Dear Santa

I didn’t have a clue, but apparently Santa lives in Lapland.  I’ve heard of it but didn’t know where it is.  I had to look up it up.  It’s in Finland, just in case you also didn’t know.  Lapland is in the Arctic Circle, which is also known as the Land of the Midnight Sun.  It’s that part at the top of the world where the sun never sets during the summer solstice.  Specifically, Santa lives in a town called Rovaniemi, which is 8 km north of the centre of the Arctic Circle.  As much as Rovaniemi is literally in the Arctic Circle, you would think it’s more frigid than Yakutsk.  It isn’t.  In fact, as I’m writing this, it’s -39⁰C in Yakutsk while it’s a balmy -1⁰C in Rovaniemi, perhaps to fall to -5⁰C later in the night.  Yakutsk would be like Lapland Santa’s winter home.

“Kristine, why do you now know where Santa lives?” I hear you asking.  I’m happy you want to know.  It’s because last week, my kids wrote letters to him.

My school is excellent at adding value to our students’ experiences.  I don’t think legitimate language schools anywhere in the world are cheap so doing little things helps students and their parents feel like they’re getting more than just the English classes that they’re paying for.  This month, one of the things includes the younger students – several of which I teach – writing letters to Santa.

I’ve seen this kind of thing in Hallmark movies but I don’t believe I’ve ever thought of it as a reality, and I’ve certainly never been involved in a Santa-related activity like this before.  To be honest, I wasn’t really involved in it last week either.

We had one main guideline for the kids; they couldn’t ask for toys.  That’s totally understandable.  Allowing them to ask for toys would put expectations on my school to meet those needs.  That may sound ridiculous to you and me but having been a proper teacher for even as short a time as I have, I know that some parents and their kids can take things like this and run with it in all sorts of unreasonable directions.  So the kids were told that they could wish Santa good health, they could wish for peace on earth and happiness in their families…anything but toys or other material gifts.

I had five groups of kids that were included in the exercise.  In each case, we allowed them to write in Russian since they were better able to express themselves that way.  Their English language skills aren’t advanced enough to ask for non-material things in English.  One set of students struggled over what to write, since toys were off the table, and I had to let them go home and think about it and come back and write the letter at our next class a few days later.  To be honest, I don’t know what any of my students asked Santa for, since they all wrote in Russian, but I appreciated the value of the exercise of them asking for things that caused them to think beyond themselves.  My guess is that Santa doesn’t get a lot of letters from kids asking for anything other than toys and gadgets.

I considered how I felt about this exercise.  I didn’t object to it for a couple of reasons.  First, I liked that it encouraged the children to think outside themselves.  Most children are naturally selfish and every small lesson about putting others first helps to balance that natural selfishness.  Second, I’ve always liked the cosy feeling of the fantasy of Santa, of a person who is committed to doing nothing but working on fulfilling children’s wishes, especially noble ones.  However, although my spirit didn’t passionately reject the activity like it did the Halloween stuff, I also wasn’t gung ho for it.  Santa Claus is based on the legend of St. Nicholas, by all accounts a man devoted to God and to acts of charity.  So nothing against Santa but it seems like God is the one who my kids should be asking for things like peace on earth and happiness for their families, and Jesus is the one they should be emulating for kindness and caring.  You know what I mean?

Meanwhile, I hear that Lapland Santa answers every letter that he receives, so our kids can definitely expect a response, although we don’t know when.  Their letters are being mailed this week but we may not get Santa’s reply until perhaps April.  I get it.  It is his busiest time of the year and I guess every child on earth who has been brought up to believe in him is writing now to ask for stuff.  I’ll let you know what Santa has to say when he manages to reply to my kids.  At the very least, it will be interesting to see what his stationery looks like!

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