Christmas 2001 was by far the toughest when it came to answering Santa's mail.
Thousands of emails to Santa poured into My Merry Christmas.com by kids and adults concerned over the events of 9/11. But no letter touch me so thoroughly as the letter received from the little boy who lost his mother in the World Trade Center.
"My mom died on September 11, 2001", Brandon stated in his letter. "All I want for Christmas is to get her back. Why did she have to die in the building, Santa?"
I consulted a few folks on that one. Santa gets letters of a personal nature all the time. But how do you deal with a broken heart in one so young? What can be said? How can you possibly help?
It made me think of my own children, of course. If they were to lose me or their mother -- were there actually words from a stranger that would help?
I was convinced it could be done. I was convinced should be attempted. And I was terrified to even try.
Fortunately, the boy's submission came from his father's email address. In working as Santa online there are some advantages that you might have over those Santas who have a sad child on their lap. In this case, it was an email address of a parent. I wrote to the boy's father my expression both my sympathy and concern. And I asked how Santa could help.
For many weeks after I sent the email I heard nothing. I started to wonder if I had made a mistake. But then one day shortly after Thanksgiving I received a very gracious note. Brandon was doing well but still missed his mom. He wrote to Santa only because writing to Santa was a tradition started by his mother as soon as Brandon could pick up a pencil. Brandon's father told me that he had every letter to Santa that Brandon and his mother had ever written together. The email Brandon sent to Santa was a continuation of that tradition he was not expecting.
He told me that Brandon didn't expect a response from Santa Claus because he had never had one before. After thinking about it for some time, Brandon's father decided to contact me to discuss Santa's reply in this special circumstance.
Together we drafted a letter for Brandon's stocking. Over a series of phone calls and through many emails, I made a friend with Brandon's father. And though I never got to see Brandon's face on Christmas morning when he read the letter Santa had left for him in his stocking I lived that moment through his father. To this day Santa receives Brandon's emails. And out of the thousands we receive every year, Brandon's is always one we look for. We want to make sure Santa's archive of letters continues to grow for Brandon and his siblings.
Brandon's story inspired us to expand the character of Elf Ed Zachary -- a columnist for the North Pole Gazette known for his superior, albeit-sometimes-snotty-attitude when it comes to answering some of the lighter hearted letters to Santa. For the website, we decided to give Elf Ed Zachary a shot at answering Brandon's letter publicly -- with his father's permission, of course.
This article by Elf Ed Zachary never fails to generate email every holiday season.
Elf Ed is still his wry self in his response. But he sheds light, as he always does, on the proper perspective of Santa as a human being.
Tough letters come in every year. And behind them are real blessings for those of us charged with answering them.