Local News

From iPads to dads to a home: Santa requests run the gamut

SEBRING - Lakeshore Mall's Santa Claus remembered the time a teen perched himself on his lap, saying what he wanted for Christmas was a hookah.

Santa knew he was playing with him, and retorted back, "What's her name?"

Tuesday, Santa chuckled over the encounter, which, needless to say, has been accompanied by other off-beat wish-lists: 17 bottles of wine and new tires for the truck, to name a few.

But others have been far from comic.

Santa remembered a time a girl sat on his lap, asking him to get her mother off drugs.

This was his first gig in the mall, so the Jolly Old Man was a little taken aback and not feeling all that Jolly, either.

"I had to think for a moment," he remembered

While many ask Santa these days for pricey, sought-after gifts such as an iPad or the Xbox One, others just want a dad or a home or a warm meal.

Santa and Santa's helpers, such as Judy Spiegel, know only too well the humor and poignancy of their business, but, despite all that, Spiegel makes sure they keep intact the fantasy of Christmas.

"We just try to put everything into the positive," she said. "The holidays are very sad for some people."

Spiegel, who has been Santa's helper for the Carousel of Lights in downtown Sebring, has heard it and seen it all in the 26 years she has helped out her husband, Jon.

Fantasy has no age limit.

If adults want to sit on Santa's lap, they are not shooed away, and it's not uncommon for grown-ups to want to whisper in Santa's ears, Spiegel said.

"Some seriously tell Santa, 'This is what I want for Christmas,'" she said."It gives them the time to be kids again. Even if it is for a moment."

At times, children come with long lists, complete with pictures and drawings of what they want; some even come bearing cookies.

Other times, kids want nothing for themselves but for their mother or their brother.

It's also common for parents to give Santa notes or talk to him on the side, hoping he'll cajole their kids to behave.

"Please can you tell Tom to improve his grades in school?" Spiegel remembered. And Santa does.

While some kids want to tell Santa first-hand their Christmas wishes, others mail in their requests to the North Pole.

The United States Postal Service's Letters to the Santa program has helped millions of children connect with Santa over several decades, and those who send their return addresses get a reply back, said USPS spokeswoman Enola Rice.

While the two Sebring post office branches - on Ridgewood Drive and across from the Lakeshore Mall - have a special drop-off box for Santa letters, the Christmas missives can be dropped off in any blue collection box, Rice said.

So far, they have received 100 Santa letters in the Sebring branches, Rice said.

"Postal elves" reply, although they try to keep the answers generic - thank them for the letter, hope they have a good holiday, send a hello from Rudolph the Reindeer - and make no promises on any gifts requested.

These days some letters are fairly elaborate, leaving with no room for doubt: They may have catalog photos of the gift items requested and even hyperlinks to web sites.

Some are typed out and some sent as early as October. Some are from children, and others from grown-ups. After all, every one wants something for Christmas.

Enola remembered one letter with a laugh and this is how it went: "Dear Santa, I may be too old to write but can you please help my boyfriend propose to me?"