Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Here We Come A-Caroling: The Story of the Christmas Card Pen Pal Music Service

“Stamps! Where are my Christmas stamps?” said Madison Clark, rumbling through her desk drawer. “Oh, I guess I ran out . . .” The 12-year-old girl from San Francisco loved to write pen pal letters, especially at Christmas.

“I will travel all over the world one day!” she told herself, spinning her blue globe.

She had special stationery and ink pens to hand write each of her monthly letters. Her pen pals spanned the seven major continents of the world: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

She prided herself in flipping through her address book, seeing her pen pals’ mailing addresses in Nairobi, Kenya; The South Pole Scientific Lab, Antarctica (originally from Zurich, Switzerland); Osaka, Japan; Melbourne, Australia; Florence, Italy; Montreal, Canada; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I am a citizen of the world!” Madison printed on the top of each of her letters, stamping a globe at the top of each page with her rubber stamp and inkpad.

She collected her pen pals’ photos and stamps from around the world and placed them under the glass on her bedroom desk, reminding her of her international friends.

On a shelf in her bedroom sat dolls from each of the girls in her pen pal club. When composing her letters, she put her pen pal dolls on her desk and looked at their faces as though they were her correspondents. Every year at Christmas, Madison sent out the same special letter to her pen pals to celebrate the holiday season.

“This year we are each going to sing a Christmas carol at the same time in each of our time zones,” Madison said to herself, sitting at her bedroom desk with her ink pen. As she started her letter, her mother knocked on the bedroom door.

“Are you working on your homework, Madison?” she said. “Don’t you have a World Studies test tomorrow?”

“Yes, Mom, I’m working on it,” Madison said. “I’m just writing my Christmas Card Pen Pal Music Service letter first!”

“I know you want to be a world traveler, but make sure you get an A on your test,” her mother said. “Otherwise, you might not graduate the sixth grade.”

“I’ll let you proofread my pen pal letter before it goes out, Mom,” Madison said. “Don’t worry so much!”

Then Madison started her letter, knowing that she would have to copy it seven times.


Dear Esther Kwambai, Laura Berlinger, Mitsu Ito, Olivia Smith, Lucia Di Pasqua, Camille Martin, and Amanda Santos:

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

The year is almost over, and I’m ready to make New Year’s resolutions!

Before that happens, I would like to give you a Christmas gift, and you can give me the same gift.

At noon on Christmas Day, I am going to sing “Here We Come A-Caroling” for my neighborhood in your honor.

I will knock on the door of every home in my neighborhood and sing “The Wassail Song” for each of the neighbors.

My suggestion is that you do the same for your neighbors in your native language.

In English, the stanza says: “Here we come a-caroling, among the leaves so green!

Here we come a-wandering, so fair to be seen! Love and joy come to you,

And a Merry Christmas, too, and God bless you, and send you a Happy New Year!

And God send you a Happy New Year!”

When you sing the song for your neighbors, take a picture of their families, and send me their happy faces of holiday cheer! I will do the same for you.

Then I will meet your neighbors, and you will meet mine.

From now on, we will celebrate Christmas together, as though the world is very small.

I hope you get every good gift that you wanted for Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Very truly yours,

Madison Clark


After copying the letter seven times, Madison folded her Christmas notes three ways and slipped them into their envelopes.

“Mom, you can proof the letters now!” Madison called to her. “I still want to lick them shut though!”

“Fine, now go ahead and study for your World Studies test,” Mrs. Clark said, grabbing the stack of letters from Madison’s desk.

Madison pulled her thick textbook from her backpack, lay on her bed, and peeled back the pages of the chapters on the test.

“The letters look good, honey!” Mrs. Clark said, placing them back on Madison’s desk with a smile.

“I’ll get stamps from the post office tomorrow after school,” Madison said, licking them shut one at a time. “You will have to help me carol for the neighbors on Christmas Day! I will sing. You can take the pictures seven times for my pen pals.”

“Oh, Madison, I hope the neighbors understand your enthusiasm!” Mrs. Clark said. “I’ll have to bring them Christmas cookies as a peace offering. Your father and brother will watch the Christmas roast until we return.”

The next day after school—when Madison was sure she got an A on her World Studies test—she ran to the United States Post Office and got in line.

Usually, the line only had a few people, but that day it extended all the way around the corner into the parking lot.

“My Christmas Cards must be sent out today!” Madison said to the man next to her in line. “Otherwise, they won’t get to my friends by Christmas Day!”

“Child, I have the same problem,” the man said, peering over the packages he held at his chest. “If the postmasters would only move a little quicker . . .”

By the time Madison reached the front of the line, the post office worker slid out a sign that said: “CLOSED.”

“Closed? What do you mean, closed?” Madison said. “My letters must go out today!”

“We ran out of stamps, Madison. Sorry!” Mr. Green, the postal worker, said. “You are here so often that you must have some extra stamps at home.”

“Mr. Green, I don’t have an extra stamp! I used them all,” Madison said. “You are the United States Post Office. You are not supposed to run out of stamps.”

“Please come back tomorrow,” Mr. Green said in a huff. “We’re going to close early. If your letters must go out today, find some stamps somewhere and put them in the blue mailbox outside by five o’clock.”

Madison felt like singing “Here We Come A-Caroling” in protest, but she thought it wouldn’t do much good.

“What am I going to do now?” Madison said, running home. “Maybe I can collect stamps from the neighbors. It will be like early Christmas caroling.”

Madison knocked on one door after another in the neighborhood, but no one answered. She sat down on the sidewalk in tears, kicking the stones in the road.

Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, a kind elderly couple in the neighborhood, pulled into the driveway in their car.

“Madison, what’s wrong?” Mr. Thompson said. “Can I help you? Why are you crying?”

“The post office is out of stamps! I used all my stamps, and my family never sends letters!” Madison said. “I need to send my letters today, so they arrive overseas by Christmas.”

“Well, I happened to go to the post office earlier today, and I bought a stack of Christmas stamps,” Mr. Thompson said. “Why don’t I just give them to you? Then, I can go back to the post office tomorrow when they have more stamps.”

“My letters will go out on time after all!” Madison said, as Mr. Thompson handed her a stack of holiday stamps. “Could you drive me back to the blue mailbox at the post office?”

“Hop inside my car!” Mr. Thompson said, winking at Mrs. Thompson, who carried groceries into the house. “We’ll be there in no time flat!” Madison sat in the front seat, snapped her seatbelt shut, and licked stamps for the seven envelopes.

“I’m putting extra stamps on the envelopes because they have to go across five oceans,” Madison said, pasting more than enough postage on each letter.

As Mr. Thompson stopped at the blue mailbox outside the post office, Madison slipped her seven envelopes into the mail slot as the postal worker collected the last letters for the day.

“Just in time!” Madison said, cheering. “Merry Christmas everyone!”

On Christmas Day, Mrs. Clark kept her word and accompanied Madison to each home in the neighborhood, taking pictures as her daughter sang. No one sang louder with Madison than Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, who were thrilled their pictures would accompany her next pen pal letters.

“We’re only on photo six,” Mrs. Clark said, clicking the camera. “Smile for number seven!”

“Make sure you have enough postage this time!” Mr. Thompson said, nudging Mrs. Clark. “I might not always have extra on hand.”

“Yes, sir,” Madison said, grinning at her mom and checking off the Thompson family from her neighborhood list. “Two more families to go, Mom.”

By the time Madison received her return pen pal letters in January, she had all new photos to place beneath the glass on her bedroom desk.

Christmas had been celebrated a little bit more all around the world, just because Madison insisted on sending out her letters on time!


Copyright 2015 Jennifer Waters

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