Next year, Bob Otway will have been helping answer letters to Santa for 20 years.
It’s not a job he gets a lot of public feedback on, except for the occasional comment or letter to the editor. He rarely gets any response from the children’s parents.
“I don’t think anyone knows that I do them,” said Otway. “I am sure that most parents are pretty happy; I did 30 on Friday and I was thinking that the kids when they get the letter the must be really happy.”
But there is one thing that keeps him going.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Otway, who co-ordinates Santa’s helpers for the South Okanagan region. Last year, he answered about 800 letters for Penticton, and thinks there was easily 1,500 over the whole region.
While most children tell Santa what a good boy or girl they have been, or check what food Santa would like to have waiting for him, there are always a few gems that stand out.
“Last year, one little girl asked ‘Can you get rid of my brother for me?’ said Otway, laughing. “And of course, some will send two or three pages of toys or stuff they want and they will have the catalogue numbers and the prices and everything.”
Canada Post supplies a form letter for Santa’s helpers to use, but Otway said they are sure to add a personal touch to each one.
“We do read every letter and try to make comments based on the letter,” explained Otway.
If the child sends a Christmas card, he said, they will likely be told Mrs. Claus has put it on the fireplace.
“So they think wow, their Christmas card is on Santa’s fireplace. If they draw a nice picture, I’ll say Mrs Claus has hung it in the workshop so all the elves can see it,” he said. “But no promises. We never ever make any promises.”
Otway asks that rather than putting letters to Santa in the red mailboxes, they be given over the counter at the main post office or one of the three retail postal outlets in Penticton. They can also be put in the mailbox at Santa’s Castle in Cherry Lane shopping centre, which Otway checks daily.
That, he said, will allow for a faster turnaround on Santa’s replies as well as allowing, in some cases, Otway to use his local knowledge to get the letter back to the right person if the information, like the return address, is not complete.
However, Otway does ask that parents lend a hand by making sure all the info is there, including a clear spelling of the children’s names. Letters in many languages, he adds, will be answered.
This year, letters should be at the post office or other drop off location to make sure there is time to get them back to the children, though Otway does his best to be sure everyone gets a reply.
“I do go down to the office on the 24th and any letters that are there, I answer and I take them right to the letter carrier,” he said. “But if they can have them mailed before the 21st, that would be great.”