Just outside of Chicago, Illinois lies Bolingbrook, a bustling little village that is home to 75,000 residents, including Shawna Calvert and her husband Santa Claus (otherwise known as Gregg).
Santa’s mailbox just so happens to be located in the front yard of the Calvert’s home. And where Santa’s letters go once they are dropped in, well, only the magic of Christmas can decide.
Painted red and nestled on top of a candy cane pole, children show up almost hourly to place their letters to Santa into a mailbox promising that Santa will reply.
“We weren’t really sure what the response would be when we put up the Letters to Santa mailbox,” Shawna explains to Babble, “but my husband Gregg wanted to do it, so we did it, and now we are doing it. This whole idea was about connecting with little ones through the magic of Christmas, and now we have kids showing up almost hourly at times, dropping their letters into the box and hoping to get a reply.”
With nine children between them, Shawna and Gregg are no strangers to making the holidays happy for smiling little faces.
“Gregg came into our marriage with two children, and I brought two children. Then we added three more through fostering-to-adopt, and we are the long-term guardians of two more,” Shawna says, quick to add that they are also blessed with three grandchildren.
“I look back on our own Christmas traditions, and I have to laugh because some of them are a bit quirky, but I wonder and hope that they will continue. Now, having moved from Oregon three years ago and leaving much of our family and grandbabies behind, Christmas looks a bit different, and it was time to find a new way to bring the holiday spirit into our house. And what better way to do that, than through the excitement of children?” she says.
Excitement is exactly what the Calverts got. As mother Jacki Dutton was eager to explain:
“My five-year-old daughter Dylann was already in her pajamas when I heard about the Letters to Santa box. So when I saw that it wasn’t that far away, there was no way I couldn’t take her!” she says. “Dylann definitely thought it was the real deal, and was just as excited to mail her letter, as she had been when I took her to see Santa. There was a magic to the whole experience, and there just isn’t enough of this sweetness left in the world anymore. It’s so kind of this family to do this, and we plan to make this a tradition of ours for as long as the box is there.”
When asked what most of the letters are about, Shawna wasted no time in exclaiming that apparently, there are a lot of very naughty elves these days — and children would like Santa to know about them! But what I found to be the most magical part of all, was that among the chatty little boys who sign their letters as “T-Rex,” and the letters asking for L.O.L. Surprise! toys and Fingerlings, was that it’s not just children getting in on the deal.
“I got one very sweet letter from a dad,” Shawna says, “that thanked Santa for the time he got to spend playing games with his children this year, and asked if he could have more time like that next year.”
“Of course there are the letters that I don’t really know how to respond to,” Shawna explains, referring to one little girl’s request to bring her military dad back home from overseas, but she and her family try their hardest to respond in the best way they can.
“My five youngest children — all teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16 —sit around the table at night while ‘Santa’ reads the letters out loud, and then we hand write a response to each letter, before mailing it back with a little Santa snow, and a custom stamp that makes it took like it came from the North Pole. It’s important to us that each child feel special, and heard.”
That feeling, according to mother Courtney Aquilino, is exactly what her boys experienced with the Letters to Santa box. “My boys Austin and Parker are only 2 and 4, so this year is the first year that my oldest has really gotten excited about Christmas and all the magic it brings. It’s been a lot of fun seeing it through their eyes, and on our way to the box, my oldest exclaimed what lucky boys they were,” she says.
Lucky indeed! Not many children have Mr. and Mrs. Claus living right in their very own town. Although, Shawna would argue that her family are the lucky ones. “It’s just been so wonderful to see everyone come together like this. Kudos to all the moms for bringing their kids out and keeping the magic alive. The whole experience has been a lot like my family; it takes a lot of dedication, but I feel so privileged to be a part of it.”
If you’d like to be a part of Shawna and Gregg’s Letters to Santa experience, visit their Facebook page to learn more.