In Santa’s mailbag, a peek into children’s pandemic worries

Envelopes addressed to "Pere Noel" - Father Christmas in French - decorated with love hearts, stickers and glitter, are displayed by postal workers in Libourne, southwest France, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. Letters pouring by the tens of thousands into Santa's mailbox offer a glimpse into the worries and hopes of children awaiting a pandemic-hit Christmas. Along with usual pleas for toys and gadgets, kids are also mailing requests for vaccines, for visits from grandparents, for life to return to the way it was. The office estimates that one letter in three mentions the pandemic. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Envelopes addressed to "Pere Noel" - Father Christmas in French - decorated with love hearts, stickers and glitter, are displayed by postal workers in Libourne, southwest France, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. Letters pouring by the tens of thousands into Santa's mailbox offer a glimpse into the worries and hopes of children awaiting a pandemic-hit Christmas. Along with usual pleas for toys and gadgets, kids are also mailing requests for vaccines, for visits from grandparents, for life to return to the way it was. The office estimates that one letter in three mentions the pandemic. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LIBOURNE, France (AP) — Jim, from Taiwan, slipped a face mask inside the greeting card he sent to Santa and marked “I (heart) u.” Alina, 5, asked in her Santa letter written with an adult’s help that he please use the front door when he drops in, because the back door is reserved for Grandma and Grandpa to minimize their risk of contamination.

And spilling out her heavy little heart to “Dear Father Christmas,” 10-year-old Lola wrote that she is wishing “that my aunt never has cancer again and that this virus no longer exists.”

“My mother is a care-giver and sometimes I am scared for her,” Lola explained, signing off her handwritten letter with, “Take care of yourself Father Christmas, and of the Elves.”

The emotional toll wrought by the pandemic is jumping off pages in the deluge of “Dear Santa” letters now pouring into a post office in southwest France that sorts and responds to his mail from around the world.

Arriving by the tens of thousands, the letters, notes and cards — some mere scribbles, other elaborate labors of love in colored pens — are revealing windows into the tender minds of their young authors, and of adult Santa fans also asking for respite and happiness, at the tail end of a year of sickness and tumult.

Like this letter from young Zoe, who limited her requests to a music player and amusement park tickets because “this year has been very different from others because of COVID-19.”

“That’s why I am not asking you for many thing(s) to avoid infection,” Zoe wrote, signing off with “Merci!” and a heart.

In theory, and often in practice, any letter addressed “Pere Noel” — French for Father Christmas — and slipped into any post box around the world is likely to wend its way to the sorting office in France’s Bordeaux region that has been handling his mail since 1962. Toiling out of sight among vineyards, his secretariat of workers (who call themselves “elves”) spends the months of November and December slicing open envelopes decorated with hearts, stickers and colors, and spreading Santa magic by responding on his behalf.