Letters From Father ChristmasJ. R. R. Tolkien
Edited by Baillie Tolkien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Works by J.R.R. Tolkien
To the children of J. R. R. Tolkien, the interest and importance of Father Christmas extended beyond his filling of their stockings on Christmas Eve; for he wrote a letter to them every year, in which he described in words and pictures his house, his friends, and the events, hilarious or alarming, at the North Pole. The first of the letters came in 1920, when John, the eldest, was three years old; and for over twenty years, through the childhoods of the three other children, Michael, Christopher and Priscilla, they continued to arrive each Christmas. Sometimes the envelopes, dusted with snow and bearing Polar postage stamps, were found in the house on the morning after his visit; sometimes the postman brought them; and the letters that the children wrote themselves vanished from the fireplace when no one was about.
As time went on, Father Christmas’ household became larger, and whereas at first little is heard of anyone else except the North Polar Bear, later on there appear Snow-elves, Red Gnomes, Snow-men, Cave-bears, and the Polar Bear’s nephews, Paksu and Valkotukka, who came on a visit and never went away. But the Polar Bear remained Father Christmas’ chief assistant, and the chief cause of the disasters that led to muddles and deficiencies in the Christmas stockings; and sometimes he wrote on the letters his comments in angular capitals.
Eventually Father Christmas took on as his secretary an Elf named Ilbereth, and in the later letters Elves play an important part in the defence of Father Christmas’ house and store-cellars against attacks by Goblins.
In this book are presented numerous examples of Father Christmas’ shaky handwriting, and almost all the pictures that he sent are here reproduced; and also included is the alphabet that the Polar Bear devised from the Goblin drawings on the walls of the caves where he was lost, and the letter that he sent to the children written in it.
22nd December 1920
I heard you ask daddy what I was like and where I lived. I have drawn me and my house for you. Take care of the picture. I am just off now for Oxford with my bundle of toys - some for you. Hope I shall arrive in time: the snow is very thick at the North Pole tonight. Your loving Father Christmas
Christmas Eve: 1923
My dear John,
It is very cold today and my hand is very shaky—I am nineteen hundred and twenty four, no! seven! years old on Christmas Day,—lots older than your great-grandfather, so I can’t stop the pen wobbling, but I hear that you are getting so good at reading that I expect you will be able to read my letter.
I send you lots of love (and lots for Michael too) and Lotts Bricks too (which are called that because there are lots more for you to have next year if you let me know in good time). I think they are prettier and stronger and tidier than Picabrix. So I hope you will like them.
Now I must go; it is a lovely fine night and I have got hundreds of miles to go before morning—there is such a lot to do.
A cold kiss from
Father Nicholas Christmas
Dear Michael Hilary
I am very busy this year: No time for letter. Lots of love. Hope the engine goes well. Take care of it. A big kiss.
with love from
December 23rd 1924
Hope you have a happy Christmas. only time for a short letter, my sleigh is waiting. Lots of new stockings to fill this year. Hope you will like station and things. A big kiss.
with love from
Top of the World,
Near the North Pole
My dear boys,
I am dreadfully busy this year—it makes my hand more shaky than ever when I think of it—and not very rich; in fact awful things have been happening, and some of the presents have got spoilt, and I haven’t got the North Polar bear to help me, and I have had to move house just before Christmas, so you can imagine what a state everything is in, and you will see why I have a new address, and why I can only write one letter between you both.
It all happened like this: one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on the top of the North Pole. I told him not to, but the North Polar Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down—and he did. The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the North Polar Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars, where I was collecting this year’s presents, and the North Polar Bear’s leg got broken.
He is well again now, but I was so cross with him that he says he won’t try to help me again—I expect his temper is hurt, and will be mended by next Christmas.
I send you a picture of the accident and of my new house on the cliffs above the North Pole (with beautiful cellars in the cliffs). If John can’t read my old shaky writing (one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five years old) he must get his father to. When is Michael going to learn to read, and write his own letters to me? Lots of love to you both and Christopher, whose name is rather like mine.
That’s all: Good Bye
Father Christmas was in a great hurry—told me to put in one of his magic wishing crackers. As you pull, wish, and see if it doesn’t come true. Excuse thick writing I have a fat paw. I help Father Christmas with his packing: I live with him. I am the GREAT (Polar) BEAR
Top of the World,
Near the North Pole
Monday December 20th 1926
My dear boys,
I am more shaky than usual this year. The North Polar Bear’s fault! It was the biggest bang in the world, and the most monstrous firework there ever has been. It turned the North Pole BLACK and shook all the stars out of place, broke the moon into four—and the Man in it fell into my back garden. He ate quite a lot of my Christmas chocolates before he said he felt better and climbed back to mend it and get the stars tidy.
Then I found out that the reindeer had broken loose. They were running all over the country, breaking reins and ropes and tossing presents up in the air. They were all packed up to start, you see—yes it only happened this morning: it was a sleighload of chocolate things, which i always send to England early. I hope yours are not badly damaged.
But isn’t the North Polar Bear silly? And he isn’t a bit sorry! Of course he did it—you remember I had to move last year because of him? The tap for turning on the Rory Bory Aylis fireworks is still in the cellar of my old house. The North Polar Bear knew he must never, never touch it. I only let it off on special days like Christmas. He says he thought it was cut off sin
ce we moved.
Anyway, he was nosing round the ruins this morning soon after breakfast (he hides things to eat there) and turned on all the Northern Lights for two years in one go. You have never heard or seen anything like it. I have tried to draw a picture of it; but I am too shaky to do it properly and you can’t paint fizzing light can you?
I think the Polar Bear has spoilt the picture rather—of course he can’t draw with those great fat paws—
Rude! I can—and write without shaking.
by going and putting a bit of his own about me chasing the reindeer and him laughing. He did laugh too. So did I when I saw him trying to draw reindeer, and inking his nice white paws.
Father Christmas had to hurry away and leave me to finish. He is old and gets worried when funny things happen. You would have laughed too! I think it is good of me laughing. It was a lovely firework. The reindeer will run quick to England this year. They are still frightened!…
I must go and help pack. I don’t know what Father Christmas would do without me. He always forgets what a lot of packing I do for him…
The Snow Man is addressing our envelopes this year. He is Father Christmas’s gardener—but we don’t get much but snowdrops and frost-ferns to grow here. He always writes in white, just with his finger…
A merry Christmas to you from North Polar Bear
And love from Father Christmas to you all.
Top o’the World,
near the North Pole
Wednesday December 21st 1927
My dear people: there seem to get more and more of you every year.
I get poorer and poorer: still I hope that I have managed to bring you all something you wanted, though not everything you asked for (Michael and Christopher! I haven’t heard from John this year. I suppose he is growing too big and won’t even hang up his stocking soon).
It has been so bitter at the North Pole lately that the North Polar Bear has spent most of the time asleep and has been less use than usual this Christmas.
Everybody does sleep most of the time here in winter—especially Father Christmas.
The North Pole became colder than any cold thing ever has been, and when the North Polar Bear put his nose against it—it took the skin off: now it is bandaged with red flannel. Why did he? I don’t know, but he is always putting his nose where it oughtn’t to be—into my cupboards for instance.
That’s because I am hungry
Also it has been very dark here since winter began. We haven’t seen the Sun, of course, for three months, but there are no Northern Lights this year—you remember the awful accident last year? There will be none again until the end of 1928. The North Polar Bear has got his cousin (and distant friend) the Great Bear to shine extra bright for us, and this week I have hired a comet to do my packing by, but it doesn’t work as well.
The North Polar Bear has not really been any more sensible this year:
I have been perfectly sensible, and have learnt to write with a pen in my mouth instead of a paintbrush.
Yesterday he was snowballing the Snow Man in the garden and pushed him over the edge of the cliff so that he fell into my sleigh at the bottom and broke lots of things—one of them was himself. I used some of what was left of him to paint my white picture. We shall have to make ourselves a new gardener when we are less busy.
The Man in the Moon paid me a visit the other day—a fortnight ago exactly—he often does about this time, as he gets lonely in the Moon, and we make him a nice little Plum Pudding (he is so fond of things with plums in!)
His fingers were cold as usual, and the North Polar Bear made him play ‘snapdragons’ to warm them. Of course he burnt them, and then he licked them, and then he liked the brandy, and then the Bear gave him lots more, and he went fast asleep on the sofa. Then I went down into the cellars to make crackers, and he rolled off the sofa, and the wicked bear pushed him underneath and forgot all about him! He can never be away a whole night from the moon; but he was this time.
I have never been expected to look after the Man in the Moon before. I was very nice to him, and he was very comfy under the sofa.
Suddenly the Snow Man (he wasn’t broken then) rushed in out of the garden, next day just after teatime, and said the moon was going out! The dragons had come out and were making an awful smoke and smother. We rolled him out and shook him and he simply whizzed back, but it was ages before he got things quite cleared up.
I believe he had to let loose one of his simply terrificalest freezing magics before he could drive the dragons back into their holes, and that is why it has got so cold down here.
The Polar Bear only laughs when I tell him it’s his fault, and he curls up on my hearthrug and won’t do anything but snore.
My messengers told me that you have somebody from Iceland staying with you. That is not so far from where I live, and nearly as cold. People don’t hang up stockings there, and I usually pass by in a hurry, though I sometimes pop down and leave a thing or two for their very jolly Christmas Trees.
My usual way is down through Norway, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and then back through Germany, Northern France, Belgium, and so into England: and on the way home I pass over the sea, and sometimes Iceland and I can see the twinkling lights faint in the valleys under their mountains. But I go by quick, as my reindeer gallop as hard as they can there—they always say they are frightened a volcano or a geyser will go off underneath them.
This must be all: I have written you a very long letter this year as there was nothing to draw, but dark and snow and stars.
Love to you all, and happiness next year.
Your loving Father Christmas
Top o’ the World,
Thursday December 20th 1928
My dear boys,
Another Christmas and I am another year older—and so are you. I feel quite well all the same—very nice of Michael to ask—and not quite so shaky. But that is because we have got all the lighting and heating right again after the cold dark year we had in 1927—you remember about it?
And I expect you remember whose fault it was? What do you think the poor dear old bear has been and done this time? Nothing as bad as letting off all the lights. Only fell from top to bottom of the main stairs on Thursday!
Who’d left the soap on the stairs? Not me!
We were beginning to get the first lot of parcels down out of the storerooms into the hall. Polar Bear would insist on taking an enormous pile on his head as well as lots in his arms. Bang Rumble Clatter Crash! Awful moanings and growlings.
I ran out on to the landing and saw he had fallen from top to bottom on to his nose leaving a trail of balls, bundles, parcels and things all the way down—and he had fallen on top of some and smashed them. I hope you got none of these by accident? I have drawn you a picture of it all. Polar Bear was rather grumpy at my drawing it:
Of course, naturally.
He says my Christmas pictures always make fun of him and that one year he will send one drawn by himself of me being idiotic (but of course I never am, and he can’t draw well enough).
Yes I can. I drew the flag at the end.
He joggled my arm and spoilt the little picture at the bottom of the moon laughing and Polar Bear shaking his fist at it.
When he had picked himself up he ran out of doors and wouldn’t help clear up because I sat on the stairs and laughed as soon as I found there was not much damage done—that is why the moon smiled: but the part showing Polar Bear angry was cut off because he smudged it.
But anyway I thought you would like a picture of the inside of my new big house for a change. The chief hall is under the largest dome, where we pile the presents usually ready to load on the sleighs at the doors. Polar Bear and I built it nearly all ourselves, and laid all the blue and mauve tiles. The banisters and roof are not quite straight…
Not my fault. Father Christmas did the banisters.
p; …but it doesn’t really matter. I painted the pictures on the walls of the trees and stars and suns and moons. Then I said to Polar Bear, “I shall leave the frieze (F. R. I. E. Z. E.) to you.”
He said, “I should have thought there was enough freeze outside—and your colours inside, all purply- grey-y-bluey-pale greeny are cold enough too.”
I said, “Don’t be a silly bear: do your best, there’s a good old polar”—and what a result!! Icicles all round the hall to make a freeze (F. R. E. E. Z. E.) (he can’t spell very well), and fearful bright colour to make a warm freeze!!!
Well, my dears, I hope you will like the things I am bringing: nearly all you asked for and lots of other little things you didn’t, and which I thought of at the last minute. I hope you will share the railway things and farm and animals often, and not think they are absolutely only for the one whose stocking they were in. Take care of them, for they are some of my very best things.
Love to Chris: love to Michael: love to John who must be getting very big as he doesn’t write to me any more (so I simply had to guess paints—I hope they were all right: Polar Bear chose them; he says he knows what John likes because John likes bears).
Your loving Father Christmas
And my love, Polar Bear
Boxing Day, 1928
I am frightfully sorry—I gave this to the Polar Bear to post and he forgot all about it! We found it on the hall table—today.
But you must forgive him: he has worked very hard for me and is dreadfully tired. We have had a busy Christmas. Very windy here. It blew several sleighs over before they could start.
Love again, Father Christmas