A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dear Santa is a crowd-pleasing documentary about the United States Post Office's long-running "Operation Santa" program. Every holiday season, hundreds of thousands of letters to the North Pole arrive at post offices around the country. The film follows regional post offices from New York City to Chico, Calif., as they team up with local and national organizations, companies, and people who volunteer their time and funds to make children's and families' wishes come true each year. While it might lead to some questions about Santa, there's no iffy content in the film beyond a few scenes in which adults (and kids) discuss the hardships that make their holidays challenging, including a wildfire that destroyed thousands of homes or the inability to afford both daily needs and presents. The featured volunteers are examples of compassion and empathy, and the letter-writers are all grateful. Both groups are diverse, with positive representations.
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What's the story?
DEAR SANTA is a feel-good documentary directed by Dana Nachman about the long-running "Operation Santa" program run by the United States Postal Service. Every year, post offices across the country receive hundreds of thousands of letters made out to Santa. Thanks to an extensive network of volunteers and partnerships with charitable organizations, companies, groups, and individuals, the USPS is able to fulfill the dreams of thousands of children (and adults!) every year. The documentary highlights letters written by a diverse group of children, as well as "volunteer elves" everywhere from big cities like New York to smaller towns in Arizona and California. Most kids receive presents but a few also get pets and even household necessities. One single mom ends up with a house full of furniture and presents for her children. A family who lost their home in a California wildfire wishes for holiday cheer. And one child, who writes that he's gay and wants Santa to tell God that he loves him, inspires LGBTQ+ volunteers to donate a box of affirming children's books and toys.
Is it any good?
This holiday documentary is a heartwarming reminder of not only the Christmas spirit but also the importance of kindness and generosity. Nachman smartly introduces several USPS sites, where she interviews adorable young (and occasionally adult) letter writers and the many volunteers who fulfill those letters' wishes. The kids cutely describe what they think about Santa. The "elves" include a group of fit New York City ironworkers who volunteer through their union, a Bronx man who as a child received a gift (a clock radio!) from the program and created a nonprofit to answer as many letters as he could, volunteers in Chico, California, where thousands of people relocated after wildfires, and many more, including the postal workers who lead their region's program.
Audiences will definitely have favorite storylines: the sweet boy who asks for precisely 10 Dutch bunnies (five boys, five girls), the middle-schooler who thinks his family deserves a limo ride around the city, the struggling single moms who need home goods and school supplies, the Brighton Beach school club that pays forward the kindness they received after Hurricane Sandy by adopting kids every holiday, and so on. There's also a postal worker who also lost her own home in a fire and carries around a toy monkey as she delivers the presents, and an iron worker who's so thrilled to have a stable union job that she looks forward to heading up a toy donation drive every December. Bottom line? This is an affecting, inspiring chronicle of how everyone could use holiday cheer -- whether as a giver or a recipient.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the various ways the "volunteer elves" help in Dear Santa. Why do you think the film visited multiple parts of the United States? Which story affected you most?
Did watching this film inspire you to get involved with the Operation Santa program? What makes it a worthy way to show kindness to others?
- In theaters: December 4, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: December 4, 2020
- Director: Dana Nachman
- Studio: IFC Films
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Holidays
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy, Gratitude
- Run time: 84 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: December 10, 2020
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