With even Santa Claus forced to quarantine in these days leading up to Christmas, this Lake Highlands couple’s dash of magic has never been more needed — or more appropriate.
Three years ago, Linda and Jim Shultz added a special “Letters to Santa Claus” mailbox to their lovingly decorated front lawn. They claim the box is a direct pipeline to the North Pole, a boast seemingly backed up each time one of the young letter writers receives a hand-signed response from Santa himself.
Serving as Santa’s ghost writers and personal delivery service is a time-consuming job, especially the sleuthing needed to track down addresses of children whose parents don’t know to include one.
But the couple senses that Santa’s mailbox is especially important in 2020. “It’s been a tough year for everybody,” Linda said. “People are looking for something that is upbeat or joyful or fun. Hopefully, we are providing a little of that for some people.”
Occasionally, COVID-19 themes reverberate in the children’s letters. One 8-year-old boy wrote that his “Elf on the Shelf has to be in quarantine” and asked Santa whether that meant for a week or the entire month.
“Can you create a mini mask for him to wear?” the letter writer asked.
Another wrote that she preferred to have her Elf on the Shelf deliver her letter to the North Pole. “She was sure it would be faster this year than the postal system,” Linda said.
Jim recalled the letter of a young girl who wrote that all she wanted for Christmas was what she couldn’t have — to be with family in San Antonio. “But then she listed a few toys for Santa to bring,” Linda laughed.
Thank goodness, even in a pandemic, kids are still kids.
The Shultzes’ letter project began with an ordinary old black mailbox.
When a neighbor wanted a fancier model, handyman Jim installed it for her and wound up with the castoff. “We immediately thought that with all our decorations, it would be nice to have a Santa Claus mailbox,” Linda said.
Jim chimed in, “We’re always looking for something to add every year.”
The couple didn’t know what to expect when they installed the mailbox, repainted bright red and adorned with a large “Letters to Santa Claus” placard.
Sure enough, children began dropping off letters, and the Shultzes decided they needed to respond. “We wanted to keep that magic going,” Linda said.
The Shultzes, both 69 and retired, have an infectiously jolly spirit about them, and their hearts aren’t just big around the holidays. They said their most beloved decoration is among their oldest, the curbside wooden Christmas tree with its message, “Jesus is the light of the world.”
Jim and Linda volunteer year-round at their Northwest Bible Church’s after-school tutoring initiative in Vickery Meadow. With everyone wearing masks and precise safety measures in place, the couple continues to read with students several days each week.
But helping Santa with his letter writing has been the top priority since the Shultz lawn lit up on Thanksgiving. “Every child’s letter is so different,” Linda said. “There’s something just so precious and loving about every single one.”
This year’s letter count is approaching 100. Most come from Lake Highlands children but others are from as far away as Lakewood or west of the Dallas North Tollway. “It makes our hearts sing almost when we see the little ones … tippy-toe up to the mailbox,” Jim said.
Santa’s “typed” responses, which change each year, include the child’s name on special holiday paper with an iconic Old St. Nick illustration and a hand-signed “Santa.” In red, of course.
Stickers were tucked into the letters in 2018; last year, “reindeer food” of oatmeal and glitter was sent for sprinkling in the front yard on Christmas Eve. This year, holiday pencils and erasers accompany the letters, each in a red envelope with a puffy holiday sticker in place of a stamp and a return address of “1225 Candy Cane Lane, North Pole.”
The couple is taking extra safety precautions this holiday. “We’re not even licking the envelopes this year, but rather using double-sided tape,” Linda said.
Responding to the children’s letters sometimes calls for an extra handwritten P.S.: “What’s your favorite color, Santa?” Ho, ho, ho, red, of course. “What’s your favorite cookie:” Sugar cookies with sprinkles.
One child’s recent letter mourned the death of the family dog and asked Santa “to bring my pet back. “Santa just had to acknowledge that he was sad too that their pet wasn’t still with them,” Linda said.
Another child’s toy request — an item no longer in production — was accompanied by a parent’s furtive plea for Santa to explain that “his elves don’t make this anymore.” The ensuing P.S. stated that Santa’s workshop couldn’t fill that request but “will pick out the perfect gift for you.”
A few days ago, one child wrote, “I’m mostly good. I listen the first time — sometimes.” A 4-year-old sent a huge red scribble drawing; the mother translated, “Santa, this is the landing pad for your sleigh at my house on Christmas Eve.”
The wish list of toys has a comforting familiarity to it (not counting the request for a pet snake): Pokémon, Legos, remote-control dump trucks, Barbies and American Girl dolls.
Linda and Jim have been big holiday decorators since moving into their current home not long after they relocated to Dallas 45 years ago from Pennsylvania. Linda taught special-needs students at Lake Highlands High School for many years, and Jim was with Texas Instruments for 35.
They raised three sons in this Moss Farm neighborhood and are unequivocal that their family has long been “Texans through and through,” as seen by the orange-illuminated UT Longhorn that’s part of their 37,000-light Christmas display.
Jim is nonchalant about getting up on the roof each year to put the lights in place, but Linda not so much. “I sit out on the front stoop and keep track of him with phone in hand in case I have to call 911.”
The Santa’s mailbox is especially important to Jim and Linda this year as they brace for what they told me would be an uncharacteristically “really, really quiet” Christmas. Amid COVID-19’s growing toll, they almost certainly won’t gather with loved ones.
Linda again reached for the silver lining: At least they will have time to be Santa’s helpers until the very last minute.
As she told a young boy who asked a few nights ago how the Shultzes landed the honor of getting the mailbox in their yard, “Santa saw our lights and felt it would be the perfect spot.”
The ever-practical Jim added, “Thank goodness for GPS.”
Jim and Linda Shultz’s “Letters to Santa Claus” mailbox is at 8281 Club Meadows Drive, Dallas, 75243. Include a return address so Santa can respond.