Friday, December 23, 2016

Letters to Santa from a Simpler Time

pa1922-xmasadChildren’s Christmas wishes and expectations years ago were much different from what they are today. I was so struck by this—the simplicity and innocence of children hoping to receive some sort of gift—that while researching a book back in 2010, I included a chapter entitled Letters to Santa (in History of Churubusco). The sample letters below are excerpted from that book, and were published in North Country newspapers between 1920 and 1940. They reveal a sharp contrast to the modern holiday, where expensive gifts have become the disproportionate norm.

Like hundreds of other small villages and towns in the early twentieth century, Churubusco (in northwest Clinton County) was a farming community. Families were often self-sufficient, and everyone, including small children, had daily chores. This fostered teamwork, family unity, and gave children a firsthand understanding of the value of goods, services, and hard work. Those lessons were conveyed in their missives to Santa. And some of the comments in the letters are just plain cute.

1923
Dear Santa,
This year, money being scarce, my wants are few. I want a doll, set of dishes, ribbon, candy, and nuts. Don’t forget my brothers and sisters.
Your girl, Eva Lussier

Dear Santa Claus,
I want you to bring me a little serving set, ball, candy, nuts, and bananas. Never mind the sled this year because I am expecting one from my aunt. My Xmas tree will be in the parlor near the stove, so take your time and get good and warm before you leave.
Wishing you a merry Xmas, your little friend,
Louis Patnode

1925
Dear Santa Claus,
I would like you to bring me a little bedroom set, some candy, nuts, and bananas.
Your little friend,
Louise Recore

Dear Santa Claus,
I would like a flashlight, sled, gold watch, some candy, nuts, oranges, bananas, and peanuts. Please don’t forget my little brothers, Walter and Francis. Walter would like a little drum, mouth organ, candy, nuts, gum, and oranges. Francis would like a little wagon full of toys, and some candy, nuts, and bananas.
Your little friend,
John Brady

1938
Dear Santa,
For Christmas I want a bottle of perfume and a locket, a 59 cent box of paints that I saw in your sale catalogue, a pair of skates, a nice dress, and candy and nuts. I am eleven years old and Santa I hope you have a very merry Xmas.
Your friend,
Anita Robare

Dear Santa,
I am writing a few lines to tell you what I want for Christmas. I want a toothbrush and there is a set of 12 different games in your Christmas catalogue for 98 cents. Some of the names of the games are bingo, checkers, and jacksticks. Please bring me this set. I hope you don’t forget my little sister and brothers.
Your friend,
Henrietta Matthews

Dear Santa,
Christmas is drawing near and I would like these things: a pair of ski shoes, pair of fur bedroom slippers, a dump truck, and banjo. I will leave some crackers and milk on the breakfast table.
Your friend,
Ann Elderbaum

Dear Santa,
When you come around for Xmas, I would like to have you bring me a pair of skates and a woolen shirt. It’s all I want for Christmas for I thought that you are getting old and those chimneys will be hard to climb. You will have some bread and milk at Christmas Eve.
Yours truly,
Theodore Leclair

pb1926-xmasadDear Santa Claus,
I wish you would bring me a sled and a ring. I don’t want very much for I know you are getting old and I don’t want you to carry too much. You will find my stocking near the stove, and on the kitchen table you will find some bread and milk. I want you to leave me some candy, especially peanut brittle. I am 12 years old.
Your friend,
Cecelia Louise Miller

Dear Santa,
I wish you would bring me a popgun, tractor, truck, and an airplane. You will find a bowl of bread and milk near the Xmas tree. You will find my stocking near the stove. I am only seven years old.
Your friend,
Clayton Miller

My Dear Santa,
I am eleven years old, and I wish you would bring me a cowboy suit and a sweater. You will find my stocking near the stairway, and on the kitchen table you will find some corn meal mush.
Your little friend,
Herman Leclair

Dear Santa,
Christmas is drawing near and I thought I would drop you a line and let you know what I want for Christmas. I would like a red sweater, western book, and a fur hood. I will leave you some bread, cake, peanuts, and milk. I don’t want very much because you are growing old and your bag will be too heavy. So I will close and hope to have all I want for Christmas.
Sincerely yours,
Rita Theresa Leclair

Dear Santa,
I would like a new pair of shoes for Christmas.
Ruth Demarse

Dear Santa,
I want a tractor and some colors for Christmas.
Henry Lagree

1939
Dear Santa,
I have been a very good girl this year. I thank you for the things that you brought me last year. For Christmas I would like a doll and a Chinese Checker game. I will leave a lunch for you on the table. I will clean our chimney so you can slide down it. I will hang our stockings near the Christmas tree. I would like to stay up and see you but I am afraid that I would not get any presents so I will go to bed. Well we will have to close.
Your friend,
Helen and Patty Smith

Dear Santa Claus,
I have been a good boy this year. I would like a car that pedals. If you couldn’t bring that, I would like something smaller. And don’t forget Carol my baby sister. And I would like some candy, gum, oranges, and nuts.
Your little friend,
Robert K. Smith

Dear Santa,
I have tried to be a good little girl this year. I am nine years old and in the fifth grade. I would like a pair of ice skates between my sister and I. And don’t forget my baby sister, because she wasn’t here last year and I thought that maybe you would forget her. But I guess that you wouldn’t do that trick. And don’t forget the candy, nuts, oranges, and gum.
Your friend,
Helen L. Smith

pc1916-xmasadDear Santa,
I would like for Christmas a pencil box and drawing paper, candy, and nuts.
Your friend,
Beulah Perry

1940
Dear Santa Claus,
I want a train and candy.
Norman Lafave

Dear Santa,
I would like a box of colors, a teddy bear, candy, and nuts.
Agnes Lagree

Dear Santa Claus,
I want a pair of shoes, dress, and Christmas candy and nuts.
Ruth Demarse

From Jill and me at Bloated Toe Publishing, Happy Holidays to all.

(The piece above ran on Adirondack Almanack in slightly different form in December 2010, and seemed worth repeating to offer perspective on how the country—and Christmas gifts—have changed during the past century.)

Photos: Christmas advertisements from 1922, 1926, and 1916.


Lawrence P. Gooley

Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 21 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, has been a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. They have published 75 titles and are now offering web design.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publisher’s Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.



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8 Responses

  1. Terry says:

    Heartwarming, Lawrence….thank you and Merry Christmas!

  2. Lawrence P. Gooley Larry says:

    Thanks, Terry, and Merry Christmas to you as well.

  3. Boreasfisher says:

    Thanks for sharing. It was a simpler time for sure, when people were content with les. Despite many improvements in our way of life, not sure we’ve improved in that regard. Merry Christmas!

  4. SwilliAm says:

    Bananas apparently were quite a novelty in the twenties. I remember my grandmother (born in 1905) telling me she had never seen one until she was in her twenties. She bit into her first banana and found it quite unpleasant tasting, until she realized it had to be peeled first!

  5. Randy says:

    Great memories of times past. I remember visiting my Grandma Lulu in PA. Took the train. Santa left me and my cousin a “book” of Lifesavers and 5 bucks every Christmas until she passed away when we were in our 20s. We used to argue over who got to play with my dad’s old set of sandstone blocks and iron bridge railings. Thanks for bringing back those times.

  6. Chris says:

    Lawrence,
    Thank you for publishing the letters from years past. We have all had a tough year and it’s so important to remember what was going on during those years. The crash of 1929, the hard years that followed, the war that would soon develop. As I read the news of today and headlines of shootings and brawls at malls across America, I can’t help but wonder how we wandered so far from the path of what Christmas really means.

    I hope those that read this, no matter what the year has brought them or Christmas for that matter, take some time and realize that health, family, and happiness can’t be wrapped and placed under a tree. Take the time to love and hug those around you and remember an age when times were harder and children’s desires were much simpler. Maybe we return to those days in the future.

  7. Alexis Ward says:

    Lovely article and collection of letters ! They are indeed thought-provoking when read in 2016. Many thanks for publishing them. Happy New Year to you & your readers.

  8. Charlie S says:

    “As I read the news of today and headlines of shootings and brawls at malls across America, I can’t help but wonder how we wandered so far from the path of what Christmas really means.”

    Surely all of the violence coming out of Hollywood don’t help matters! Surely taking money out of the arts in education don’t help. Surely our disconnect with the natural world. Surely the way we value plastic more than we do things which have real meaning…

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