The fairly typical letters to Santa asked for popular toys and games or "a puppy with small paws." One writer hoped to pin down Santa's exact arrival time at his home so they could chat.
But these are no ordinary letters to the North Pole. Some were written with a few typos in Braille by young blind children or dictated to their parents. They were rerouted to the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, whose staff has replied to each one in Braille. The agency is answering letters from blind children, mailing them personalized replies in Braille and a translation in print so other family members can read along.
"We are Santa Central in Baltimore," said Chris Danielsen, federation spokesman. "This is where Braille letters happen and go out across the country."
Daniel, 9, wrote from New York that "I am trying my best to be good and would like a Pokemon XD. But I like all the Pokemons so you can surprise me." His reply letter let him know that Santa has been thinking of him, but avoided mention of specific gifts.
"We are just being little elves and helping out, but it really is one of the most fun things I do," said Pat Maurer, director of community relations. "We can't make promises for what Santa might bring, but we include a message and tell the children to have a great Christmas."
She and others type the letters on computers, addressing each with a child's name. The federation's software then translates the entire document into Braille.
Parents and teachers can e-mail a request for a letter from Santa for children ages 10 and younger at nfb.org. A form asks for the writer's name, the child's name, birthday, gender, and mailing and e-mail addresses, and the writer's phone number, in case of questions. Braille replies and print copies are returned quickly, addressed to the child. There is no fee for the service.
"This is as much fun for us as it is for the kids," said Steven Booth, Braille specialist at NFB. "I wish we had had this, when I was a kid."
The agency has mailed out nearly 200 letters so far and expects the requests to peak this week before the Dec. 20 deadline.
"We topped 400 last year and I think we will go over that this year," Maurer said. "We can handle the volume. We have all the equipment and staff we need and everybody wants to do this."
While many children ask for gifts, others touch readers with their thoughtfulness. One child asked Santa to help his mother get better and several included siblings in wish lists.
The idea began four years ago with Marc Maurer, her husband and the federation's president, and has grown every year.
"He just loves Christmas completely and wanted blind children to feel as much a part of it as possible," she said. "He thought of the Braille letters and enlisted all my helpers."
"It is great for blind kids to get something of their own in the mail from Santa and this is all their own," Pat Maurer said.
The agency, headquartered in South Baltimore, is handling requests directly from children as well as from parents and teachers.
"This gives blind children something they can read themselves and practice with Braille," Danielsen said. "There are not so many Braille books for young children and many [children] don't have access to the ones that are available."
Information: nfb.org or 410-659-9314, or fax a request to 410-659-6893. Deadline for requests is Dec. 20.