Postal Updates

Letters to Santa Claus touch the heart

Nov 30, 2023, 11 AM
Stephen Arnold of Memphis, Tenn., is president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. He is shown with a young child on his lap at a Christmas tree lighting held Nov. 18. Photo courtesy of Stephen Arnold.

Delivering the Mail by Allen Abel

The corpulent and kindly figure of Santa Claus winks to us down through the generations, promising a sleigh ride to a wondrous snowscape of marshmallows and sugar plums. The price of a ticket is our belief in magic, and the currency is a plaintive letter in a child’s hand.

One such letter was highlighted in 2016 on the Oddee website (

“My little brother would like you to bring him a wagon which I know you can not afford, so I will ask you to bring him whatever you think best,” a New York City girl named Mary wrote to the Jolly Old Elf in 1909 in a letter that was discovered in an unused fireplace more than a century later. “Please bring me something nice what you think best. Please do not forget the poor.”

“I am 12 years old I am an autistic boy,” a Texas child named Zion wrote this year in one of the letters that has been posted for adoption by the United States Postal Service’s Operation Santa ( “My dad is disable [sic] and has chrome [sic] disease and he don’t walk my mom don’t have a lot of money. I only want a few things for Christmas Santa I believe in you.”

Midway between those two appeals, in California in the 1960s, the women of the Zeta Mu Chapter of the service organization Epsilon Sigma Alpha informed local postal officials that they would be happy to take on the task of responding to any letters to the North Pole that were found in mailboxes around the town.

They expected a flurry and wound up with an avalanche.

“Every day the Post Office would deliver huge sacks of mail and we would stack them up in our dining room,” Kate Arnold told Linn’s Stamp News. Her mother, Kathleen “Kay” Dillon Moberly, was an Epsilon Sigma Alpha member who persisted when, after a few seasons, her sisters grew weary of the routine.

It was the 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street come to life: bag after bag of wish lists in delightfully scrambled penmanship.

“I don’t know how, but we got letters from all over the country,” Arnold said. “Some of them would say ‘my father hasn’t worked for two years and we don’t have enough to eat’ and my mother would put them aside and send them to charities. During the Vietnam War, I remember children asking for their daddies to come home.

“She answered every letter that came. She never promised everything that the children wanted, but she’d say that Santa would send them something that they’d like. She started in the early Sixties and she kept doing it until she retired in the Nineties. They called her the Santa Lady of California.”

“Kay Moberly’s Boss is Jolly Santa Claus” read the headline in the San Bernardino County Sun on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 1977.

“I think that children, just like adults, need something to cling to,” she was quoted as saying.

As fate would have it, when she grew up, Moberly’s daughter Kate did precisely what all those Christmases at home had trained her for: She married Santa Claus.

Only he wasn’t yet St. Nick at that time. Stephen Arnold, the son of a department store executive in Indiana, was jolly enough. At 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 300 pounds, he certainly suited the part.

“I was always a rather chubby child,” Stephen told Linn’s from Memphis, Tenn., where he and Kate have lived since 1988. “When I was seven I went as Santa Claus for Halloween. The next time I did it I was 14. There was a birthday party and somebody knew I had a costume. Later on, I was in Texas and a store manager said, ‘We can’t find a Santa Claus’ and I said ‘Sure.’ ”

When the sitting Santa at a local country club went down with a heart attack, Arnold pinch-hit, and things just snowballed. Tens of thousands of kids on his lap later, he is the president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.

“I was the one who encouraged him to grow the beard in the first place,” Kate said.

“What are the kids really asking for?” Linn’s asked Stephen.

“Some just ask for stuff because they think their friends are getting stuff and they want to be an equal,” he replied, “but the older ones who are still believers, they understand they can’t get everything they want. They understand they just can’t be covered up in toys.”

“I think he represents hope,” Kate said. “At a time when we so desperately need it, he encourages good.”

“If you wrote a letter to Santa, what would you ask for?” Linn’s asked Kate.

“Peace in the world — a world without war — a world where people can love each other and accept each other,” she said.

“Sometimes, he comes home so tired he can just barely walk through the door,” Kate said. “But he always goes back again the next day.”

“We’ve been married 52 years,” Kate said. “I’m pretty fond of the old guy.”

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