It's great to have visions of sugar plums dancing in your head. But as any kid will tell you, positive thinking can only take you so far.
If you really want your Christmas wishes to come true, you'd best fire off a letter to Santa Claus.
Luckily, everyone at the post office knows the guy, so there's no need to worry about getting the exact address on the envelope.
"You see Kris Kringle," says Pete Nowacky. "You see Father Christmas. You see Saint Nick. North Pole. There was one that said Mt. Icicle."
Nowacky works at the main post office in Minneapolis, which gets thousands of letters for Mr. Claus every Christmas season. It's Nowacky's job to help sort Santa's mail -- the wish lists scribbled in crayon; the filled-in form letters generated by some holiday Web site; the fringed sheets of notebook paper proudly displaying the first attempts at cursive.
"A fairly common one, believe it or not, is just to take a page out of a catalog and circle a few things and put that in an envelope," says Nowacky.
The songs of the season may lead you to believe Johnny wants a pair of skates, Suzy wants a dolly. But, as Nowacky well knows, the actual letters tell a much different story:
How come I never get a zillion presents, fat Santa? I hope you don't break our chimney. Beware. I put mousetraps to catch you and see if you are real.From a letter to Santa Claus
"I've got one letter in here where a girl asks for mouthwash for her dog because he's getting old and his breath is so bad."
"Angie's very thoughtful. She lists three presents each for herself, her little brother and her mom and dad. She notes that mom wants 'a diamond rock' and dad would like a big motor or something not greasy."
"'How are your reindeer? Are they well fed? My dad said you were sued about that, but I said no way would you ever do something like that.'"
Of course, not every note is merry and bright:
"'How come I never get a zillion presents, fat Santa? I hope you don't break our chimney. Beware. I put mousetraps to catch you and see if you are real.' And then she signs it, 'Your friend, Rosita.'"
"'Why do you live at the North Pole? Is that so you don't have to pay taxes? Anyway, I don't care what you bring me -- just make sure the parakeet toys are included.'"
"Brad just signed his name and put his phone number on a Yahoo map to his house."
Santa may see you when you're sleeping and know when you are awake. But you can't assume he truly grasps what you want for Christmas. For that reason, it's important to clearly state what the big guy should be bringing in that bag of his. Take this list, for example:
"'Four wireless controllers for Xbox 360; Nerf Longshot; a tin of Pokemon card colors green, blue, red, orange; my own Xbox 360 with two wireless controllers.' Apparently the other four weren't enough. 'Whack-a-Mole Tower; the best paper airplanes, already made; a pinball machine, Grab It! The Crane Game; Turbo Blaster Nerf set; Robosquad; Battle Zone Fighting Robots; Technodog; and a radio-controlled Gut Wrencher.'"
And really, who wouldn't want to find a battery-powered stunt car like the Gut Wrencher under the tree on Christmas morning? The vehicle can execute everything from the Reverse Rotator to the Body Shakin' Tremor.
But toys aren't the only thing on the minds of children this time of year. Like many of us, they're pondering life's questions and looking for answers.
"'Are you absolutely certain you're for real? I wanna believe in you, but you make it hard by coming at night. So if you're for real, would you be so kind as to write back to me and let me know exactly what time you'll be arriving at my house. I'm sure you know where it is, after all you've been coming here seven times. Just so you know, this letter's sort of a test, if I get this back saying there is no such place, then I'll know you're not for real. And if I don't get a return letter in a month I will also know that. Love, Abbey. P.S. I have been real good this year. I hope I didn't just waste all this paper and / or offend you.'"
Plenty of envelopes arrive stuffed with candy canes or chocolate coins, some even contain little pins or medals, things the writers were awarded in Girl Scouts or Little League.
"Brooke enclosed two envelopes in hers and says, 'The envelope with my name on it has coupons for Target for you to use for me. The other envelope has coupons that you can use for other kids.'"
Then there are writers who just want to wish the jolly old elf a happy holiday season.
"'Dear Santa Claus, I am so excited for Christmas to come -- not just because of the presents, but also because I like giving other people presents and because I like celebrating you. You bring a lot of joy in my life. You're very special.' Special being circled and underlined about six, seven times with an exclamation point. 'Happy holidays. Love, Allie.'"
Perhaps it's that kind of thing that keeps Santa Claus coming to town year after year after year.