Friday Night Owls: Decades of kids’ letters sent to Operation Santa expose violence of U.S. poverty

Friday Night Owls: Decades of kids’ letters sent to Operation Santa expose violence of U.S. poverty

Night Owls, a themed open thread, appears at Daily Kos seven days a week


Caleb Brennan at The New Republic writes—Operation Santa Is a Horror Story About American Poverty:

On a cloudy Christmas Eve in 1907, Mary McGann, a 10-year-old Irish girl living in Hell’s Kitchen with her younger brother and mother, wrote a letter to Santa Claus. “I am very glad that you are coming around tonight. My little brother would like you to bring him a wagon which I know you cannot afford. I will ask you to bring him whatever you think…. Please bring me something nice (sic) what you think best,” she asked. “P.S. Please do not forget the poor.”

The letter never made it to Santa; it was discovered 90 years later stashed in between the bricks of the tenement’s fireplace. But that same year, the New York City branch of the USPS informally implemented “Operation Santa,” an unusually whimsical government program that allowed Postal Service employees (and volunteers with the “Santa Claus Association”) to respond, as Santa, to the thousands of New York children attempting to contact St. Nick. Postmaster Frank Hitchcock would integrate the program in 1912 to include the entirety of the Post Office, making “Operation Santa” an official government program.

After 1940, the program allowed charitable organizations, private firms, and laypeople to “adopt” the letters of kids living in poverty and fulfill their Christmas wishes. The film Miracle on 34th Street references the endeavor, and Johnny Carson made a habit of reading some of the letters on The Tonight Show. The program has grown to the point where it connected 13,000 children to donors, a total that may well be doubled in 2020. This year, the letters have been digitized, and if you’re interested in adopting a letter, you can go to the Operation Santa website and browse through the hopes and desires of thousands of children across the country.

But what these letters demonstrate, far better than any PSA or statistical model, is how violent American poverty truly is. They also provide a counterbalance to the ways childhood poverty is depicted in popular media, where poor kids often serve as a way for a protagonist to demonstrate their generosity, from Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol to the demented poverty porn of the holiday pop hit “Christmas Shoes.”  […]




“Our favorite amusement during that winter was tobogganing. In places the shore of the lake rises abruptly from the water’s edge. Down these steep slopes we used to coast. We would get on our toboggan, a boy would give us a shove, and off we went! Plunging through drifts, leaping hollows, swooping down upon the lake, we would shoot across its gleaming surface to the opposite bank. What joy! What exhilarating madness! For one wild, glad moment we snapped the chain that binds us to earth, and joining hands with the winds we felt ourselves divine!”
            ~~Helen KellerThe Story of My Life, 1903


Merry Christmas from San Francisco where a gingerbread monolith appeared overnight at Corona Heights Park.

— Karl Mondon (@karlmondon) December 25, 2020


At Daily Kos on this date in 2008:

The provocative Nobel laureate Harold Pinter died December 24. Although his work in the theater over the course of 32 plays was broadly praised, his political views drew savage attacks, including one from fellow Brit and neo-conservative Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in 2005 that giving the Swedish award “to someone who gave up literature for politics decades ago, and whose politics are primitive and hysterically anti-American and pro-dictatorial, is part of the almost complete degradation of the Nobel racket.”

Matt Schudel at The Washington Post writes:

Mr. Pinter’s works, which bore the influence of the existential dramatist Samuel Beckett and the modernist poet T.S. Eliot, explored such themes as sexual frustration, jealousy, loneliness and an overriding if indistinct sense of fear. The social or mental balance of his characters — and, by extension, society as a whole — was often undercut by a biting, sardonic humor.

“Words are weapons that the characters use to discomfort or destroy each other,” Peter Hall, who frequently directed Mr. Pinter’s plays, once said. …

… “I’ve never been able to sit down and say, ‘Now I’m going to write a play,’ ” he said in 1976. “I just have no alternative but to wait for the thing to be released within me.”

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