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Sending a signal to Santa

Continuing a Christmas tradition in Burgeo

It’s a Christmas tradition Burgeo Academy teacher Jenn Vatcher did not practise herself as a child growing up in Burgeo, but she knew lots of people who did.

“We live in my husband’s grandfather’s 100-year-old house,” Vatcher said. “When we took out the old stove my mother-in-law said, ‘There’s where we put all our Santa letters growing up.’”

The ceremony of burning children’s letters to Santa in a fireplace, so that the smoke and ashes can carry the children’s wishes to the North Pole, has roots in England and likely came over to this province with English settlers. 

This holiday tradition would likely die out in small communities like Burgeo if it wasn’t for the efforts of people like Jenn Vatcher. The combined Grade 4-5 Burgeo Academy teacher arranged a letter writing session followed by a field trip to her friend Mike Green’s shed so the students could personally put their letters in the fire, then run outside to watch the smoke carry their wishes up into the sky and off to the jolly elf in red.

Recipes, traditions and more in our Holidays section
Recipes, traditions and more in our Holidays section

“I was thinking maybe that would be a way to bring back a tradition that some of their parents or grandparents would have done, get them out of the classroom for a little bit and bring them into a different environment for an hour in the afternoon,” Vatcher said.

She speculated that the tradition might have also been a way for outport Newfoundlanders to save on postage.

Vatcher says the students were very curious to see if a burnt letter could actually make it all the way to Santa as smoke.

“One little boy asked, ‘Does that really work?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never done it personally, but I did have friends growing up who did it and Santa visited them,’” she explained. 

Vatcher and the 10 students in her class walked to Green’s shed during school hours on Dec. 19, where her husband Brock, friend Mike, and their dogs were waiting with hot chocolate and cookies. One by one the children tossed their letters and dreams into the fireplace and then rushed outside to see them escape the chimney and float off to the legend himself.

The children then had an opportunity to play some darts, practice math by adding up their scores and sign a wall of the shed that many of their fathers, who achieved dart scores of 180, had also signed.

“Mike said, ‘I will leave a spot for when you come back next year’ so I said, ‘OK, I will bring a new class back next year.’” Vatcher added. “That can be our tradition.” 

The idea of keeping traditions alive is very important to Vatcher.

“I’m one who loves tradition,” Vatcher stated. “It’s just fun and something we want to hold on to and teach our kids that this was a way of life in Newfoundland and it still can be if you mind to keep it up. 

“We think that as the kids grow up and leave this community for post-secondary and work, meet new people, form new relationships and have families and kids of their own, they can pass on the traditions and say this is what I did in Burgeo when I was growing up. Some traditions are dying and it’s important to still teach them to our kids when we have an opportunity to do that and as a teacher I have every opportunity to do that.”

Vatcher noted that creating special memories for youth is also important for their growth and sense of community. 

“We spent an hour and 15 minutes in Michael Green’s shed and we made so many memories that afternoon that I’m like, ‘This is what the kids will remember.’”

The students enjoyed their traditional shed experience, according to Vatcher.

“When we got back to school, our secretary sang out, ‘How’d you get on?’  The kids shouted out, ‘Best field trip ever!’” 

The students weren’t the only ones who had a time in the shed.

“Michael and my husband really loved it,” Vatcher commented. “They thought the kids were so well-behaved, so interested, really funny and a lot of fun, where they are not used to spending all day with kids this age.” 

Vatcher said the students received a return letter from Santa himself through Canada Post. They are happy to report that they are pumped their Christmas experiment worked.

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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