When I was a child you know what I got to do on Christmas Eve? What every kid loves! Practice my penmanship! What’s this, you ask? Well, my mother would have us sit down at the dining table and carefully write our letters to Santa. In fact, we needed to re-write it until our individual letter was honed and mistake-free. Once my mother said it was okay, we burned our letters in the fireplace, with the understanding this was how they got to Santa. Burning wasn’t optional. I told myself elaborate stories about how the ashes must somehow magically reconfigure themselves back into a letter once they’d cleared the chimney.
This little enterprise was a sham on several levels. First, having to practice handwriting on Christmas Eve. And then burning a letter no one would ever read. And there’s the fact that the presents we were going to receive had already been made or purchased, so fat chance of getting anything requested. (What did my mother think as she read our wish lists of things we stood small chance of getting? “Chumps”??).
I never knew anybody else who grew up with this peculiar ritual so tonight I googled “burning Christmas letters to Santa.” Bingo! We got hits! It seems that it’s a custom for British children to burn their letters to Santa. I was knee-jerkedly going to tell you well my family was certainly not British – my father was 100% Italian (northern-not-Sicilian), and I learned to recite that we were “Irish, Dutch, French and German” on my mother’s side, something I went on saying for decades. My mother proudly liked to claim her “Irish” heritage and always wore green on St. Patrick’s Day. Except…except turns out that’s not entirely true.
About 2 or 3 years so I independently discovered very detailed maternal genealogy online and learned that yes, there was German, French, and Dutch back there, but the “Irish” bit was negligible. (If I recall, my mother was an eighth Irish, meaning her children were a scanty sixteenth.) Moreover, there was a healthy dose of English! This was both freaky and kind of exciting to me – surely not on the level of discovering you’re in line to inherit the Rockefeller fortune, or that your real dad is Kevin Costner – but interesting nevertheless.
I kind of wonder now if that heretofore undiscovered English heritage a few generations back is the reason I had to burn my letter to Santa on Christmas Eve. Well, blimey, mates! Bollocks, I just don’t know. I think I’ll go eat some crisps and think about it…