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"A silver sixpence and a long toffee"
December 21, 2011 8:47 AM   Subscribe


 
Epic.
posted by Fizz at 8:48 AM on December 21, 2011


Aw, it's such a long time ago that we'll probably never know if they got their presents.

When kids are asking for a raincoat and gloves for Christmas.... wow.
posted by Malor at 8:51 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sadly, the child never got any presents, and the parents missed this piece of evidence after they cleaned the charred remains of Santa out of the fireplace.
posted by xingcat at 8:53 AM on December 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


What, did that kid expect Santa to just conjure up gifts on the spot? Santa relies on elves, not demon sorcery.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:55 AM on December 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


100-year old letter to Santa found in chimney

Wow did I read that headline incorrectly.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:55 AM on December 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


This may possibly need a note for those on the American continent who may not be aware:

Instead of relying on the U.S. Post to deliver your letter, or giving it to him at the mall or whatever, the custom in the British Isles is to burn your letter to Santa in the fireplace, and the smoke and ashes magically drift to the North Pole and Santa gets your letter that way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:57 AM on December 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


That's interesting EmpressCallipygos. Curious that the author of the Irish Times article seems unaware of that tradition.
posted by yoink at 8:59 AM on December 21, 2011


My son stopped believing in Santa last week. He was getting shit from his classmates for writing a letter to Santa and so he point blank asked my wife. Since he's 12, and it's time he knew, she told him the truth. They cried together for a bit. He told my wife it wasn't her fault, it was his own fault he asked, and ruined Christmas for himself. Then he asked about the cookies and the notes we put by the fireplace Christmas eve. She asked him if he really wanted to know the answer He withdrew the question.

He is our youngest. I'm going to miss Santa.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:04 AM on December 21, 2011 [20 favorites]


Curious that the author of the Irish Times article seems unaware of that tradition.

....What makes you say that? I only mentioned it because he didn't, and I took the reason for his not mentioning it as "everyone knows that's what we do so why explain it".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


What makes you say that

This:
They placed it in the chimney of the fireplace in the front bedroom so that Santa would see it as he made his way into the Howard household in the early hours of the morning.
posted by yoink at 9:09 AM on December 21, 2011


flanders, you may want to adopt something my father did when my brother and I got "too old for Santa".

My father didn't want to entirely give up the "secret present" thing, so he got a couple of silly presents for my brother and I, and on the gift tags, he wrote that they were from an imaginary friend he used to tell us silly stories about when we were little. Of course, when my brother and I saw the presents from "Sam Yakaboochie," we both looked over at him all, "Uh, Dad?" And Dad just grinned and said, "No, those aren't from me, look! They're from Sam, see?" We all also knew that Sam wasn't real either, but it was just an obvious silly "we're all going to pretend for the fun of it" thing.

That was nearly 30 years ago, and I've been getting a Christmas gift from "Sam Yakaboochie" every year ever since.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:10 AM on December 21, 2011 [20 favorites]


Curious that the author of the Irish Times article seems unaware of that tradition.

....What makes you say that?


"They placed it in the chimney of the fireplace in the front bedroom so that Santa would see it as he made his way into the Howard household in the early hours of the morning."

Since the reporter can't know how the letter got their (floated up with the updraft or was place there) it sounds like his first assumption was NOT that the letter was burned. That's weird if burning is customary.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:10 AM on December 21, 2011


Yoink: Ah, okay. That may be me being ignorant about stuff -- I know that SOME kids burned them, but just didn't know other kids stuffed them up the chimney.

I really was just trying to bring up "chimney" as an option for those who always assumed that "post office" or "leaving it next to the cookies" was the delivery method worldwide.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:13 AM on December 21, 2011


flanders: you really don't have to give up Santa; my own father signed Christmas gift tags 'from Santa' (or from Mrs. Santa, or the elves, or one or more of the reindeer, or even --- at his silliest --- from the Easter Bunny or The Leprechans) throughout his life, and we all thought it was one of those wonderful family jokes. Don't let the magic disappear from your family's Chirstmas!
posted by easily confused at 9:20 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think this was just a UK thing - in the American book 'What Katie Did' by Susan M Coolidge they do exactly the same thing. Here's a quote:

"Then they all sat down round the fire to write their wishes on bits of paper, and see whether they would burn, or fly up the chimney. If they did the latter, it was a sign that Santa Claus had them safe, and would bring the things wished for...When they had written these lists they threw them into the fire. The fire gave a flicker just then, and the papers vanished. Nobody saw exactly how. John thought they flew up chimney, but Dorry said they didn't. Phil dropped his piece in very solemnly. It flamed for a minute, then sank into ashes."

I think it's a Victorian thing - that novel was written in 1872 and I've seen references in British novels of the same period.
posted by Encipher at 9:22 AM on December 21, 2011


It's also traditional to put the letter above the flames in the fireplace, so that the updraught carries it straight up the chimney intact (and presumably it flies to Father Christmas after that). We were still doing this in the 1980s; I presume children in houses without coal fires had other methods of delivery!
posted by Catseye at 9:24 AM on December 21, 2011


flanders: you really don't have to give up Santa; my own father signed Christmas gift tags 'from Santa' (or from Mrs. Santa, or the elves, or one or more of the reindeer, or even --- at his silliest --- from the Easter Bunny or The Leprechans) throughout his life, and we all thought it was one of those wonderful family jokes. Don't let the magic disappear from your family's Chirstmas!

My mother-in-law signs about half the presents from that side of the family as from Santa. Of course, she also likes to put other people's names on the To: line based on some theme for each person for the year, which she then scatters underneath the tree for other people to sort out.

Of course, coming up with five or six new themes every year is hard. Going to law school? Look for presents for "Clarence Darrow" "Ruth Bader Ginsburg" and "Alan Dershowitz." Love mystery novels? Then you might need to remember to grab the presents for "Miss Marple" and "Amelia Peabody." Mentioned that you were thinking of buying a new skillet? Well, obviously, you'll be looking for the packages for "Paul Prudhomme" and "Jamie Oliver." It's half cute, half infuriating.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:29 AM on December 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


Santa relies on elves, not demon sorcery.

Some sources disagree.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:30 AM on December 21, 2011


the custom in the British Isles is to burn your letter to Santa in the fireplace, and the smoke and ashes magically drift to the North Pole and Santa gets your letter that way.

We always held the letter over the flames, let it go and watched the letter whoosh up the chimney on the draught. I've never heard of anyone burning their letters, and if ours were so much as singed we'd laboriously write out a replacement.

He told my wife it wasn't her fault, it was his own fault he asked, and ruined Christmas for himself.

When my sister and I were seven and eight, we announced that we were much too old for the whole Father Christmas charade. That Christmas morning there were no presents under the tree, and Mom & Dad kept up the 'children who don't believe in Father Christmas don't get presents' thing for such an eternity (probably ten minutes) that we really started to wonder if we'd made a terrible, terrible error.
posted by jack_mo at 9:34 AM on December 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


Sweet.

I'm reading 1916, by Morgan Llewellyn at the moment. It's about the Easter Rising of 1916, of which I know pretty much nothing. So the last sentence caught my eye: they were members of the Church of Ireland. Which would make them Protestants, living in a district that looks to have been confiscated by Cromwell et. al. So what happened to the Protestants living near Dublin over the years? Are there still districts near Dublin where Protestants live? Or did they all leave during one of the rebellions?
posted by RedEmma at 9:38 AM on December 21, 2011


What I mean is, I know that people are free to be whatever religion they want in Ireland, and that probably Protestants live all over the place. However, are there districts that remain traditionally Protestant, or are they all gone now? And when did they disperse?
posted by RedEmma at 9:44 AM on December 21, 2011


And yes, I know about Northern Ireland, of course. I'm talking about in the Republic of Ireland.
posted by RedEmma at 9:44 AM on December 21, 2011


My son stopped believing in Santa last week. He was getting shit from his classmates for writing a letter to Santa and so he point blank asked my wife. Since he's 12, and it's time he knew, she told him the truth.

That's nothing -- wait til she tells him about God.
posted by LordSludge at 9:52 AM on December 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


For more of these, check out @TweetsofOld who has been sending out a couple hundred year old letters to Santa every day lately.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:52 AM on December 21, 2011


The message to Santa was warm but explicit.

Man, kids really haven't changed, have they?
posted by Shepherd at 9:53 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


They cried together for a bit. He told my wife it wasn't her fault, it was his own fault he asked, and ruined Christmas for himself.

"Ruined Christmas?" Poor kid. This is why any children I am lucky enough to have will be taught from the start that Santa Claus is part of a beautiful mythology about generosity, and not a literal magical dude who magically comes into the house and delivers presents.

This letter is an adorable piece of history, though.
posted by pts at 9:54 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


RedEmma - not by any means a full answer to your question, but you might get something of the complexity of the picture from this book review and a response concerning the killing of two Protestant brothers in South Offaly in 1921.
posted by Abiezer at 9:55 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


jack_mo, I love your parents.
posted by dabitch at 9:55 AM on December 21, 2011


Thought I should officialy acknowledge that when I was talking about how burning the letters was itself the custom, that I formally and officially didn't know what I was talking about after all.

....Sorry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:58 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't let the magic disappear from your family's Chirstmas!


Seriously. Some packages arrived for me today from Santa.
Apparently he uses Amazon these days....
posted by madajb at 10:02 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dear Santa,
Please let me out of this chimney.
posted by miyabo at 10:11 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's nothing -- wait til she tells him about God.

You joke, but Santa and reading His Dark Materials planted the seeds of doubt in my young mind.
posted by vogon_poet at 10:18 AM on December 21, 2011


Santa Claus
North Pole
H0H 0H0
CANADA

(That is an actual real thing Canada Post does. It's geographical nonsense, but to be fair, at the time of the program's introduction, we could at least lay claim to Magnetic North.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:23 AM on December 21, 2011


He was getting shit from his classmates for writing a letter to Santa

Meddling outsiders! This is why I'm going to homeschool my kids. They will carry all kinds of crazy beliefs well into adulthood. My gift to them!
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:38 AM on December 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Scrooge here. I keep trying to imagine a piece of paper sitting within feet of burning fires and exposed to moisture, rodents, and humidity for over a hundred years surviving without either catching fire from an ember, becoming so brittle and fragile from the constant heat, or decomposing due to the elements (heat, rain, fire), I just can't do it.
posted by tomswift at 10:45 AM on December 21, 2011


I'm pleased to see others have stories similar to mine about how their families have carried on a version of Santa after disbelief and into adulthood!

At my parents' house, we (three boys, all adults now) still leave Santa treats by the fire on Christmas Eve... although we usually stay up so late drinking and talking, now, that often "Santa" himself has to shoo us home/to bed so he can get busy setting out all the gifts and still snatch a couple hours sleep himself! The only change there, aside from the late hour, is that we now leave leave him brandy and an empty snifter, instead of cookies and milk. We also generally do not leave carrots for the reindeer, anymore.

In the morning, before anyone can open their stockings, the eldest (my brother) reads the letter Santa has left. It is usually two handwritten pages, with a long paragraph for each of us (and mentions of any spouses or girlfriends that have been invited along) that praises, encourages, and sympathizes as appropriate to how our year has gone. It always ends with a gentle reminder that he is only a servant of Jesus, whom the holiday is really about. (I am an atheist now, as my parents know and lovingly accept, and even I wouldn't have it any other way. In my family, Santa is a Christian, so it's natural he would mention it in his letter!). Oh yes, and there's a P.S. mentioning how disappointed the reindeer were that there were no carrots, assuming we've forgot them as usual.

For gifts, all the important gifts are addressed from whoever gave them, of course... but carrying on a tradition we've had since forever, others are addressed from literary characters from books or movies that are important to our family and appropriate for the gift. Especially frequent gift-givers are characters from Tolkien, Wodehouse, Star Wars, etc. And we get gifts from them every year, with new characters added as they're read and become important.

We brothers are always eager to bring new girlfriends and such to Christmas, when possible. For one thing, we subconsciously believe it's impossible to understand Christmas if you haven't seen A Child's Christmas in Wales, and for another, we just treasure our Christmas and think that everyone should get to experience it at least once.
posted by gilrain at 11:15 AM on December 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Cue the Santa speech from the Gremlins.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:41 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


...Sorry

No need to be sorry!
But what a wonderful world this would be if more people were like you!

For what it's worth, your story sounds rather plausible to me.
In your honour I think I'll write a letter to Santa tonight, burn it up and let it fly in the air (I don't have a fireplace) and see what happens on the 25th.

I'll keep you guys posted.
posted by bitteroldman at 11:53 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


the custom in the British Isles is to burn your letter to Santa in the fireplace, and the smoke and ashes magically drift to the North Pole and Santa gets your letter that way.

This is the tradition our family followed. I wonder if it was really a tradition that was kept many generations removed from the British Isles or if my parents revived it after reading about it somewhere.

I think it's way cooler than mailing a letter. Santa is magical so his mail should be magical as well.
posted by vespabelle at 12:16 PM on December 21, 2011


stupidsexyFlanders, I am staggered that a modern child can get to be 12 years old and still think Santa may be real. Absolutely staggered. That wasn't even possible in my young day, which was a very long time ago indeed.
posted by Decani at 12:22 PM on December 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Instead of relying on the U.S. Post to deliver your letter, or giving it to him at the mall or whatever, the custom in the British Isles is to burn your letter to Santa in the fireplace, and the smoke and ashes magically drift to the North Pole and Santa gets your letter that way.

So Santa never got that request then.

:(
posted by mazola at 12:58 PM on December 21, 2011


mygothlaundry: "@TweetsofOld"

This one is especially wonderful: Dear Santa: I have two cats, so don't bring another. I want a fire engine, with a bell.Your friend till Christmas, Edwin Pettes.

dabitch: "jack_mo, I love your parents."

As do I! If I ever have kids, the same trick will be played when they give up on Father Christmas. Also, can't wait to tell the parents, 'So, this lady on MetaFilter loves you because...'. Dad will probably print your comment on a set of Moo cards, put a photo of them on Flickr then repost it on his blog. Mom will be continue to be profoundly disturbed by the concept of people talking to each other on The Internet.
posted by jack_mo at 2:59 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dear Santa,
I want a pony.
Love and kisses,
Every Kid
posted by mightshould at 3:59 PM on December 21, 2011


I am sad that so many people here felt they had to give up Santadom! Apparently my family's Santa-keeping customs are not as common as I thought.

Our method: through the year my aunts and uncles stock up on little gadgets and toiletries that make good stocking stuffers, in general or for a specific nephew Jack/sister-in-law Jill/etc. You divide that stuff into bags marked "Jack" and "Jill," then everyone mails the bags (plus bags of candy) to each other's family houses. On Christmas Eve, everyone puts out their stockings. After everyone else is asleep, the people playing Santa get up and while looking as little as possible fill the stockings with the correct labeled stuffers + candy + your own stuffing selections. (You need at least two Santas so nobody fills their own stocking.) Then in the morning you get up and everyone has a Santa stocking that's a surprise, including the people who filled them! My cousins are all in our late twenties, and there's no indication we'll quit stockings anytime soon.

For the family branches that open presents on Christmas Eve, it's tradition to open most presents then and then the one big "wowza!" gift appears in the morning with the stockings. It is also tradition (YMMV) for Santa to occasionally screw with you. Like the year I wanted a bike...and Santa left a Tonka toy bike under the tree. with a tiiiiiny post-it saying "go look in the garage."
posted by nicebookrack at 4:12 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


gilrain, your family sounds like it's related to my family, right down to A Child's Christmas in Wales.
posted by emmling at 9:45 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: Thought I should officialy acknowledge that when I was talking about how burning the letters was itself the custom, that I formally and officially didn't know what I was talking about after all.

....Sorry.


I and everyone I knew (South-East Ireland b.1984) burned our letters so you're not wrong. We used to watch the fire carefully to make sure that our letters got completely burned up because if there was a bit left behind then Santa mightn't get it all. Every parent knew someone whose child had refused to let them see the letter before they burned it because it was for Santa's eyes only so they'd have to subtly interrogate them afterwards.
Letting the letter get caught on the updraft does seem like a much more magical way though.
posted by minifigs at 12:50 AM on December 22, 2011


others are addressed from literary characters from books or movies that are important to our family and appropriate for the gift.

Holy crap, I thought my family was the only one to do that! This year my husband is getting gifts from Don Draper, Dr. Girlfriend and the Monarch, and Evil Abed.
posted by supercrayon at 1:25 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mere curiosity and probably a stupid question...Why did the last line of the article list the family's religion?
posted by clever_username at 1:42 AM on December 22, 2011


I think they were just listing all the information they got about the family from reading the census. It's not standard journalistic practice or anything.
posted by minifigs at 5:00 AM on December 22, 2011


Hmm. From what little I know about Dublin at that time, too, might not a mention of their religion be a sort of shorthand for economic class as well?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:14 AM on December 22, 2011


It would be but that's not really a reason to include it in the story I would think.
posted by minifigs at 5:53 AM on December 22, 2011


An update - an interview with the son of the girl who wrote the letter.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:29 AM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]




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