For 27 years, Santa’s elf Sandy Sugarswirl has been the big man’s lead hand in responding to letters from the children of Niagara.
Twelve of those years have been spent in Niagara-on-the-Lake, writing back to girls and boys across town.
“It’s my favourite time of the year,” says Sugarswirl, dressed in her Christmas gear as she replies to three letters Friday morning at the NOTL post office, where she is known as Sandy Godard.
“The big man, you know, he always wants us to do the letters for him because he's so busy with the elves and everything at the North Pole,” she says.
“So he sends down boxes of mail. And whoever wants to volunteer here at the office, can. They give me a little elf guide of the do's and don'ts for when you're replying to the letters.”
The letters typically come in with gift requests. Boys tend to ask for things like Lego, hockey equipment or video games and consoles. Girls tend to ask for things like Barbies, though LOL Dollz have been especially popular of late.
“Some of them ask for treats for their dogs or cats,” Sugarswirl says.
Santa also gets some personal questions, like how old he is, whether he had a good summer, and the quintessential question — what’s his favourite cookie. She said chocolate chip is Santa’s favourite — though he’s not picky.
Typically Sugarswirl helps Santa respond to between 200 and 300 letters. And this year, with concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic special precautions are being taken, she says.
Santa has a strict rule that the elves aren’t allowed to promise any particular gift — that would spoil the surprise.
The return letters are mostly written by Santa himself, but Sugarswirl and fellow elves add some personal touches.
For a letter from Lennon McTaggart on Lakeshore Road, who drew a picture of an elf, Sugarswirl writes back that she really likes the drawing.
“See you on Christmas Eve,” she writes.
Santa has given Sugarswirl three different letters, just in case multiple siblings write in. The letters usually get sent back out the next day after being received, Sugarswirl says, to make sure they get to the families before Christmas.
One problem that the elves run into, she says, is some people forget to include a return address, which means Santa doesn’t know where to send his letters.
She reminds anyone sending a letter to be sure to include their address.
Sometimes, even if there isn’t an address, Sugarswirl uses a little bit of Christmas magic to try to track down the writers.
If she recognizes a name, she’ll see if she can get in touch in some way. One time she received a letter from someone with the last name Hendrik, so she took a stroll over to Hendrik’s Valu-mart across the street and asked around. Luckily, she was able to figure out who it was and was able to send a reply.
“I try and go above and beyond.”
Sugarswirl says she’s a bit worried there won’t be as many letters in this year. As of Friday Santa had only received three at the NOTL post office.
Typically a lot of letters are dropped during the town’s traditional Christmas Parade, she said. But it is cancelled due to the pandemic.
She hopes everyone will read this story and send in their letters.
Santa has a drop-off box for letters in the front of the NOTL post office.
She also helps the big man send out letters to classrooms, which are big posters with all the students' names on them.
Being in NOTL, she said sometimes they receive letters from around the globe.
“We are so close to Niagara Falls, and when that parade happens, you have people coming from the States, and we've got tourists here all the time. So, you get them.”
Even one from England. “There was a lady, she lived here, but her granddaughter was over in England. She says if I get a letter from her, will you answer it and send it on to England. I said, of course. So she brought it in, I did it up. She got it about eight days later, which is the norm for mail going overseas.”
Sugarswirl is also able to answer letters in French, if she receives them.
The letters received are not kept by Santa, but instead of shredded for privacy reasons.
Sugarswirl started her elf duties in 1993 at the post office in Stoney Creek. She’s also written in St. Catharines and co-ordinated letter delivery at various Christmas parades in past years.
Over time, she’s made friends who even deliver letters right to her mailbox.
“(For) people who are friends with me on Facebook, I just put a little something in there saying, 'anyone can feel free, drop off a letter, your child will get a reply letter.”
Sugarswirl, who has been with Canada Post for 30 years and recently had a new graddaughter, Zaniyah, said she plans to retire in 2021. When she does, she hopes another one of Santa’s elves will take over.
“I’m sure they won't go to the extremes that I do because I just love Christmas. And the kids, that's what's important.”
She wants to encourage parents to drop off letters at any post office, but to include a return address.
Just address letters to Santa Claus, North Pole, Canada, H0H 0H0