Just before Christmas last year I decided to send some letters from Santa to my nephews and nieces (hereafter referred to as niblings). I did this because I am a wonderful man. After a couple of weeks’ worth of fussing and fiddling, cutting and cramping, drawing, crying and then re-drawing, I completed said letters and they proved wildly popular with at least some of their recipients. After recommending suitable punishments to the parents of those who proved insufficiently moved, I declared the event a huge success. Buoyed by this experience, I decided to recapitalize on these key markets once again this year, by completing THE SECOND ANNUAL ARCTIC HOLDINGS LTD SANTA LETTER SEND-OUT.
So, at time of writing, I currently have eight niblings, split across four of my ten siblings. There are currently three more en route (niblings, that is – my sibling-count has been stable since the late eighties). With a certain chill on my neck I’ve begun to realise that, should I make a regular thing of this, it may well be a commitment of a very long time indeed but I’m sure my brilliant mind will never stop coming up with ideas, and that I’ll always have the time to conceive, design and execute their contents immediately before Christmas each year.
The only worry is the very real risk that I’ll simply stop loving the children themselves, and thus lose interest in the process for that very sensible reason. You must remember, I had to think long and hard about whether I really loved them enough to do this all again this time. I remembered when Malachy asked my girlfriend if, when we next come over, I could stay at home and she could just come by herself. I remembered when Alice and Finnian laughed at me for a couple of days after they’d seen me crying at the first ten minutes of Pixar’s UP! II chalked that one up to them being either naiive of death, or simply evil.
In the end, I’d already bought the stationery so what he hell.
In order to marshal my efforts, I had to scale things appropriately. I decided to hold on to my extant tactic of delivering one letter per household, rather than per child, which meant four letters with a little surprise/arty thing alongside. The other thing they all got was a cover letter from Santa’s chief elf, and stressed-out busybody, Rufus Frost.
As well as hitting home that he’s a silly little fusspot, my favourite part was doing the small print again, which was even sillier this year than last.
I got my siblings to send me photos of their letters to Santa before they went up the chimney or what have you, so I had idea of what they were expecting from the man himself. Finnian and Malachy were getting a games console and road bike respectively, while little baby Maria was getting a dolly. It was nice being able to mention specifics, and rather adds to the believability of the thing. I also mentioned the trip to Lapland they were going on just before Christmas, for added authenticity.
I also greatly enjoyed being able to go into rather rude tangents about their withered old parents, while also showing that Santa is maybe a bit eccentric and forgetful, from having lived for so many thousands of years and getting his timelines mixed up a bit. He’s sort of a Hello Hugh for the festive period. I can’t work out yet if his tall tales about how cold it is are literal, or just him being playful, but I liked the phone call coming from the South Pole, and Rufus himself getting a little dig in in the margins.
Now, since Finnian and Malachy are crazy football fans, I decided to make them a little prototype sticker album for the hitherto unknown Arctic Premier League. I reasoned that Santa might sound out future toy ideas with his favoured customers, whip them up a test copy, and then go back to the lab with the results. I had a few punny names I wanted to use for players and teams, but enlisted the help of Facebook to accumulate more. In the end I received over 200 brain-numbingly inventive puns for my efforts, the best of which completed the set. Big thanks to everyone who contributed those! I enjoyed drawing their silly little heads as well, although you can see my running out of headshape/hairline ideas fairly quickly there below.
They’re printed on little label stickers, so once peeled you can cut them to shape and stick them in nicely to the little album I made from a green envelope, cut into card shape. I kept the outside nice and simple – with the cutting instructions in bold underneath.
Since it was a prototype, I didn’t really stress about making it too shelf-ready, I did fuss about with designs early on, but it quickly became apparent this would involve drawing footballers in the act of playing football which is an absolute nightmare.
On the inside, I traced the sticker shapes over some red card, cut the rectangles out and stuck them in as little slots for each sticker. I even numbered them to add the faintest veneer of their being something rewarding about sticking them in.
For Alice and Oisin, I followed a similar pattern for their letter, right down to the mention of their preferred toys and how cold it is. A special mention must be made for Alice’s letter, in which she opted for a slightly unfortunate spelling of PENS.
I’ve found it has gotten slightly harder to come up with new ways of describing how cold it is, but I did like this rainbow image so thought I’d run with it best I could.
It also gave me a chance to mention how coal is no longer used as punishment for environmental reasons and instead used for the medical needs of Snowmen, both jokes I kind of extrapolated from last year’s small print, which they all missed. [Philosophical question: is it harder to read small print if you have big eyes or small eyes? Or do eyes not grow anyway and is that why babies’ eyes seem so big? Answers on a postcard]
For the drawing, I wanted to make it blank so she could colour it in, and also because I’m not very good at drawing, so the further away I could make the scene, the better. I was happy with the clean lines - which did turn out good for colouring-in! - and the sassy onomatopoeia I managed to crowbar in there.
For Aoife and Cormac, I had two of their letters to work off. Toddler Cormac’s is beautifully abstract and to the point.
While Aoife’s shows her frankly incredible handwriting and almost mischievously polite style. Her asking how Santa was and immediately launching into the conversational “Well here are the things I want”. I really do love these little dictators.
In my letter to them, I was sure to include many references to their own choices, and give a little more backstory about poor Rufus and the stress he’s under making all the presents.
I quite like the idea that Aoife and Cormac are final arbiters of new, silly toy ideas, working as a quality filter to identify those ideas which are too silly for the public and stop them before they make it to the shelves.
I decided on PARSNIP SQUAD for two main reasons; firstly Aoife loved the Gravy Shoes I did last year, so I felt like the food/toy mash-up was a winner with her at least. Secondly, to my delight, I discovered that I can actually draw them quite well! I've been told that this was indeed considered too silly for sale, even though I thought reference to "Tottenham's most banging veg" might swing things the other way. Ah well.
For Anna, I thought I’d do something nice and simple but with a personal touch, so I wrote her a letter from Santa and Rufus, expressly specifying how much they want to be her friend, as well as soliciting her for medical advice now she’s getting the doctor's bag she asked for.
I also did her a little postcard because I hadn’t had any opportunity to draw Santa and Rufus themselves this year and I thought it’d be a nice memento.
When this was all done, I simply fitted up the usual nametags.
Did up some stamps of notable elves.
And posted them!
Due to plane problems, my brother and his wife’s trip to Lapland was *cancelled*. A chilling blow to their kids, which they were only able to remedy by promising to take the boys bowling, buy them new trainers and, outfit them in clothes the pair had seen worn in High School Musical. This was, let’s not forget, an an event the Daily Mail all-but-implied was a major battle within the wider war on Christmas. Now, the boys may have been ameliorated, but that didn’t change the fact that my letters were as out-of-date as an Austin Powers audio soundboard. So, I hastily prepared two alternatives - which was good because it also gave me a chance to mention the reindeer I’d renamed from last year, one of my favourite parts of the whole thing –and scanned and emailed them to said brother.
I've pocketed the real copies for later when I plan to pull off the ol' switcheroo. That bit is crucial, as I have it on good authority that Malachy keeps last year’s in his box of memories, which is just the best, and deserves the highest-res original longform copies.
All dispatched, I’ve seen a few videos now of the kids all receiving their letters and I must say it’s easily worth all the papercuts and cramp my gnarled and weary hands have suffered. Providing they keep being such an adorable shower of lovely wee things for the next few years, I reckon they’ll get a few deliveries more. I also might start planning them slightly earlier with a mind to producing some for non-family members or other worthy causes. For now though, I hope you’ve enjoyed having a read, and only ask that you wordlessly present me a mince pie, glass of hard booze and a carrot for Vibes.com next time you see me.
Merry Christmas, one and all!