My Dad’s Handwritten Notes Are The Holiday Tradition I’ll Always Be Grateful For

Little girl talking to Santa
The writer as a child, spilling her guts to Santa. PHOTO: COURTESY OF KARI CRIBB

I believed in Santa until I was 10 years old. I think this was possible in part due to my nature: I’m the eldest of three, an unabashed optimist, and generally a rule follower. The old adage “you have to believe to receive” burrowed itself deep down in my Christmas-crazed psyche early on.

But I think my abiding belief in The Man With The Bag had just as much to do with the fact that my parents were spectacularly good at manufacturing holiday magic for my two sisters and me. 

Each year, we were allowed to ask Santa for three things. “If three gifts were good enough for Jesus, it’s certainly enough for you,” they would remind us. I’d think long and hard about the three things I’d ask for, and American Girl accessories or rollerblades or something made from pink plastic usually won out. Santa never failed to deliver those three anticipated gifts, and he’d always surprise and delight us with many more. Ask my mom about the year he brought me metallic periwinkle flares and a crocheted hoodie from Gap. My response? ”I know Santa’s real because you’d never buy me these tacky clothes!” She’ll tell you that the sparkly duds alone secured my belief in Santa for another three years. 

notes on christmas tree
Handwritten notes on the writer’s tree. BETSY CRIBB WATSON

But the things that most likely stoked my long-lasting faith in old Saint Nick—even as friends’ older siblings and classmates tried to talk some sense into me—were the handwritten tags attached to each meticulously wrapped gift. My dad writes in a nearly illegible script on a normal day, but he saved his very best penmanship for these notes from Santa. The loopy cursive said things like “For Precious Betsy” or “For My Sweet Cribb Girls.” All of them were signed “Love, Santa” or “I Love You!” I didn’t care about the logistics of a one-night world tour or the fact that our chimney wasn’t suited for any person to slide down, much less a man famous for his portly stature. All I knew was that Santa showed up year after year, and he loved us. 

These handwritten notes are a tradition my dad has continued into our adulthood, and in the past few years, I’ve started saving them. The ornaments and lights we haul out every season bring their own kind of magic, but these little scraps of paper kindle enough comfort and joy to last the whole year through.