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Sharing time and wish lists with Santa

Monday, December 22, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:49 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Care Bears, Barbies, American Girl dolls, and computer and video games are some of the must-haves this holiday season.

So if children need, want, gotta have these things, how do they tell their wishes to the man who brings them from the North Pole?

Well, children spend endless hours trying to talk Santa into bringing them all the presents on their lists. Some write letters, some leave out milk and cookies, others tell him directly or talk with him over the phone.

Whatever channel kids use to get in touch with Santa, it always seems to work.

Strategy 1: Delivering the list in person

Anyone who has gone to the Columbia Mall during the holiday season knows that the line to sit on Santa’s knee extends past his helpers, past Orange Julius and even past Abercrombie & Fitch on busy days like Saturdays.

Kids stand in line for hours just to talk with the big man for two minutes. That’s dedication.

Four girls, two in identical white Christmas dresses, who came to see Santa after school one Monday were full of gift ideas.

“A baby that says my name, ‘Junie B. Jones’ books, a teddy bear that says my name, and that’s all,” 7-year-old Ashley Roberts of Boonville told Santa. “Oh, and a diary and that’s all.”

Older sister Tiffany, 10, asked for books and CDs; younger sister Samantha, 4, wants dolls, but requested a baby brother last year.

Santa said he’s learned he can’t promise anything, especially baby brothers or reconciling parents.

Santa sits in Columbia Mall in a cozy armchair beside his fireplace and a framed photograph of Mrs. Claus. He is decked out in red corduroy pants that stretch over his hearty belly and are held up by wide, red suspenders. His shirt is decorated with Christmas trees. His white beard matches his white gloves, and his traditional red cap rests on his head.

Santa, who is nearly 500 years old, has been stationed in Columbia’s mall for eight straight Christmas seasons and has heard countless gift requests.

Santa said age is a factor when kids ask for presents. Older kids want an X-Box or Nintendo 64 and computer games; younger kids desire trucks, dolls and toys.

“Barbie is No. 1 yet,” Santa said about the longevity of the doll. “I sure hope they don’t run out of Barbie of Swan Lake.”

The most unusual request Santa had? Toilet paper, from one little boy. “I couldn’t believe it,” Santa said. “Maybe they had run out of it that day, and his parents had been talking about it.”

Mr. Claus has also come in contact with many memorable children and adults, and he is eager to share stories that usually end with his booming chuckle.

When Santa asked one little boy, who visits every year, what he wanted for Christmas, the boy replied, “Can’t you remember? I told you yesterday.” Santa got himself out of trouble by saying the boy might have thought of something new to put on his list.

Santa receives quite a few requests but has also been asked what he wants for Christmas.

Last year a little girl hopped onto Santa’s knee and asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He responded that the only thing he wanted was a hug from her.

“She just looked at me when I asked, so I said, ‘Am I going to get one?’ ” Santa said with a smile. “She just looked at me, paused and said, ‘Not!’ ”

The oldest person to sit on Santa’s lap? A 93-year-old woman. The youngest? A 1-day-old baby.

Strategy 2: Talking to Santa on the phone

Nothing is more reassuring than hearing jolly old Santa on the other end of the phone greet you by saying how nice you’ve been this year.

Children had this privilege Dec. 13 when they called Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves on the Santa hot lines set up by Columbia Parks and Recreation.

Over the years, there have been a number of stories coming from kids on the other end, said Janice Hagan, who was involved with the hot line for many years.

Once a little girl called whispering, “Hi, Santa. I don’t want my dad to hear. His mom just died and I’d like you to bring him some helicopter books, if you could. They’d make him very happy.”

Volunteers were able to check out the child’s name and address, so her dad received a helicopter book, Hagan said.

One of the best memories Hagan has had is with the volunteers. “It’s the greatest — watching the Paquin Tower residents work with all the students from the university and do a wonderful job with so much excitement.”

Last year, about 300 children called in with their requests, said Karen Ramey, a recreation supervisor for Columbia Parks and Recreation.

Strategy 3: Sending a letter

Whether using snail mail or e-mail, kids all around the world send letters to Santa.

The Columbia post office receives several thousand letters addressed to Santa each year, Columbia Postmaster Steven Saltzman said.

Not all of the letters can be answered, but Santa responds to as many as possible. Local charities and postal employees often help Santa by responding and sending gifts, Saltzman said.

Children can also contact Santa via the Internet by visiting Web sites that allow them to e-mail their wish lists.

At www.emailsanta.com, after youngsters finish crafting letters, they have to wait only a few moments for Santa to reply with a personal response addressed to them. No e-mail address is needed, as Santa uses Christmas spirit to make his letter appear right on the computer screen.

Other entertaining sites include not only ways to send letters to Santa but also Advent calendars, the history of Mr. Claus and information about festive traditions.

There is also a Santa mailbox at the Columbia Mall display for letters.

Whether children send Santa their wish lists via e-mail, the post office, talking with him in person or calling him on the phone, it seems to be infectious to young and old.

Hagan of the Santa hot line said, “Santa lives in you, he lives in me and he lives forever.”


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