12/08/2014 08:13 am ET Updated Feb 07, 2015

The Adorable History Of Letters To Santa

The tradition of writing letters to Santa Claus is a lot more recent than you think. Read on to discover the history of St. Nick, check out examples of famous letters, and find out how to write one of your own!

But Who Is This Jolly Fat Man?
Santa Claus has a long and convoluted history. St. Nicholas was a third-century Greek saint whose legacy of generosity became tangled up with the pagan celebration of Yule and the Norse god Odin. His Dutch name "Sinterklaas" eventually became "Santa Claus."

It wasn't until 1823 that Santa Claus as we know him emerged. That's when "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (Better known as "The Night Before Christmas") was published in the Troy, New York Sentinel. Although originally published anonymously, the poem was later attributed to Clement Clark Moore and became hugely popular. The image of Santa as a jolly fellow in a red suit with a long white beard, flying through the sky with his team of reindeer to deliver presents, stuck in our collective imagination.

Yes, Virginia, There Is
The most famous correspondence written about Santa is the letter from eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon to The New York Sun in 1897:

Dear Editor, I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."
Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O'Hanlon
115 W. 95th St.

In his response, editorial writer Francis Pharcellus Church famously wrote, "Yes, Virginia, there is," but if you read his entire response, he's really saying that the magic of Christmas was inside us the whole time.

Susie's Letter from Santa
There are certain perks when your dad is one of the most famous writers in the world. Mark Twain answered his daughter Susie's letter to Santa in character, and the result is a charming, funny, and heartwarming read:

People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all--so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room--for I shall put it there.

You can find the full text here.

Writing Your Own Letter
There's quite the cottage industry based around letters from Santa; for about ten dollars, you can have a personalized letter sent to your kid with a postmark from the North Pole. The US Post Office also offers a postmarked letter service, though the rules are so complicated that most parents might be better off skipping the stamp and tucking it under the child's pillow.
After all, Santa is magic and has his own reindeer-powered delivery service and elf-based supply chain. Why would he need to use the postal system?

Encourage kids to write a letter to the North Pole. It's excellent practice in writing and composition, and it'll give you something to treasure years from now when they've stopped believing in Santa Claus. Write a reply in character, praising the child for their good deeds over the year (and leaving out all the times they forgot to clean their room).

Go ahead and deck the halls with Christmas clichés. Proofread it (Santa has elves for this step; you've got Grammarly's online proofreading tool) and either print it out on Christmas-themed letterhead or write it out by hand. Rolling up the letter and tying it with ribbon is a nice touch, but you could also tuck it in the mailbox for the child to find.

Did you ever write a letter to Santa as a kid? Share your Christmas memories in the comments!