According to Santa the most requested
item this year is an Apple iPad. I couldn't help but smile upon
discovering that among the most requested items on letters to Santa in
the 1800s was an—apple. Kind of brings to mind that old saying; the
more things change, the more they stay the same.
tradition of writing to Santa supposedly started in 1871 when Harper’s
Weekly published a cartoon by Thomas Nest showing Santa sitting at his
desk reading letters. Fortunately, letters to Santa were often published
in nineteenth century newspapers, giving us a glimpse into the hearts
of Victorian children and society as a whole.
form of the letter hasn’t changed much through the years. Then as now,
girls generally wrote longer letters than boys and tended to be more
polite, asking after Santa’s wife or reindeer. Most letters included a
testament to good behavior, though Santa might well shake his head
today if he received the following:
Dear Santa, I’m 12 years old and have been good. Please bring cigarettes. Your friend, Paul.
Some children mentioned seeing a
particular toy in a store window, but the Sears Catalogue was the Wish
Book of choice. Some enterprising boys and girls even included catalogue
page numbers in their letters.
Dear Santa, You can send me one of everything from the boys' section of the Sears catalogue. But nothing from the girls' section. – Kent
The Henry Ford household apparently didn't have a Sears Catalogue:
Dear Santa Claus, I Havent Had Any Christmas Tree in 4 Years
And I Have Broken My Trimmings And I Want A Pair of Roller Skates And A
Book, I Cant Think Of Any Thing More. I Want You To Think O Something
More. Good By. Edsel Ford
I was surprised by the number of girls
asking for boy dolls. Dolls with brown eyes were all the rage in the
1880s; previously only blue-eyed dolls were available. Shooting off
fireworks was a popular way to celebrate Christmas, so it was no
surprise to find many requests for roman candles and pop crackers—mostly
from boys. Trains, baby carriages, cook stoves, alphabet blocks and
marbles were also popular items.
Many letters in the 1800s inquired as
to Santa’s health. This puzzled me until one letter writer cleared up
the mystery. It seems that parents unable to afford Christmas toys told
their kiddies that Santa was sick and couldn’t come.
Many children remembered to ask Santa for something for siblings, but this letter from Texas gave me pause: Dear Santa, please bring my baby brother a rattler.
It was tempting at times to read between the lines: Dear Santa, I had an accident happen to me not long ago. Please bring a rifle. Your friend Amos
I hope Santa left castor oil with this hefty load: Dear Santa, I write these lines
because my stomach is very empty and keeps flip-flopping; Please send a
barrel of nuts, 14 pounds of candy, a small barrel of molasses and
Santa it seemed could do anything: One little girl asked for a cradle and washboard and a “sweetheart for my teacher, Miss Georgia.”
One thing that really stood out was
the charitable nature of children. Many letters contained pleas for
poor children. In 1893 One little Texas boy named Louis St. Clair
“bursted” his bank to send Santa twenty-five cents to give to the“poor little sick boy.”
Requests for teddy bears started popping up in the early 1900s and something called an Irish Mail, pictured here.
Children didn’t always receive their heart’s desire, which probably explains the number of letters that ended like this: “And don’t try to fool me.”
DEAR SANTA: Now it's your turn: What do you want from Santa this year?