Letters to Santa reveal the toll the pandemic is taking on kids
(CNN) -- Jonah wants nothing from Santa this year except for a cure for coronavirus.
Anthony told Santa he wants a magical button he could press to transport him away from the weary reality of the pandemic.
Jasmyne's Christmas list is short and to the point. "This year, I would like end of Covid-19, world peace, climate control, new Xbox," it reads.
In their letters to Santa Claus, kids across the US are still asking for toys, clothes, Legos and video games. But in a year filled with illness and uncertainty, a review of letters addressed to the North Pole and collected through the Post Office's Operation Santa program reveals the pandemic is weighing heavily on children.
Some are imploring Santa to make coronavirus go away. Others are asking for masks for Christmas. Still others write about the challenges of going to school online or how their parents can't afford to buy presents this year because they lost their jobs.
"Dear Santa," Jonah wrote. "I don't want anything for Christmas, but I would like to ask you if you can do me a favor: Can you please find a cure for Covid-19 and give it to us to save the world. Thank you."
The Postal Service helps fulfill Christmas wishes
The Postal Service began receiving letters to Santa Claus more than a century ago. Operation Santa dates to 1912, when Frank Hitchcock, the postmaster general at the time, allowed postal workers to open and respond to letters addressed to the North Pole.
Post offices worked with volunteers who agreed to "adopt" letters from needy children and send them items on their wish lists.
In 2017, the effort went online in a few major cities. This year, for the first time, the USPS posted all the letters on its Operation Santa site for Samaritans across the country who wish to help kids and their families.
The Postal Service encourages volunteer donors to go online, pick a child's letter to "adopt" and fill out a registration form. The donor then buys the gifts and brings them to their local post office, where a postal worker matches the number on the letter with the child's address and mails them off. For privacy reasons, donors don't have access to recipients' addresses.
Children open up to a figure like Santa because he's seen as a helpful, trustworthy person who spreads joy, says child psychologist Avital Cohen, founder of Peachtree Pediatric Psychology in Atlanta.
"What I read in these letters is that kids really are thinking about the needs of their parent or the world and not just their own desires this year (though of course some kids are asking for the gifts they want this year, which is to be expected!)," Cohen said in an email to CNN.
"Mr. Rogers is known for saying look for the helpers in scary situations -- this is our chance to be the helpers and have our kids be the helpers, even in small ways."
Since October children and adults in the US this year have sent more than 10,000 notes and cards to Santa -- many of them reflecting the year's hardships, said Kimberly Frum, a spokeswoman for the USPS.
"2020 has seen its share of challenges affecting individuals and families in so many ways. Covid-19 resulted in job losses, temporary unemployment and sadly, the loss of family and friends," Frum said in an email to CNN.
"The program has always been about providing holiday gifts for families who may not have the means to provide for anything more than basic everyday needs. This year, there are likely more families impacted financially and emotionally."
Most of the letters to Santa have already been adopted by donors, Frum said. Postal workers will continue uploading new letters through December 15.
Many kids' letters reflect the reality of life in 2020
In a holiday season unlike any other, with masked Santas behind plexiglass barriers, the annual tradition of writing letters to the North Pole may provide children with a bit of normalcy.
But the sentiments in many of their letters aren't quite like normal.
A Texas girl named Kimberly, 13, is not unlike many kids in asking Santa for AirPods. But she also pleaded for gifts for her three siblings and for her money-strapped parents: a workout machine for her mom and a waterproof jacket for her stepdad.
"This year has tough to all of us due to covid-19. My stepdad is the only (one) working and because of covid-19 he had to stop working full time. Now he is working less because of covid, and all the money he gets is for paying the rent and the bills," she wrote. "My parents think I am writing this for my siblings and I, but I want to surprise them for everything that they have done this year."
Nine-year-old Alani asked for some Legos and a gift card for her mom. She drew a smiling girl with curly hair standing with Santa -- a cheery scene that belied the plaintive tone of her letter.
"Dear Santa this year has been rough ... because of crona ... my mom said she can't get anything for me for christmas because she is not getting paid as much so she cannot aford anything," she wrote.
Savannah, a girl from Massachusetts, included a confession and an apology.
"PS, I'm sorry if I've been bad," she wrote. "It's really hard because of Covid-19 and online school ... I'm trying to be good. Hope you understand."
Nhea, a girl in Florida, sounded a little more hopeful in her letter, which asked Santa if the pandemic has reached the North Pole.
"Is there covid where you are? If not I just want to tell you that you are lucky," she wrote. "Dad says that even though he lost his job we will still find a way to celebrate."
Then there is Andy, a 5-year-old in California, who asked Santa for a Nintendo Switch for him and his little brother. He closed his letter by yearning for a return to normal life after the pandemic -- and pretty much spoke for the whole world.
"I wish covid was over so we can hug," he wrote.
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