The letters from Santa contain abundant family information.

Assisting the Big Man at Christmas is a responsibility I take seriously

A
warning: what follows contains speculation about the identity of a certain bearded individual from the North Pole. If you or anyone in your household strongly believes in said person, this article might not be suitable for you.

With that being said, let me tell you where you can find me; tired and sluggish at my desk, putting the final touches on the letters from Santa that I write every year to my nieces and nephews (referred to as niblings from now on).

This is my 10th year writing them. When I began, I had no children of my own, only eight niblings. Currently, I have 18 niblings and two kids. Additionally, back in 2014, I was working in a monotonous office job with very little room for creativity, and the letters provided a much-needed escape from the boredom of spreadsheets and team meetings. Now, I find myself in the midst of the literary and media elite – in the past six years alone, two whole strangers have recognized me on the street to say hi – so this yearly mission leaves me drained and faced with a more demanding audience.

Fortunately, the letters are my favorite piece of writing each year. For one thing, they have created a tradition of me receiving letters to Santa from my beloved people. As time and distance separate us, it’s wonderful to see what they’ve been up to throughout the year, to discover that they’ve been mostly well-behaved, and to decipher their desired presents as a glimpse into their thoughts. That and the realization that ripped denim flares are back in style – who would’ve guessed?

Receiving these letters also makes it surprisingly easy to embody Santa as a character. His delightfully forgetful and scatterbrained nature aligns perfectly with my state of mind every December. This year, he writes, it’s become so cold that the elves’ words freeze in their mouths and have to be warmed over a stove to be audible. He provides updates on the status of their requested presents, some cool stickers, and a detailed diagram of Santa’s Arctic Fortress, which may or may not be inspired by the Times’ famously speculative 2001 diagram of Osama bin Laden’s Tora Bora terror base. After all, it wouldn’t be a useful piece of children’s literature without something for their skeptical, cynical parents.

Of course, there is a sense of melancholy in writing these letters year after year. Out of the 20 kids these letters are addressed to, I would classify seven as true believers and five as too young to understand. The rest are those who, how shall I put it, have fallen off the Santa wagon (or should I say sleigh?) and no longer write their letters with the same conviction.

Gone are the effusive, personalized letters to St. Nick, replaced now by straightforward lists of desired gifts, written with the emotionless clarity of an expense invoice. Their number will only increase as the years go by, but I don’t dwell on it. I’m too busy ensuring that I don’t forget anyone. I must have a list somewhere, I’m off to double-check it.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is available now (Little, Brown, £16.99). You can purchase a copy from guardianbookshop for £14.78.

Follow Séamas on @shockproofbeats

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