Merry Christmas, Curitiba
Every year, the Father Christmas Project answers the dreams of hundreds of thousands of Brazilian children. Here’s an example: “Dear Father Christmas,” the letter reads, “my name is Larissa. I know that you are very busy and that you live a long way away in the North Pole, but I’d like to ask you for a gift because my mother doesn’t have enough money to buy what I want.”
Wilson Abadio de Oliveira, the director of the post office for metropolitan São Paulo, says the project began through the initiative of postal service employees. “We were receiving letters from children addressed to Santa Claus (Papai Noel in Portuguese), and the workers started opening them and reading them,” Abadio says. “The postal workers started buying some of the gifts the children asked for, and we thought what a great idea. The idea was then adopted officially by the post office.”
Another letter, this one from a 10-year-old boy, reads: “My mother died when I was a young baby, I live with my brother and my father. But this Christmas he can’t work because he’s in the hospital.”
There are piles of similar letters — many decorated with stickers, drawings, and hand prints — lying on makeshift tables in the main hall of the post office in downtown São Paulo.
Sonia Regina de Sa, a nurse’s assistant, is reading some of the letters and deciding which one to choose. She says she’s been doing this every year for nine years. “I really love it,” she says. The way it works, Sonia says, is that you come here, read the letters, and look for something that really affects you. Then you buy the gift that the child asks for and bring it back to the post office, where staff wrap it up and deliver it to the child.
Most kids ask for dolls, balls, bicycles — the usual array of toys. But some letters, she says, ask for heartbreaking things. This year, Sonia says she is choosing an 8-year-old boy who was asking for food. He didn’t want toys; he wanted food for his mother. “It’s something that just shocks you, and it makes me sad, too,” she says. Other letters have asked for help for crack-addicted parents or jobs for unemployed relatives.
Elizabeth Aragao says she always chooses gifts for small children. “I cry reading the letters,” she says. “We try and help a little. If everyone helped a little, the world would be a better place.”
That is the idea behind the program, which is sponsored by Brazil’s post office and has been going on for more than 20 years. Abadio says one million children across Brazil now write letters every year, and about half of the letters are chosen by a Brazilian family to fulfill. The post office ensures that the letters come only from children under 10 years old with verified addresses. And the letters must be handwritten; he says it’s a way of also making sure kids improve their writing skills.
Every year, the Father Christmas Project is a big operation nationwide. Tucked into the basement of the São Paulo city post office, employees sift through letters, making sure all the information is there: name, age of the child, city, and gift of choice. The letter then gets registered in a computer and a number is attached to it so it can be “adopted.”
“My name is Papai Noel,” says the man dressed as Santa sitting on the main floor greeting children. His presence is part of the project. He acknowledges he is a post office employee, but refuses to go by anything other than Father Christmas to a visiting reporter.
While most of the gifts bought through the program are delivered by regular letter carriers, sometimes Papai Noel, in full regalia, makes a special visit to someone’s door. “The whole point of this is to keep alive the spirit of Christmas inside our children,” he says. “But this isn’t only for children. It’s a way for people to help each other. That is what this season is really about.”
The Father Christmas post office charity idea has spread throughout Brazil, including Curitiba.
[This article appeared on the NPR website and was edited by CIE.]