As he went through some boxes in the attic, Robin Jones was surprised to unearth some happy memories from a Christmas long ago.
In an old scrapbook, Jones had many letters written to him when he was five years old, hospitalized with pneumonia before the holidays. His four siblings wrote to him often during his long stay, but it was a hand-written letter in red ink that caught his eye.
“My dad used to come and read me stories every day there in the hospital, and then one day I received this seven-page letter from Santa Claus. I still have it,” he said. “I started to get better and I was home in time for Christmas.”
Seventy years have passed since Jones was hospitalized with pneumonia. In the ‘40s, it was common for people to pass away from the illness. Jones said his family was worried about his health, so his dad — a great storyteller who would often make up tales for his children — decided to give them all some hope.
“It was very heartwarming,” Jones said of his father’s creative gift, which was completed with smudges of chimney soot on the envelope. He credits the letter with making him feel better, and helping him go home.
“I remember receiving it,” he said. “It showed me that faith and the Christmas spirit can make you better.”
After he shared the story of the letter with the Victoria Storytellers’ Guild, they encouraged Jones to write a book. In 2017, Letter from Santa Claus was published, with illustrations by Mar Fandos.
The drawings show Jones with his Irish mother and black father. It was important to him when working with the artist that his biracial family was represented, especially as he notes there aren’t many Christmas stories featuring multiracial families. His grandfather was a slave who escaped in the Underground Railroad and married Jones’s First Nations grandmother after making it to Canada.
“So I made sure when the pictures were drawn, they showed my dad was black.”
In the year since its publication, Jones has read Letter from Santa Claus to people in Tuscan, Los Angelos and local groups of children in schools. He said some younger readers told him they feel better now that they know what happens when you go to heaven — where the letter said children can choose to become Santa’s elves — and what really goes on at the North Pole.
As for his father, Jones believes he would have loved the book.
“He would adore it,” he said. “He felt it was a big thing to pass on information to your children through stories.”
Seventy years ago, Jones received a letter he believed was from Santa Claus. Now, long after discovering the true identity of its author, he still has it.