It’s been 10 years. This year it has been exactly 10 years since I saw that little envelope, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Sorting through the mail, working overtime to make sure everybody got their Christmas cards and packages on time, I almost overlooked the little envelope if not that the address didn’t make any sense to me.
It had no address.
Just a postal code: 1111AA.
If you put that code on any envelope, it will find its way to the Netherlands sooner or later. The four numbers two letter combination is internationally registered as the postal codes of the Low Lands. And more specifically, this combination of four 1’s is nationally registered to the municipality of Diemen. But which German would know that? Or which German child?
I understand why this combination seems fictitious. I mean, how could you take a code like this seriously?
So why not think that if you post a letter to this code, it will reach its destination that is beyond all streets made by humans? It’s easy to understand this thinking, when looking at the little envelope I hold in my hands.
The writing on it is elegant, the address probably written by the parents. The drawings tell a different tale though. Der Weihnachtsmann, 1111AA Nordpol is surrounded by very neatly drawn pictures of a landscape that would make Tolkien step aside in respect. Snowmen, Christmas trees, a polar bear, and a little house with a smoking chimney have been drawn on the small piece of paper. Inside the envelope, a whole stack of papers has been crammed. Based on the drawings on the envelope, I can only imagine what is inside. Because Der Weihnachtsmann is no one less than Santa Claus.
1111AA, North Pole
I can imagine Santa would love a postal code like that. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have it and therefore the letter ended up with me. The child who wrote it will never know that the pieces of paper never reached their destination. There is an address on the back, I notice when I put the envelope down in the box of mail to be fed back into the system.
“Can I put this somewhere else?” I pick up the envelope again and look at the manager. He frowns at me in disbelieve.
“No, it will be refiled and if it’s undeliverable we will send it back to the return address,” is the simple response. Now it is I who look at him in disbelieve. This is a child’s letter to Santa Claus! If it’s send back with a “address incorrect” sticker on it, the child might end up seeing it lying on the doormat. I can only imagine the sadness that would cause…
While my supervisor turns his back to me, walks away to check on another employee of the postal system, I look at the envelope just one last time. According to Dutch law, constitutional law even, I am not allowed to take or open the letter. Neither can I throw it away as to make sure it’s not returned to the sender if undeliverable. There is nothing I can do to protect this child against the inevitable return of the envelope. And everything in me only thinks about what I would write back, as Santa Claus’ short replacement, if I would only copy the return address and write in my best German.
German that was pretty much non existent around the time this letter arrived in my hands. I was 17 back then, working at the Dutch postal service was my first ever job. Twice a week I sorted and delivered mail. Several thousand pieces of mail went through my hands, but only this one letter made its way into my memories. This small, decorated envelope addressed to Santa Claus. I still hope it was never send back and just got lost in the system…