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Twain's 'Letter From Santa Claus,' A Gift For All Ages
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Twain's 'Letter From Santa Claus,' A Gift For All Ages

Twain's 'Letter From Santa Claus,' A Gift For All Ages

Twain's 'Letter From Santa Claus,' A Gift For All Ages
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A trade card from the 1880s depicts a Santa Claus figure in a bird-themed sleigh pulled by reindeer as they are about the land on a rooftop to deliver presents from the huge sack of gifts. i

A trade card from the 1880s depicts a Santa Claus figure in a bird-themed sleigh pulled by reindeer as they are about the land on a rooftop to deliver presents from the huge sack of gifts. Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Getty Images
A trade card from the 1880s depicts a Santa Claus figure in a bird-themed sleigh pulled by reindeer as they are about the land on a rooftop to deliver presents from the huge sack of gifts.

A trade card from the 1880s depicts a Santa Claus figure in a bird-themed sleigh pulled by reindeer as they are about the land on a rooftop to deliver presents from the huge sack of gifts.

Getty Images

One of the pleasures of being a parent is the chance to discover things you missed as a child the first time. This week I found a copy of Mark Twain's "A Letter from Santa Claus" that he wrote in 1875 for his 3 year old daughter, Susie, to see on her pillow Christmas morning.

Santa assures Susie Clemens he read the letter she had scrawled for herself and her baby sister:

"(F)or although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples' alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use ..." he wrote.

"You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters — I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself — and kissed both of you ...

Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: 'Little Snow Flake,' (for that is the child's name) 'I'm glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I.'"

But Santa Clemens says he couldn't make out some words in an adult's hand:

"I took it to be "a trunk full of doll's clothes." Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o'clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you...

I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say "Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens," you must say "Good-bye, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here" ... and every fine night I will look at her star and say, 'I know somebody up there and like her, too.'"

It is poignant to read this letter. Susie Clemens was especially close to her father, and became a writer, too. But she died of spinal meningitis when she was 24, and left a hole in her father's heart. What you can hear in the words of Mark Twain's Santa is a parent who, in this season and all others, wants to give his child the world.

"... If my boot should leave a stain on the marble," he has Santa write to Susie Clemens, "... Leave it there always in memory of my visit ...

Your loving SANTA CLAUS."

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