You know how every now and then you do something so bad that you just wish you had a time machine so you could go back and undo what you’ve done? I’ve had quite a few of those experiences, and, oddly enough, most of them involve having done things where I wasn’t actually sure how bad they were. Today I’m going to discuss one such thing, and then speculate on what might have happened. I also want to say that even though at times I humorously reminisce about my experiences, I actually am legitimately ashamed of what I’m about to tell you. This is something I’ve carried for a long time, always wondering if I seriously screwed up, but never really knowing. Basically, I think I might have ruined some kid’s Christmas. I don’t ”know” that I did, but I think I did. This story is from when I was about 14 or 15.
You know how children write letters to Santa Claus? How they address them to the North Pole, put a stamp on them and send them off? Did you ever wonder what happens to those letters? I know what happens to them. The post office collects them all together, and then charity groups claim them and write responses, or if it’s someone in need they might do something special for them. I happened to be involved in such a charity through school. It basically went like this, the teacher said we were going to answer letters to Santa, and he read one particular letter from a needy family, and said they’d do something special for them, but as for the generic, “I want a Barbie doll,” letters, us teenagers could read them and reply. The rules were pretty simple. If there was no return address, throw it out. If they asked for anything specific, don’t make specific promises. And of course it was assumed to not write anything vulgar or offensive.
I was excited to do this. I don’t think I ever wrote any letters to Santa. Seeing him in the mall was good enough for me, but I knew that writing letters to Santa was a thing that little kids did, and I had a strong belief in Santa when I was a kid, so I thought it would be fun to respond to a like-minded child, and maybe bring some joy and happiness into his or her life to know that Santa cared enough about them to respond. (I do want to say that I am currently against the idea of teaching children that Santa is real, but at the time I responded to the letter I was still in favor of sharing the myth.)
I don’t exactly remember what the kid wrote in the letter, except that I do remember he asked for a computer. I’d been in exactly the same shoes when I was a kid. I wanted a computer so badly for Christmas. It was after I stopped believing in Santa, so I wasn’t asking him for one, but I still understood the feeling. One year I thought we were going to get one. My mom had put a present under the tree that was big enough to be a computer, and she wouldn’t tell us what it was, but my hopes were high! On Christmas morning I was disappointing to see that it was a vacuum cleaner. A vacuum cleaner? We already had a vacuum cleaner. What I’m saying is that I totally understood this kid. I’m pretty sure his family already had a computer, and he wanted his own, but I knew that feeling. Of course, I couldn’t promise him he’d get a computer, that was up to his parents.
So the title of this post implies that something happened that I’m ashamed of, and you’ll probably guess that I’m ashamed of what I wrote back, and you’re only partly right. I’m not proud of my response to the kid, but it also wasn’t the worst possible response. I basically told the kid to be sure to mention to his parents what he wanted for Christmas. I also gave some lame excuse as to why he needed to tell his parents what he wanted. I don’t really feel badly about that, but it’s definitely possible that my response ruined the kid’s Christmas. Follow me for a minute on one possible chain of logic that the kid may have reasoned:
Hmm? Santa is asking me to tell my parents what I want. My friends at school have been telling me that Santa Claus ”is” my parents. Maybe Santa is implying to me that he is my parents. But then the paradox is that if my parents are Santa Claus then they’d already be reading this letter and so why would they be telling me to tell themselves what I want? In conclusion there must be something bigger going on than both my parents and Santa combined can even fathom.
So basically my answer to this letter was going to open a can of worms. But what else are you supposed to say? If the kid’s parents didn’t know what he wanted, how could he possibly get it? That’s why I wrote what I wrote, but I don’t really regret that. No. I’m not really too worried about prose of the letter, that’s just speculation. It is actually the presentation of the letter that I’m ashamed of.
I have bad handwriting. Terrible handwriting. It’s pretty much unreadable when I write quickly, and not very pretty when I write slowly. I probably wrote this letter somewhere in the middle. I’m pretty sure it was readable, but it looked terrible. I don’t think the paper I wrote on had lines either, so the writing was slanted and curving on the page. Just imagine it. You’ve written to Santa Claus, probably the most kind and caring person in the world, and he writes you back, and it is the ugliest hand writing you’ve ever seen in your life. I mean the North Pole is full of polar bears, mittens, and candy canes, and here is this letter, ink on paper, and it’s barely legible. I’d be shocked. I’d be like, ”This is Santa’s handwriting?” I wouldn’t believe my eyes.
Okay, so at this point you might be thinking that that’s nothing. I was 15 years old, of course my handwriting was bad, and probably the kid’s handwriting was worse, so when he read the letter he wouldn’t even notice. That might even be true. But that’s because I haven’t actually shared with you the worst of it all. Yes indeed, there’s a real kicker to all this. There’s a climactic be-all-end-all to how I ruined this kid’s Christmas.
I sketched a picture of Santa, his sleigh, and reindeer on the back of the letter. Yes, that is it. That is definitively how I ruined this kid’s Christmas. I drew a picture on the back of the letter, and it wasn’t good. My handwriting was bad, and my sketching skills weren’t up to par either. I remember specifically that the reindeer were way to small compared to the size of the sleigh, and that the perspective on Santa’s hat was inconsistent with his body. Basically it was one of the worst sketches of Santa ever made. It was no Norman Rockwell is what I’m saying. It was basically the kind of doodle you make when you’re bored in school, and here I was putting it in a letter to a kid as if it were from Santa! You may not believe me on how terrible this drawing was, but my friend Nick also saw it, and he confirmed that it was bad, and asked me if I was seriously going to send it.
Of course I had to explain the drawing to the kid, so I wrote, “I’m including a drawing of me that one of my elves did.” Yeah, that was the explanation of this absolutely terrible drawing. You really need to picture a creepy looking Santa Claus to understand why I’m so ashamed of this.
And so I mailed it. I knew at the time I shouldn’t have mailed it. I know that I knew at the time, because when I went to get the stamp from the teacher he asked me if everything I wrote was okay. He wasn’t asking everyone else that. Just me, because he could tell by the expression on my face that there was something screwy about my letter. Of course I told him it was fine, and he took the letter and put a stamp on it. And as far as I know it got mailed. This terrible portrait of Santa got mailed!
I actually pray that when my teacher realized there was something screwy about my letter, that he opened it to make sure everything was kosher, then threw it out when it wasn’t. I don’t think he did. As it stands now, I’m pretty sure that that letter got mailed, the kid read it, saw the picture and went crying to his parents. He probably told them that Santa sent him a terrible drawing that one of his elves did. At which point his parents had to explain to him that Santa wasn’t real, and that they didn’t know where the drawing came from. So the kid inevitably must have believed that he accidentally wrote Satan and not Santa or something weird like that. Anyway, I’m pretty sure he’s a serial killer now, and it’s basically my fault.
Okay, so I’ve joked around a little about this, but that’s because I have to. I really am ashamed of what I did, and all I can do to cope with it is try to imagine the worst possible scenarios. I know that if I had seen a drawing as bad as the one I did, with the assumption that it had been by one of Santa’s elves, I think I’d forget magic of Christmas right then and there. Yes, the drawing was that bad.
I really do hope that the letter never made it. So many things may have prevented it from getting to that kid. It’s possible my teacher threw it out. It’s possible my handwriting on the envelope was so bad that it never got delivered. It’s possible the kid’s parents opened it and threw it out. All I can really do is hope. And if he did read it, hopefully he didn’t really become a serial killer, or have some weird obsession with Santa. I’d kind of like to meet the kid. To tell him I’m sorry. To find out if it did have any effect on him. I’m going to end with a plea that if your kids ever get a reply from Santa, please read it before them, just to make sure everything is okay.