline has passed for submitting this year's Santa letters, let me get a few things off my chest in hopes they'll apply next year (and during the seasons when we accept, for example, Mother's Day letters).
First names, please: I posted this in a blog entry but I'll repeat it here. If you are a teacher, and you send Santa letters, or anything else, from your class, ALWAYS include your first and last name. Your children may refer to you as "Mrs. Smith" or "Miss Jones" but we cannot. Fortunately, we can usually look up the first name at the school web site. But that takes time -- and when we're trying to slog through hundreds upon hundreds of Santa letters, and do our regular jobs as well, time is a luxury we don't have. Please let us know your first and last names, your grade or subject, and the school at which you teach.
Deadline problems: We start asking for Santa letters weeks in advance of the deadline. Most come in in the last two or three days, and many come in after the deadline. In many cases, there's simply no excuse for this. We set the deadline to try to give ourselves adequate time to type the letters and provide for space to run them. It's not possible for us to publish a 100-page paper on Christmas Eve; we have to spread the letters out over time, and that means we have to receive them in advance.
Baby, baby: This year, we added a sentence to our house ads stating that the letters should be written (or at the very least dictated) by the child, not the parent. That's because, each year, we get numerous letters written on behalf of six-month-old babies and what have you.
The purpose of publishing Santa lists in the paper is so that the child can see them; so that friends, family and Santa's helpers can know what the child has asked for; and so that we can all share the experience of reading the unusual, funny or touching letters.
There's no particular reason for us to publish a letter written by an adult on behalf of a child who is too young to speak and who doesn't yet understand the concept of asking Santa Claus for toys. We stay busy enough typing the letters from children who know about Santa Claus, and we do well to get those typed and published during the season. We don't have time to also type letters that are only for the amusement of a few adults.
Special requests: Because we're handling so many letters in such a short window of time, it's impossible for us to be able to tell you exactly when your particular letter or letters will be published. It's also not possible for us to guarantee that any two letters will run right next to each other. We do the best we can, but it's a huge job.
Please understand, we love reading and publishing Santa letters. But it's a huge job, and we ask for your understanding and cooperation so that we can continue to help Santa brighten the Christmases of Bedford County's youngsters for many years to come.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.