Letters to Santa sure have changed through the years

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann  for The Review

Christmas is just about a week away and what would Christmas be without Santa Claus?

Children by the thousands have sat down and written letters to Santa with a list of toys and gifts they would most like to receive. In some cases these letters contain requests of 10, 15, or even 20 items the child wants.

Just recently a local publication printed page after page of letters to Santa from area children. On their Christmas wish lists were such items as digital cameras, expensive electronic games, lap top computers and a whole host of high Tech toys.

Reading over these letters I couldn’t help but wonder what children in bygone years had asked the jolly old elf to bring them for Christmas.

The Sheboygan Press on December 20, 1916 published several pages of letters from children to Santa Claus. How different they were. True, times were different and certainly there were no electronic toys, but there still were a vast array of toys of all kinds available.

But it does seem that these children, 90 years ago, had a much lower expectation as to what Santa was going to bring them. In almost every single letter the writer would end the letter by telling Santa to be sure and bring nuts and candy and in one case a little boy told Santa especially nuts!

The custom of Christmas was a bit different in those days in that most children did not see the Christmas tree until Christmas Day. But then, how could they? For it was Santa Claus that brought the tree on Christmas Eve, who set up the tree and trimmed it and then placed their gifts under the tree, that is if they had been good during the year.

During the year many parents had cautioned their children that Santa Claus would bring them nothing but a lump of coal and a stick which could be used to give them a spanking.

So it was in each letter the children tried to assure Santa that even if they hadn’t been good all the time they had certainly tried and ended their letter by saying, please don’t forget the tree.

Just what kind of gifts did the children ask for? Little girls would almost invariably ask for a baby doll or a set of small dishes and hair ribbons and handkerchiefs.

Boys asked for such things as tinker toys, erector sets, or maybe a football. In one letter a little boy asked that could Santa please see to it that his father, who was in the National Guard and had been sent to the Mexican border, be returned for Christmas.

It seems that the United States was trying to quell border disturbances between the USA and Mexican bandits that were taking place at the time.

Much like today, members of our armed services were in far away places serving their country.

In almost every case the children of that long ago time never asked for more that 2 or 3 items and in many cases asked Santa to please remember a friend, grandma and grandpa, or as one little boy wrote “momma and pappa”.

Believe it or not some of the gifts that were asked for by both girls and boys were such things as books, pencils and paper and clothing such as warm mittens.

One little girl asked Santa to please bring back her baby doll as he apparently had picked it up at their house, and lo and behold it would most certainly re-appear on Christmas morning with a new wig and a new dress, homemade.

Sometimes a much used coaster wagon would disappear just before Christmas and then re-appear on Christmas morning sporting a new coat of paint and perhaps new wheels.

In continuing a search through letters I came across those written to Santa in 1932 during the height of the great depression.

One particularly heartrending letter started by saying “Dear Santa, I know these times are hard so I’m not going to ask for much.” He asked for only a pencil and a tablet.

Other letters ended by asking Santa to please remember all the poor children who may get nothing for Christmas.

Times were so very different during those lean depression years and it seems as though the children of those days were well aware of the barren Christmas that it would be for some.

In the 1950’s, at the start of the atomic age, in a letter to Santa published in the New York Times, a nine year old boy asked for “2 atomic bombs, 2 pistols and a very sharp knife”.

A small girl asked for an atomic bomb set and cautioned Santa to make sure the bombs in the set would work! It makes you wonder just what these children had in mind

How different it is today in these far better economic times. The children of 2014 could never imagine what Christmas was like in 1932.

In looking at Christmas ads on TV and in newspapers of today I am amazed at the blizzard of electronic devices on the market; many selling hundreds of dollars. Just 30 years ago or so who would have believed that you could do your Christmas shopping from the comfort of home on the internet as I often do.

Is Santa Claus becoming old fashioned….I hope not.

Both my wife Joy and I wish you all a Merry Christmas

Today’s Tidbit: The Sheboygan Christmas Parade of 1929 featured large floating balloons representing animal characters, marching units and of course old Santa himself along with a team of live reindeer. A reindeer handler, an elf and Santa’s assistant also appeared.


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