Letters to the Christkind or Santa Claus
In Germany, you can send your Christmas wish list to several post offices, and address them to either the Christ Child, Santa Claus or St. Nicholas.
Before Santa Claus started contributing to the task, the traditional gift-bringer in many parts of Germany is known as the Christkind, or Christ Child. With Christmas on its way in a month, the Christ Child is already hard at work. But the sprite-like figure couldn't manage alone to react to all the letters sent by children — which is why there are now a total of seven official Christmas post offices in Germany in towns with names like Himmelsthür (Heaven's door), Engelskirchen (Angel's churches) or St. Nikolaus. (Also read: Cake-mixing ceremonies make a comeback!)
Along with St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, many volunteers are assisting the Christ Child in answering those letters.
With wish lists coming from all over the world, answers are also written in many different languages beyond German — in English, French, Spanish, Czech, Taiwanese, Chinese, Estonian, Dutch, Japanese and Polish, as well as in Braille and now in Ukrainian.
Decorated with hearts and stars
Children put great effort into their letters to the Christ Child or Santa Claus.
"Dear Santa Claus, please bring us nice presents. I'll leave cookies for you under the Christmas tree," writes 7-year-old Amelie. Her spelling is far from perfect, but she painted her wish list in bright colors and stuck glittering stars onto the letter.
In their letters, children make a list of the gifts they hope to receive, from unicorns to mountain bikes to PlayStations. Some request the gift of good grades in school.
A friendly introduction is helpful.
"Dear Santa, how are you? How's your health? How are your reindeer? You granted me a wish last year, and I want to thank you for that. Now this year I would like …"
Some children are very specific, detailing in which store the toys they are requesting can be found.
Some letters are particularly touching: "Dear Santa, can you please stop the war and make sure that everyone has enough to eat?"
The war in Ukraine preoccupies children in Germany too, while the pandemic was mentioned in many letters in the last two years: "Dear Santa Claus, I hope that COVID dies. Can you take care of that?"
Other children hope to dispel doubts about the gift-bearers themselves.
"Dear Santa Claus, do you really exist? I once heard that you are an invention of Coca-Cola. And if you really exist, are you a good friend of the Christ Child?"
Santa Claus, the Christ Child and St. Nicholas received around 649,000 children's letters in 2021, and just as many are expected this year.
The largest Christmas post office in Germany is located in the little town of Himmelpfort in Brandenburg, which received 300,000 letters last year.
Most of the wish lists come from Germany, but there has also been mail from 18,000 kilometers away in New Zealand.
How it all began
At the beginning of the 19th century, there was already a tradition of children writing in preparation to the year's end festivities. Back then it was called the Christmas letter.
However, the children did not write elaborately decorated letters to the Christ Child or Santa Claus, but to their parents. They didn't ask for gifts but rather thanked their mothers and fathers while pledging obedience, diligence and good behavior — and asked for God's blessing.
For example, around 1847 the young August wrote: "Dear parents! Not a day goes by without my deep recognition for everything I owe you, dear parents."
As the toy industry developed, manufacturers came up with the idea of handing out wish list forms. The children only had to tick their gift preference.
In 1950, a well-known German department store addressed those forms directly to the Christ Child or Santa Claus.
Christmas post offices started appearing a decade later. The oldest one is in Himmelpforten in Lower Saxony — not to be confused with the one in Himmelpfort, in Brandenburg. There, in 1962, little Bärbel wished for a new doll and a dear brother. She addressed her handwritten letter to "Santa Claus in heaven."
And she got an answer: The local post office manager Helmut Stolberg decorated his letter with stickers and declared it as airmail. From then on, German children knew: Santa Claus really does exist — and he always writes back.
This article was originally written in German.