Whether it's a toy car, a teddy bear, the latest smartphone or a little sister - children's wishes are many and varied. So what could be better than writing a letter with a personal wish list?
Just like gingerbread, fir branches and candles, the wish list is part of the Christmas tradition in many places - sometimes to St. Nicholas, the Christ Child, the industrious elves from Father Christmas or to Jesus himself. And the earliest letters in Germany can be traced back to the 17th century.
Christmas letters as Acknowledgements
But at that time it was not so much about the children's wishes and the addressees were their own parents or godparents.
Teachers and priests bought elaborately decorated templates on behalf of the guardian and then provided the pious content: the children were to thank God for their upbringing in pompous eulogies, praise obedience and ask for God's blessing.
As a pedagogical education, the letters were often recited from memory on Christmas Eve.
"Praise now pervades my limbs." Hanns Wullenweber from Lockstädt 1809 wishes the "esteemed parents" God's blessing, peace and vitality for the new year.
Later, primary schools also had either pre-printed wish lists or a poem from the teacher that everyone had to copy. Perhaps some of you still remember similar tasks in your primary school days?
The decoration in the letters initially changed from Christian scenes such as the manger and Mary with Joseph to the bourgeois Christmas parlour and the working-class woman with her children. The Christmas tree appeared in it for the first time - which was considered typically German abroad.
The commercial benefit
Finally, in the middle of the 19th century, the German toy industry discovered Christmas letters for itself and invented an ingenious marketing idea:
Manufacturers and traders printed sheets with pictures of what they had to offer. The children only had to mark their wishes. And so that Father Christmas didn't have such a hard time, the price and name of the department stores' were also written on the sheet.
"To you, dear Christ Child, I send in my wishes; Go to Karstadt, St. Nicholas, and choose for me the most beautiful one." Letter request form of the Karstadt department stores', around 1930
Now the focus is once again on the bearer of gifts: you see the Christ Child with his angels bringing presents or Santa Claus with his big full sack.
Even today, the desired products are often ticked off in toy catalogues or cut out and stuck on paper. It has gone so far that you can now compile your specific wishes online with the help of apps and send them to your favorite Gift-bringer by email. Of course, Santa Claus now also has Wi-Fi reception at the North Pole and a premium account with Amazon.
Deutsche Post - Christmas branches
However, you don't have to let your mail travel quite that far and you can also keep that certain magic of Christmas alive. In Germany alone, there are seven special Christmas post offices reserved for this purpose in winter:
Himmelpfort and Himmelsthür for Santa Claus.
Engelskirchen and Himmelpforten and Himmelstadt for the Christ Child.
Nikolausdorf and St. Nikolaus for St. Nicholas.
Hundreds of thousands of letters, cards and wish lists from over 120 countries arrive there every year. Most of the foreign mail comes from China, Poland and Russia - there have even been letters from New Zealand, Brazil and Togo. Volunteers make it their business to answer in a wide variety of languages - for the blind also in Braille.
Yet Himmelpforten in Lower Saxony celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. In 1962, a father advised his impatient daughter Bärbel to write a letter to Father Christmas with her numerous questions. And this promptly landed at the post office with the then manager Helmut Stolberg, who took the trouble to reply in handwriting on a richly decorated letterhead.
When the Stader Tageblatt reported on this Christmas campaign, the foundation stone of a new tradition was laid. It spread by word of mouth, eventually by radio and television even far beyond the state borders and Europe - that you can send your letters to Himmelpforten and get a reply from Father Christmas.
What was initially realised by friends and family on their typewriters and with donations, received support from the postal administration just 5 years later. A separate postmark was introduced and all postage costs were covered.
On 15 November, according to Deutsche Post, Father Christmas once again travelled to Himmelpfort on his e-scooter to read the numerous fan mail there, as he does every year. And the Christ Child has started his work in Engelskirchen:
Nowadays, many hard-working helpers are working there and elsewhere to ensure that all the entries are answered punctually by Christmas (not everything comes from children, adults also write about their personal worries and wishes). And then Father Christmas, just like the Christ Child, has to make his way back home.
I know from personal experience, when my little sister addressed a letter to "Father Christmas at the North Pole", that it too somehow found its way. The unexpected reply letter on red paper ensured shining eyes and belief in miracles for many years to come!