Dear Santa (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Operation Santa

Although the holiday season of 2020 is over now, I must confess that I need some extra holiday cheer before officially beginning the first week of 2021, and Dana Nachman’s documentary film “Dear Santa” thankfully provided that to me. While it simply looks into one time-honored federal government program during the Christmas season in US, there are many good moments of human kindness and compassion, and that made me a bit less cranky than usual.

That federal government program in question is Operation Santa, which, as shown to us at the end of the documentary, has been quite active since it was founded in 1912. As many of you know, millions of kids in the country write letters to Santa Claus every year, and the United State Postal Service (USPS) willingly accepts many of these innocent letters and then has the public safely adopt some of them and make dreams come true for those kids who wrote adopted letters.

Steadily maintaining its deadpan approach along with many of its interviewees, the documentary observes each step of Operations Santa. At first, we see many different kids around the country writing each own personal letter to Santa Claus, and we cannot help but amused and touched by the sincerity of their letters. While many of them simply want toys or electronic gadgets, some of them want something a little more special than that, and I was particularly touched by the humble wish of a boy of some poor family in New York City, who just hopes that he and his family can enjoy a limousine ride on Christmas because they never experienced that before.

Meanwhile, you may notice how the documentary makes some points via its diverse presentation of modern American children in terms of race and gender. During a school meeting of young female students supervised by their teacher, I observed that two of the kids in the group are Muslims, and my eyes were also drawn to a young girl openly showing her sexuality via her attire and appearance. In case of one African American couple, they are totally fine with one of their children who is apparently a transgender kid, and that later resonates with the old letter of a little gay boy who simply wishes to be loved more for who he really is.

Meanwhile, the documentary shows and tells us how things get done in Operation Santa. Heaps of letters from millions of children in US are supposed to be delivered to that well-known Arctic spot where Santa Claus is supposed to live, but they are actually sent to many different USPS buildings around the country, and we see how thousands of letters are sorted out by ‘Elves’, who are actually, yes, the employees of USPS. Some of these employees gladly and seriously talk about their important mission as if they were real elves, and that is the main source of amusement in the documentary.

Once those numerous letters are thoroughly sorted out, they are given to the public, and many different people come and then rummage through piles of letters for finding any good kid to be cheered by them. Many of these civilians shown in the documentary have been quite passionate about Operation Santa, and a guy tells us a touching personal story on how much he was delighted to see his simple childhood wish fulfilled via Operation Santa. Never forgetting that kindness he received on that Christmas, he is always to ready to fulfill children’s wishes as much as he can whenever the holiday season begins, and we later see him busily going here and there for accomplishing his latest mission completely before Christmas comes.

And we see several other different decent people who have also never forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. In case of three middle-aged African American ladies in Chicago, they are not that affluent, but they are willing to do as much as they can for the upcoming Christmas, and they are amused by a boy who simply wants to have a bible as his Christmas present. In case of a bunch of laborers in New York City, they annually collect some money together for Operation Santa, and we later see them cheerfully handling many different presents to be delivered on Christmas.

The most poignant case in the documentary is a middle-aged woman who happened to lose her house just like many of her neighbors due to that catastrophic wildfire in California in 2018. Although she still feels saddened by the loss of her toy collection, she gladly participates in Operation Santa as before, and she looks brightened during her following preparation for those Christmas gifts to be given to some kids out there.

In the end, the documentary culminates to a series of feel-good moments as several kids in the documentary are excited and delighted to see their wishes coming true on Christmas. In case of one African American kid and his poor family, he receives a number of stuffs his family really needs, and you may find yourself smile a bit as watching his mother becoming a little emotional for this unexpected surprise.

Overall, “Dear Santa” is a likable documentary which will also be suitable for the holiday season of this year, and I was reminded again that there is still enough goodwill in the world despite how things have gotten worse during recent years. Yes, things have been quite bad especially during last year, but that does not mean at all that we may discard our goodwill and decency, and now I am ready to start the first week of 2021 with some more optimism.

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