Quite a long time ago I met a woman who wrote Father Christmas letters in the tradition of J.R. R. Tolkien to her own children. Like Tolkien, Lois wrote stories to her daughter and sons about life at the North Pole. The stories included the elves’ scuffles with trolls and adventures with the North Polar Bear. Father Christmas always had something going on up there.
Lois loved writing the stories for her children and she knew I liked to draw. That year she asked me to illustrate the letter for her children.
That was it. I was hooked.
While I don’t recall all the details of her story, I remember drawing pictures of trolls disguised in giant snowballs with elves defending the North Pole and Santa’s quarters.
The following Christmas I wrote and illustrated my own first letter from Father Christmas. I sent it to a few friends and family members who had young children.
Like Tolkien, I water-colored the pictures and hand-lettered the envelopes. I used parchment for both the envelopes and the letters, and created postage sized North Pole stamps, cancelled with the current year’s date.
To make the letters even more personal, I gleaned a little information from the recipients’ parents and included a quick p.s. about their progress in school, birth of a sibling or other relevant happenings in their lives.
I continued this tradition with family and friends for about five years, then started going to craft shows. It wasn’t long before I only attended juried shows and had developed a loyal clientele who made Letters from Santa a part of their Christmas tradition.
My customers inspired me as different situations became grist for Santa’s mill: The birth of a baby…the child learning the alphabet or practicing “please and thank you”…the child who moved to a new home, wondering if Santa will ever find him…the child determined to trap Santa….the child who needs to know they might not find everything they asked for under the tree….the child whose friends have started telling him there’s no such thing as Santa Claus….a very special letter to welcome an adopted baby to the family.
It was a great surprise to me that families wanted to continue the Christmas tradition of Santa Letters long after their children stopped officially believing. A whole new genre of letters emerged: Upper Class Elves at the North Pole, Seniors in High School, Freshmen home from college…etc.
I often heard from customers wanting to thank or honor friends in a special way and I wrote a Letter of Appreciation from Santa, and more recently Computer Dating a-la North Pole.
And on it has gone.
The ripple of illustrating the first Santa letter so many years ago has created infinite magical currents allowing me to touch the lives of so many families, not to mention the incredible elves who have worked with me along the way. My gratitude goes out to all of you. I look forward to being part of your own family tradition!
To all of you, from all of us at Joan Shepherd Letters from Santa - Thank you and Merry Christmas!