There is an unusual way to measure the emotional cost of the coronavirus pandemic.
It can be seen in letters to Santa Claus now arriving at a post office in southwest France. The post office answers mail sent to the traditional Father Christmas from around the world.
Jim, from Taiwan, put a face mask inside the letter he sent to Santa Claus and wrote “I (heart) u.”
Alina, 5, asked in her letter that Santa please use the front door because the back door is only used by Grandma and Grandpa to lower their risk of catching the new coronavirus.
And 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. She ended with “take care of yourself Father Christmas, and of the Elves.”
The letters arrive by the tens of thousands. They show what children are thinking about this Christmas season after a year of illness and financial difficulties.
Young Zoe asked only for a music player and a visit to an amusement park 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.
Since 1962, any letter for “Pere Noel” — French for Father Christmas — and mailed anywhere in the world is sent to this town in France's Bordeaux region.
Working among the vineyards of southwest France, volunteers spend the months of November and December opening and answering letters to Santa.
The first letters were opened on November 12. Then, it quickly became clear that the pandemic is worrying children, says the chief elf, Jamila Hajji. Along with the usual requests for toys, there were also requests for vaccines, for visits from grandparents, for life to return to the way it was. Thirty percent of the letters discuss the pandemic, Hajji says.
“The kids have been very affected by COVID, more than we think. They are very worried. And what they want most of all, apart from presents, is really to be able to have a normal life, the end of COVID, a vaccine,” she says.
“We are like elf therapists,” she adds.
Answering about 12,000 letters each day, the team of 60 elves sets aside some of the letters that most affect them. Lola’s is among those that have stood out so far, with its heartfelt words to Santa that “this year more than others, I need magic and to believe in you.” The elves say they think the children are expressing worries that they may not have shared with parents.
Emma Barron is a psychiatrist specializing in the mental health of children and teenagers at the Robert Debré pediatric hospital in Paris. She says important days like birthdays or Christmas give children security and structure. They are an important part of the child’s well-being, she said. This year, they are especially important.
Some older people are writing in as well.
One asked for “a pandemic of love.” A 77-year-old wrote that the “lockdown is no fun! I live alone.” A grandparent asked Santa to “say ‘Hi’ to my two grandkids that I won’t be able to see this year because of the health situation.”
Grown woman Anne-Marie wrote that “you will need to sprinkle stars across the entire world.”
I’m Susan Shand.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
mask– n. a covering worn on the face, especially one worn for medical or social reasons
elf– n. (pl. elves) a small creature in stories with pointed ears and magical powers
pandemic– n. the fast spread of an infectious disease over a very wide area or even the world
amusement park –n. a place with games and rides for entertainment
region–n. a large area set apart from others for a special reason
therapist– n. a person who helps people deal with physical or emotional problems who is not a medical doctor
psychiatrist– n. a doctor who treats mental or emotional problems
sprinkle– v. to spread small pieces