In the video, Santa Claus and his reindeer fly in silhouette across a shining white moon, and President John F. Kennedy’s soothing words to a worried little girl stream across the screen, more than 50 years after they were written.
“You must not worry about Santa Claus,” Kennedy wrote to 8-year-old Michelle Rochon of Marine City, Mich., on Oct. 28, 1961. “I talked with him yesterday and he is fine. He will be making his rounds again this Christmas.”
Kennedy wrote the letter, re-released Friday by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, in response to Michelle’s fear that Santa would be killed by Russians conducting nuclear bomb testing at the North Pole.
“I heard my parents always discussing things at the kitchen table. I heard ‘North Pole’ and ‘bombs.’ It was during the Cold War, of course,” said Michelle, who is now 61 and whose last name is now Phillips. “I was just worried about Santa Claus.”
In a telephone interview Saturday from her Marine City home, she said that she sat right down and wrote out her letter, then dropped it in the mailbox on the corner.
“Please stop the Russians from bombing the North pole,” she wrote, according to a news article from 1961. “Because they will kill santa Claus.”
Kennedy wrote back that he shared her concern about the Soviet Union’s atmospheric testing, “not only for the North Pole but for countries throughout the world; not only for Santa Claus but for people throughout the world.”
A library spokeswoman said Saturday that the idea to feature the letter in a holiday video came from an October Twitter “Ask an Archivist” event, where one user asked which of Kennedy’s letters was “the most heartfelt.” Archivist Stacey Chandler responded with two: a 1962 letter of gratitude to a widow and the Santa Claus missive.
Nuclear arms testing was a major issue in Kennedy’s presidency, said Chandler. About a year after he wrote the letter to Michelle, America would face the Cuban Missile Crisis.
His letter to Michelle, Chandler said, was timely then, as a president and a child grappled with fear and innocence — and it is timely now.
Michelle said that at the time she wrote the letter, her parents often discussed current events with her. The threat of nuclear war hung heavily over the nation, she said. But she never thought her letter would touch people the way it did, then or now.
After her letter and the president’s response was picked up by the media in 1961, she said she was flooded with letters from around the world — including notes written by Santa Clauses from Alaska to New York — thanking her for thinking of him.
“I don’t know why it didn’t hit me that there were all these different Santa Clauses. I just figured it was all the one Santa Claus,” she said. “I had proof there was a Santa Claus. The United States told me they talked to Santa Claus, and he was fine. There had to be a Santa Claus.”
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.