What do you wish for? More time, less stress, a cappuccino machine, fewer bills, a hot vacation, a years spa pass, chocolate, a younger body, more courage, two front teeth?
A while back I presented my signature keynote, Journey to Everest: Unsung Heroes of Servant Leadership with a great group of Federal Government managers in Regina. This keynote celebrates the role of the unsung hero in work, those who make a difference by serving people whom they will likely never meet. I offered a simple reminder that our time, energy and talents can and does make a difference despite lack of credit or direct accolades. During the conference I interviewed and photographed delegates for the closing slide show and told a handful of stories to sing their praise by example before they leave the event to pay it forward.
It seems fitting in this season to share one of the examples of unsung heroes. I had a great chat with two Canada Post managers named Brent and Judy. Their picture in the closing slide show featured them in front of the Christmas tree in the hotel holding a sign that read the simple, creative postal code HOH OHO. As managers, they help coordinate the responses to, get this, over 1 million letters to Santa every year.
Each child’s letter is given a personal reply courtesy of Canada Post employees (on their own time, by the way) and select community service organizations. This is a heartfelt and excellent shining example of unconditional service exemplified by an unsung hero. There is no ego pat on the back because they will never meet the child but rather an internalized feeling of certainty that a small gesture keeps dreams and magic alive.
Here is the background of the Santa letter campaign. I share it as story worth telling because it is little known and, well, about unsung heroes.
In 1974, staff at Canada Post’s Montreal office were noticing a considerable amount of letters addressed to Santa Claus coming into the postal system, and those letters were being treated as undeliverable. Since those employees did not want those writing the letters, mostly young children, being disappointed at the lack of responses, they started answering the letters themselves. The amount of mail sent to Santa Claus increased every Christmas, up to the point that Canada Post decided to start an official Santa Claus letter-response program in 1983. Approximately one million letters come in to Santa Claus at postal code HOH OHO each Christmas, including from outside of Canada, and all of them are answered, in the same languages in which they are written.
This story came home with me when I told my wife Andrea, the story of the Santa letters. She smiled and reached into her bag and pulled out 30 she had volunteered to send replies! As coincidence would have it, just that day the service organization she belongs to distributed their annual quota to its members.
We had a great time reading each letter. They were all precious and unique and we could tell how old the child might be. Some included drawings of the man in red, some inquired as to his reindeers health and some had “gimmie this” wish lists, which probably gave rise to the one rule in responding: no mention of presents. All were full of belief in the spirit of giving and innocence and wishing dreams to come true.
One letter stood out from the rest. It was a wish list written by a mom tucked in with her children’s letters. It speaks for itself.
My wish list is easy. I would like to have another year like this year where I had happy, healthy children who are confident, safe and secure. This is all I want or need. Merry Christmas.” – Marie S.
Regardless of what you wish for, at least give yourself credit for how you have been an unsung hero for someone this last year, as a professional, parent, coworker, boss, community volunteer, etc. And whether you celebrate Santa Claus, The Birth of the Christ Child, Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, observe Ramadan, or light candles for Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity, may all your wishes come true in the new year.
Continued blessings to you and those whom you love as you go forth to make a difference for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.