Monday, December 3, 2007

Santa's blast from the past

In the interest of catching up on all my work this week, I'll be posting one or two of my newspaper columns from my former employer, the Carroll County News. This is a Christmas column from December, 2001. I've edited out the website URLs that no longer exist; luckily, the coolest one is still around, and you can still chat with Bif the Elf. I'm very fond of Bif, because this column won an honorable mention from the Arkansas Press Association. This blast from the past comes to you with permission from my former managing editor, Jerry Dupy. Thanks, Jerry!

The Lighter Side of the Net

After last week’s column, I had a couple of requests for sites that let kids e-mail Santa. Since I listen to my public (all two of you), I did a bit more digging on the web and found that yes, Marsha, there IS a Santa Claus and he’s at This is a cool site with lots of activities. I especially enjoyed the Christmas Karaoke feature. After a rousing rendition of ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ left the cats hiding under the couch, I tried out the ‘letter to Santa’ option. It’s fairly straightforward, and doesn’t ask for too much information. You don’t need an email address to send a letter to Santa, just make up a password, and you can come back later, log in, and read Santa’s reply.

Games, recipes, music and stories make this a great site for kids of all ages. The only thing I didn’t like about this site is that it requires Macromedia Flash, but it gives you a link to download the plug-in, and then loads quickly. The one feature that intrigued me, though, was the Elfchat, an automated Javascript program that gives you a chance to chat with one of Santa’s workers from the North Pole. Being the intrepid journalist, I decided to interview Bif the elf on current events of the day. And in true Dave Barry fashion, I am not making this up.

Q: Hello, Bif. How long have you been an elf?

A: The other elves are busy making toys, but I work in the mailroom.

Q: So are you worried about anthrax? Do you wear gloves?

A: I’d rather talk about you.

Q: Let’s not get fresh, Bif.

A: We’ll see.

Q: You sound like a dirty old elf looking for cyber love. Don’t the other elves like you?

A: Not quite.

Q: Do you get bored at the North Pole?

A: Let’s go outside and play.

Q: Back off, Bif. You’re getting fresh again.

A: Does it please you that I’m getting fresh again?

Q: Bif, I’m happily married. We could never have a life together.

A: Perhaps.

Obviously, not many people have been chatting with Bif, so drop in and talk to him. He needs company.

There are a couple of other sites that offer ‘letter to Santa’ services, like (website vamoosed). With this one, you have the option of receiving an email or an instant note on the screen. It’s cute, without tons of advertising swamping you like many holiday sites. Another Santa letter site is (website gone). Like all the Santa letter sites, you fill out a form for the basics and then write a note to Santa. In a few minutes, you get an answer back from Mrs. Claus telling you how busy Santa is, and how happy she is to hear from you. Yeah, yeah, Santa’s probably just stretched out on the couch asleep, listening to football and drooling on the sofa cushions.

Finally, I checked out I was put off by how much information this site requires. This was the only site that wanted my home address, but I didn’t see a snail mail feature for receiving a letter from Santa. It also zapped me with an error when I didn’t select three different name-brand toys on my wish list (nothing like teaching branding and consumerism at a young age.) I did receive a very thoughtful, well-written letter from Santa in my email box, though. It emphasized charity and gratitude, which was nice, but was a head-spinning contrast from the toy-heavy letter it urged me to send. I suspect these elves are corporate marketing execs in pointy shoes and Santa took a few public relations and communications classes. (Note: I was right; now the site has a disclaimer saying the kids' letters may be used for marketing purposes.)

All in all, Santa seems to be a pretty wired guy, so send him an email this year. The reindeer are probably checking his inbox as we speak, which is no small feat for someone with hooves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m expecting an email of my own from Bif.

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