Rick Cowie spent 30 years with Canada Post but it’s his first year as a postal elf, part of a special squad charged with the care of seasonal treasures – children’s letters to Santa.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Cowie, who worked for Canada Post in the Cloverdale area.
Helping out is a glimpse into what’s on the minds of modern kids and what they want for Christmas.
Now that he’s had his first Christmas season as a postal elf, what does the future hold?
“I’ll come back,” Cowie insisted.
Santa’s postal elves sort through the huge volume of letters addressed to the jolly ol’ elf at the special postal code HOH OHO.
A group in Langley, who are retired Canada Post employees, plus the occasional current employee, handle up to 4,000 letters each holiday season.
There are other groups of elves throughout Canada, that assist Santa, too. Together they will deal with 1.6 million letters this year.
Most elves have been doing this each Christmas for many years, and they’ve noticed a few trends through that time as they read the letters on Santa’s behalf.
“Most of the toys now are electronics. But still, the girls will ask for dolls and the boys will ask for cars and trucks,” Steve Pasacreta said.
“Lots of plushies,” added Sharon Svensrud. “And Squishimals, whatever they are.”
“LOLs and Hatchimals are big this year,” Pasacreta added.
Svensrud noted that one Christmas, the elves handled one child’s letter that had requests for more than 200 items.
But certain letters touch the seasonal helpers.
“The ones that stand out are the ones where they want a gift for themselves but they want world peace or they don’t want anything,” said Bruce Mavis, who has been a postal elf for about 25 years.
“We had one today, [they said] give the gift to someone who may need it.”
Svensrud adding: “They want gifts for all the kids that don’t get them.”
After Anita Folk pops in the CD of Christmas music, she settles in and continues to work through the growing pile of letters.
“For the most part, it’s amazing. It puts us in the Christmas spirit,” said Folk. “We’re always surprised by the kids’ artistry… and when they say Christmas is for love and giving. Some of the letters are really touching. Some of them are only ‘Dear Santa,” and what they want.”
She had one letter this year from a four-year-old who said he’s awaiting a baby brother to arrive in January. The Santa reply letter included a suggestion to be very kind to mommy this holiday season.
The letters that come to the Langley elves include an assortment of ages and origins, including many from Japan and Taiwan.
Several of these postal elves have been with the program for many Christmases and have noticed how the ability to write to Santa with only the HOH OHO has grown exponentially – particularly from addresses outside of Canada.
The elves say a key factor in that is Canadians teaching English abroad and having their classes write to Santa as a way to improve their English skills.
Many of those letter writers are teens or young adults, and the elves are astonished with the artwork they include, such as manga-style drawings and figures. Some have even sent homemade pop-up cards.
And sometimes the letters to Santa arrive with treats.
“They send treats, the odd candy cane in a letter,” Pasacreta said. “It must be fun for the parents to sit down with the kids doing it and then they get an answer.”
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Whether the letter is written in crayon, pencil, felt, or paint, the elves read them over and try to assist with personalized responses. School class submissions receive a poster. The local squad of elves will send out a couple hundred posters each Christmas season.
While the elves want to ensure all the children and letter writers receive a reply, it’s not always possible. The postal elves have some advice for the parents.
“If there’s one thing I would say to the parents is make sure the return address is on it so Santa can answer the kids,” Pasacreta noted.
The elves will ready Santa’s replies to the children from early December up until Christmas. But their work efforts don’t end there. They continue into January, providing kids with postcards explaining that Santa is taking a bit of a vacation. That’s for the letters that didn’t make the Dec. 12 deadline.
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So among the letters that elicit chuckles and ‘awwws’, there’s also the poignant missives that have the elves tearing up. Mavis noted that letters that give the elves pause for concern are sent to Vancouver to be dealt with by people with more expertise in sensitive matters.
Recently the Langley elves received a letter from a senior citizen, asking for help, and overwhelmed by the emotional and financial toll of caring for a spouse with dementia.
Also sent to Vancouver are letters that are in languages the local postal elves do not know. The postal elf program has the ability to provide replies in up to 30 languages as well as Braille.
“They come from all over the world. Back east, they’ll also get letters from Europe. We get from the Orient,” he said. “It’s increased each year.”
The elves sort and file the letters from abroad, which require postage, saving the stamps for charity.
Mavis added that other countries have their own letters to Santa programs. But Canada’s program is free for children mailing to Santa from within the country and as everyone knows, Santa’s home, the North Pole, is geographically situated in the Great White North.