I'm a fairly soppy sort, especially at Christmas, so I decided to spread a little of that ol' festive magic to the small humans in my life this past year. Thus, for a few weeks in December 2014, I practised some horrific deceit upon my nephews and nieces, all of whom received a personalised, illustrated letter from a legal entity named ARCTIC HOLDINGS LTD (a subsidiary of North Pole Leisure & Logistics Co, of Toyland Industrial Park).

Each package was preceded by a formal notice from the workshop's top elf and chief busybody, Rufus Frost. The legalistic tone of the header adds a note of decorum to proceedings and the text itself hopefully gets across that he is a sound buzzer, but just a *little* bit of a dick as well. The eagle-eyed will also spot the elaborate and verbose small print at the bottom of the page.

Reads: Any and all contact to/from this address may be used by our elves for training purposes. We regret that no correspondence can be entered into concerning dissatisfaction with toys or lack thereof. Arctic Holdings remind you that all decisions relating to coal deliveries are final, but we are committed to ensuring a cleaner environment and recommend that any coal received be used for purely ornamental purposes. Please note that any coal sent back to us will be re-used to teach and/or shame other naughty children or deployed as eyes/shiny black buttons for snowmen as and when deemed appropriate by above stated entities and so forth and so on and what have you.

The templates were drawn up beforehand so they'd look like the personalised stationery of Rufus and St Nick himself. My pal Patrick helped with the design of both.

For the older boys, I wanted to have slightly more layered jokes and references, as well as more detailed touches like the stain from the very same infeasibly large mug he describes having specially fabricated for him. I originally wanted the handwriting to be shakier, but it was taking ages, so this is essentially just my handwriting. Oldest boy Finn actually read the letter out himself, which I wasn't expecting, and he did trip up on my spidery scrawl a little. Note to self for next time. In contrast to Rufus, I wanted Santa to be ingratiating and chatty, full of tall tales and twinkly-eyed mischief.

I really wanted to rebrand Santa's reindeer with seriously stupid new names. I really, really, really enjoy stupid names. Almost nothing makes me happier. I was really glad they shared my tastes in that regard. They'll be alright, those two. Reindeer are a nightmare to draw so I pretty much did the same one 9 times.


These letters obviously cater to the older kids, but I was anxious to mention the younger ones too. So, although Aoife is really the sole topic of this letter, I made sure to mention her little brother so she'd be confident that Santa has plenty of insider knowledge. Aoife is also a very precocious reader and storyteller, so I knew she'd enjoy the added details about Rufus, like him having made that special badge himself or that he has a habit of pulling on his ears etc. 


Aoife is always chastising me for being silly - she is particularly judgemental about me wearing odd socks, doing silly voices etc - so I thought I'd give her a chance to officially object to silliness in writing. Needless to say, upon receipt of said letter she did this with loud, contemptuous delight. Her dad says if she ends up wanting a Princess Lumberjack I'm dead, but I have promised that should that arise, I will endeavour to manufacture one for her. Also, shoes are harder to draw than I anticipated.

I've added this artists' impression of Santa and Rufus themselves, in something closer to my own style. The colouring-in thing was a total cop-out because I was dreading doing it myself.


Alice's letter more specifically mentions her desired gifts as she had specifically requested certain things beforehand. I knew she loves doing ballet so I factored it in, she is also a great audience for a story to be read to. Paradoxically, there's an odd window of time before kids are confident readers where you can be a lot more wordy in this kind of thing because you know it'll be read TO them, and their comprehension is good enough that they'll take it all in immediately. With the older kids  I might try and take it down a notch as they insist on reading it themselves and the word jumble mixed with my handwriting probably made it a bit more of an ordeal than was necessary.


This amazing picture was drawn by the lovely Rachel Cunningham and was better than I could have hoped. This got a particularly delighted response from Alice, who absolutely loved the picture and wouldn't stop laughing at it.


Anna is only 1 so she's a bit too young tto read herself but she's been doing babysign so I did a (terrible) approximation of the sign for 'Santa'. I've since found out that they use a different sign for Santa in the UK anyway, but she's only little so I think I got away with it.


I got some nice red envelopes and prepared the names on green card.


And, finally, I got some stickers and made little handmade elf stamps which I was quite pleased with.

It took me a couple of weeks but it was really worth it, particularly for the delighted reactions by those who are just the right age. I'm starting to think that maybe a couple of the older ones are well aware of what's going on but holding it in for fear of losing double present privileges. A highly creditable decision in a fairly difficult dilemma. In any case, I reckon I've now signed myself up to do this for a very long time.

I'm 90% sure I don't regret it.