JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) _ Dan Bloom is asking children nationwide to keep their gift lists and instead write Santa and his wife about their feelings this holiday season.
Bloom, a 39-year-old author of children’s books and part-time teacher in Alaska’s capital, promises that Santa and Merry Claus will write back free of charge.
″I want the kids to describe their families, their preparations for Christmas, what they think the spirit of Christmas is, their hopes for world peace and, most importantly, to name somebody who’s doing a good deed,″ Bloom said recently.
Bloom’s ″Heartlight Letterline″ is not his first holiday letter-writing program.
Seven years ago, while living in the western Alaska town of Nome, Bloom invented the characters ″Bubbie and Zadie″ as a Jewish alternative to Mr. and Mrs. Claus. He invited children to write Bubbie and Zadie and share their feelings and joy about the holiday season.
″When I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, I felt left out of the (Christmas) season,″ recalled Bloom, who is of Jewish descent. ″That was my main impetus to begin Bubbie and Zadie. I thought maybe there could be something for Jewish kids to participate in.″
After news articles about Bubbie and Zadie appeared across the nation, Bloom received thousands of letters from children of all faiths.
″In Yiddish, Bubbie and Zadie means Grandma and Grandpa, and basically they are everybody’s Grandma and Grandpa,″ Bloom said. ″They represent the love that grandparents have for grandchildren, and I think that’s why it worked. I think if I had created Father Hanukkah or something, it wouldn’t have been as endearing.″
Bloom said he was motivated to keep the program going by the wonder and spirit of childhood reflected in the letters.
″I remember one of the first letters I got said, ‘Dear Bubbie and Zadie: Do you happen to know my Bubbie and Zadie, Herman and Sarah from Cincinnati?’ - as if these grandparents in Nome know all grandparents. The children’s world is an amazing world,″ he said.
Bloom wrote a 1983 book about Bubbie and Zadie. Sales of the book, which includes an address, have kept dozens of letters coming to the mythical couple each year.
Last fall, he decided to apply the same letter-writing idea to Santa Claus to open it up to more children and to counter the materialism that has become part of the season.
″There’s a lot of these little mail-order things where for $5 you can have a Christmas letter sent from Santa Claus to your kid, but it’s just a commercial thing and there’s not much feeling to it,″ Bloom said.
″As I see Santa and Merry, they are everybody’s grandparents. It fits in, I think, with the Santa Claus myth.″
Santa’s wife figures prominently because ″spiritual things should be male and female whenever possible,″ Bloom said.
″A little girl, for instance, might have something personal to tell Merry,″ he said.
Bloom said his Jewish background should not disqualify him from perpetuating a symbol of a Christian holiday.
″Jewish-smewish. We’re all related in this world and I, myself, believe in a philosophy of universalism. I’m deeply Jewish in my background and I’m proud of it. But I’m a universalist in that I don’t really believe in any one religion per se.″
Bloom said he will answer all the letters and plans to recruit friends to help if necessary.
″I get enormous satisfaction in doing this.″
Editors: Letters should include a return address and be sent by Dec. 15 to: Santa and Merry Claus, P.O. Box 555, Auke Bay Station, Juneau, Alaska 99821.