Santa’s elves don’t all have pointy ears, and they don’t all wear red and green.
In fact, in one of Santa’s many workshops around the world, his elves have round ears and wear button-downs and slacks.
In this 21st century world, they mosey down to the office conference room on their lunch break and help Ol’ Saint Nick avoid his seasonal carpel tunnel by responding to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of letters addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
“The letters just show up here,” said Steve Swift, general manager of sales at GE Renewable Energy.
The North Pole’s de facto ZIP code — 12345 — is exclusively occupied by General Electric’s main plant in Schenectady. For several decades now, the local post office knows to send all of its postcards and letters addressed to “Santa” over to the plant, where full-time employees and part-time elves are happy to help the jolly, rotund man with his annual duties.
Rita Fodera bent over a colorful postcard Wednesday, the tip of her pointed hat nearly touching the conference room table.
The postcard is addressed to “123 Main Street, North Pole, NY 12345.”
It reads: “My name is Angel. I’m from Taiwan. I hope you have a nice Christmas. Please mail back to me as soon as possible. Sincerely, Angel Shu.”
Santa’s appeal is more global than ever. Fodera, a pricing leader at the company, is a native of China, so she happily responds to kids writing from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.
“All the young generations of kids in China now believe in Santa more because they’ve been watching so many movies and TV series, so the spirit is growing. But my generation, when I was young, I didn’t even know who Santa was,” she said.
Alison Sail joined the local cadre of elves last year, remembering those times as a child when elves would sneak into her room and leave dust on the dresser where her letter to Santa had rested overnight.
“This is the most humbling experience for me because it reminds you what Christmas should be about and it reminds you that Christmas isn’t just about gifts,” she said. “It’s about a spirit and about a feeling that you get this time of year. That’s why I do it.”
Letters to Santa are everything you would expect from kids, and more.
Some are short and sweet: “Good luck delivering all the presents to all the children. Love, Kylie.”
Some are straight to the point: “Fisher Price doll house, unicorn pillow pet, Barbie hair salon, two Zubels.”
Some are rambling and endearingly apologetic: “Happy almost Christmas. Can I please have an iTunes card for Christmas, and can I have a Bratz winter Cloe doll? It is OK if I don’t get the doll but it’s just a thought. Can Cooper also please have some toys? Just another thought. How is the rheindeers going? Guess what? I saw Wreck It Ralph in the movie theater it was cool. Please tell Mrs. Claus I said hi. Again you don’t have to get me the doll.”
Some are mystifying: “Dear Santa, how are you up in the North Pole? I saw you on reindeer.com. Please say hi to your elves.”
Others are heart-wrenching.
“You can’t read all these letters and not get affected at some point and try to do something about it,” said Swift. “It’s impossible. My dad lost his job. My mom is sick. We lost our house in a fire. We’re not going to have any Christmas this year. They ask for coats and hats. Stuff for their brothers and sisters.”
Four years ago, Terry Shields opened a letter from a man that prompted him to buy two boxes stuffed with canned hams, cereals and other dried goods, pack them up and ship them to Tennessee.
“It just said that he had been on disability for quite a few years, times had been tough because they had some kind of flooding,” he recalled. “They lived near a river. Times had been tough, and he was looking for some groceries to get by during the season.”
Shields, another GE pricing leader, has donned his elf cap for nearly a decade and rarely comes across letters from adults. He watches for the letters that don’t begin with “I want.” The ones who do write have typically fallen on hard times, he said, and mail a letter to Santa like “a shot in the blind.”
Santa’s workshop at ZIP code 12345 is full of mirth this time of year. Fits of laughter erupt from the GE Wind conference room, and elves can’t help but share their favorite requests. Some of their favorite letters are displayed on the walls.
The elves make sure Santa doesn’t promise anything to eager kids in his replies. Usually, he asks the kids to keep the true spirit of Christmas alive by helping others or assures them he knows the way to their house.
Every so often, he makes sure to remind them to leave milk and cookies.
“I get hungry on a long journey!” he writes.