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Purple suited Santa Claus

Early 20th century depiction of Santa Claus.

"A Letter from Santa Claus" is a short piece of humorous fantasy fiction by the American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who wrote professionally under the pseudonym of Mark Twain. It was written in 1875 for Twain's then 2-year-old daughter Susy Clemens.[1] It takes the form of a letter written on Christmas morning to Susy Clemens by Santa Claus.

In the letter, Santa Claus apologizes to Susy Clemens for not having been able to bring her all of the presents that she requested. He goes on to state that he will be returning shortly to deliver one more gift. Although Susy Clemens will be able to talk to Santa Claus when he comes back that morning, she is told that neither she nor anybody else in the house will be allowed to see him. Santa Claus gives detailed instructions that Susy Clemens and other members of the household will have to follow so that he can deliver her present while remaining unseen.

The letter is chiefly of interest as a demonstration of Twain's affection towards his daughter and his playful spirit. The Santa Claus lore that Twain lays out in the letter is also notable for containing several elements that are not part of the generally accepted mythology that surrounds the character today, such as Santa Claus living in a palace on the moon and delivering presents to children throughout the universe.

Summary

Christmas postcard with Santa Claus wearing green robes, carrying full sack, with "Christmas Greetings."

Early 20th century depiction of Santa Claus.

The letter is headed, "Palace of St. Nicholas, In the Moon, Christmas Morning". It is signed, "Your loving Santa Claus whom people sometimes call 'The Man in the Moon'". Santa Claus informs Susy Clemens that he received the letters that she and her baby sister wrote to him. Although those letters were made up entirely of scribbles, Santa Claus was able to understand them perfectly. That is because those same scrawls are the writing system used by children throughout the universe, including in the kingdom made up entirely of children ruled over by Santa Claus on the moon. Santa Claus tells Susy that he was able to bring her nearly all of the items that she requested. He was, however, unable to bring her any kitchen furniture for dolls because he ran out of stock after delivering the last such set of dolls' furniture to a girl named Little Snow Flake who lives on the North Star. Santa Claus hopes that Susy Clemens will think of Little Snow Flake as a friend and will write to her.

Santa image, 19th century

Late 19th century depiction of Santa Claus.

Santa Claus states that he had some difficulty understanding parts of the letters that Susy Clemens dictated to her mother and her nurse. He explains that is because he is a foreigner and cannot understand English writing well. He asks Susy if she requested a trunk full of dolls' clothes. He goes on to state that he will be returning at nine o'clock that morning, shortly after the letter will have been read to Susy Clemens, to ask her if that was indeed what she wanted. A servant called George[2] can let Santa Claus into the kitchen. It is, however, important that George does not see Santa Claus, so he will have to be blindfolded when he hears the kitchen doorbell ring. George and the cook will have to leave the kitchen when Santa Claus enters it. George will have to walk on tiptoe as he leaves and he and the cook will not be allowed to talk to each other. Santa Claus will then be able to communicate with Susy via speaking tube.[3] Santa Claus will ask Susy if she asked for a trunk full of dolls' clothes, what color trunk she wants and precisely what contents she wants inside it. He will then go back to the moon to get the trunk.

In order to deliver the trunk, Santa Claus will have to come down the large chimney of the biggest room in the house. All the doors that lead to that room will have to be shut because nobody can enter the room while Santa Claus is there. Furthermore, nobody in the house will be permitted to speak while Santa Claus is in the room.

Santa Claus says that his boot might leave a mark on the room's marble floor. That mark should not be removed. It should be left as a reminder to Susy Clemens to be good always.

See also

Footnotes

  1. Olivia Susan Clemens (March 19, 1872 - August 18, 1896), known as Susy Clemens, was the second of Twain's three children and the oldest of his two daughters. She was only 24 when she died of spinal meningitis. She wrote a biography of her father that was published in its entirety in 1985 as Papa: An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain (ISBN 9780385232456).
  2. The George in question is George Griffin, an African-American former slave who worked as Mark Twain's butler for seventeen years, including the period when Twain was writing his 1884 novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. it is possible that the runaway slave Jim, one of the two main characters in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was modeled on George Griffin.
  3. A speaking tube is a device made up of two cones connected by an air tube that allows speech to be transmitted over a distance of up to 300 feet (90 meters). As well as being used in the homes of the wealthy, they were also used in cars and on trains and were widely used on ships in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Widespread adoption of the telephone made the speaking tube obsolete.

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