It’s probably safe to say that just about everyone, in their childhood, has written a letter to Santa.
It’s a time-honored holiday tradition for kids around the world. Here, in the United States it has a special place in our collective consciousness.
Jean Shepherd knew that when he wrote the screenplay for A Christmas Story (1983), tapping deep into our psyche and our own personal equivalent of Ralphie’s Red Ryder Carbine action, 200-shot Range Model BB gun (with the compass in the stock).
Each of us can recall some toy or gift that we simply couldn’t live without when we were kids.
We all believed that Santa could provide it. It was just a matter of making him aware of our plight.
The practice of penning letters to Santa dates back a century and a half, all of them addressed to Santa Claus at the North Pole. Countless letters have been written.
But what happens to these letters? Where do they actually go?
Who, if anyone, actually reads them? Are the requests ever fulfilled?
We all know that letters to Santa provide helpful clues to parents every Christmas that can guide holiday shopping. But what if the parents are unable to buy gifts?
That’s the subject of Dana Nachman’s bright new documentary Dear Santa (2020).
It’s the story of The U.S. Postal Service and “Operation Santa” a program that has been in existence for over a century.
It’s the upbeat story of “Adopter Elves” who take it upon themselves to make the Christmas wishes of children in need come true.
Christmas 2020 will be like none other in our lifetimes.
We all know how COVID-19 has driven people into isolation and depression, separating friends and family everywhere. The heartbreak is particularly painful around the holidays when we all long to be together.
While social media can soften the blow, nothing really replaces the human contact that holiday socializing can bring. All we can do is make the best of it.
While movies can’t fix the problem, they can raise our spirits and restore our faith in humanity to some degree.
In the current climate of dark political divisiveness and polarizing discord, Dear Santa might offer the positivity, compassion and hope that we desperately need right now.
It begins with a lively montage of kids talking about Santa Claus, from a kid’s point of view, describing him and establishing his M.O. It’s colorful and cute.
We see them drawing pictures of Santa and beginning to write their letters begging with the words “Dear Santa” repeated again and again.
The opening sequence reconnects us all with our own, fond childhood experiences and the wonderous magic of Christmas.
We’re all aboard this age-old Polar Express with bags full of letters scrawled in Crayola crayons.
But then the movie follows those letters, being delivered to post offices and read by teams of volunteers who set about assessing wishes and activating wish fulfillment.
As expected, there are the standard requests for toys and pets. No surprise here.
What is surprising are the letters in which kids don’t ask for anything for themselves, choosing instead to request something for a parent or sibling.
As it turns out, even adults occasionally write letters to Santa when they have run out of options and don’t know where else to turn for cribs, mattresses, cooking utensils or family sofas that they can’t afford.
Dear Santa walks a thin line between sadness and joy.
It covers a number of locations across the country, each with their unique circumstances and needs.
One of them is Chico, California with a recent influx of families who were victims of the nearby 2018 Paradise, California fire in which 11,000 homes were lost.
That story, incidentally, told in one of this year’s best documentary films, Rebuilding Paradise, produced and directed by Ron Howard.
The common thread in Dear Santa is the connection between people in need and people reaching out to help.
It’s an enormous effort that involves mustering support, raising funds, buying gifts and then wrapping and delivering them.
The movie features footage of a number of actual letters as they are being written and later, follows up with the requested items being delivered.
As you can guess, the moments when the gifts arrive are overwhelmingly touching and emotional, and real.
To its credit, Dear Santa tells the tale with brisk pace, spot-on camera coverage and razor-sharp editing. It’s a joy to watch and experience. Always upbeat.
In showbusiness, the old adage is that timing is everything. It certainly applies to Dear Santa, a movie that can restore our faith in our fellow man and help us get through these difficult times.
It’s a ray of light and hope in a world of suffering and loss this past year.
She’s a talented filmmaker who seems dedicated to searching out the best in us and reminding us that we can all make the world a better place with a little love, compassion and dedication.
You can find out more about Operation Santa at USPSOperationSanta.com.
Dear Santa opens Friday December 4th in select theaters, drive-ins and on VOD.