What was in seven-year-old Donald Trump’s letter? Santa reveals all

Rosita Boland has a world exclusive interview with the man of the moment

The letter comes at the beginning of December. It's the only thing in my pigeonhole at The Irish Times one morning; a small white envelope that is unnervingly, thrillingly cold to the touch when I take it out. In the middle of our busy newspaper office floor, I hold the envelope between my palms, and it's chill as a shard of ice. I know in that glorious moment before even opening it that I have finally got what I have been seeking for over almost two decades in my career as a reporter: an interview with Father Christmas.

On the appointed day, one week before Christmas, I arrive at Rovaniemi, the designated airport in northern Finland. It is minus 25, with a wind-chill factor of minus 35, and the startling cold when stepping off the plane temporarily winds me. There is the palest of light in the sky, from a sun that will never rise over the treeline at this time of year.

As instructed in the letter, I slip away from the crowd, and instead start walking swiftly towards the tallest snowy tree in sight. They are all snowy, but there is one extraordinarily tall spruce that has a silver star on top. As I get closer to the tree, I realise with astonishment it looks exactly like a real star.

Just then, a small white sled, pulled by two reindeer, comes into sight. There is no one driving them. They stop in front of me. One nudges my foot. The other tosses his antlers backwards, in the direction of the seat. I get in. Folded on the padded fur-lined seat are thick crimson blankets. I expect them to be heavy but when I throw them around me, they are light as air, and warm as a crackling fire.


For an hour, perhaps two – I realise at some point that my watch has stopped working – the sled moves through a silent, mesmerically beautiful white landscape. Once or twice, through the forest, I glimpse a thread of smoke from a chimney, but cannot see the houses that must lie beneath the tree line. At regular intervals, the way is lit by flares stuck into the snow, although who lit them is a mystery, as there is no one in sight.

Deep in the forest

Suddenly, the reindeer veer left, their pace accelerating. We’re deep in the forest now, no sky visible, just a lattice of snowy branches overhead. Faster. The reindeer hooves thrum faster, faster. My heart starts beating faster too. And then, a clearing opens out, with a firepit in the middle, and there in the firelit gloaming awaiting me is the man himself, so solid and absolute and physical that I wonder again how anyone could ever have said he was made of insubstantial imagination.

‘Welcome to my home,” he says, in a voice that sounds uncannily, impossibly familiar. But of course it’s familiar, I realise as soon as I hear it. It’s the sound of the complex mosaic of what Christmas can be: of people opening their front doors to family members they haven’t seen a long time, and that first joyful gasp of recognition; of a child’s glee when the wrapping paper is torn off, and a heart’s desire is revealed. And there’s an undertone of something else too, something darker, the sound of a carol being sung, while in the distance, there is the thud of artillery fire; and then underneath all that, the faint, piercing wail of a hungry child crying. We live in a world of many kinds of Christmasses. Father Christmas’s voice is the inclusive sound of true humanity, and you’d know it instinctively if you heard it too.

As I get out of the sled, however, I’m in a dilemma. I’m not sure how I should address my interviewee. Father Christmas? Mr Claus? Santa? Santy? There’s nothing in the etiquette books for this. I decide it is polite not to be familiar from the off, even though this is a man who was a frequent visitor to my childhood living room, while I slept upstairs.

“Mr Claus,” I begin.

He stops me with a wave of his hand. "Call me Santa, " he says, and we walk towards the house.

I don’t know what kind of a house I was expecting Santa to live in. The house Santa brings me to is – pardon the pun – the polar opposite of where I thought he might live. The exterior is long, and low, faced with cedar cladding. We go inside. I confess I thought Santa would live in a rather cluttered, messy, colourful kind of house, with a crowded mantelpiece, wing-back armchairs, and over-stuffed cushions. The house that Santa lives in with Mrs Claus (she joined us for the interview, but asked not to be quoted), is a marvel of the purest, most minimalist design.

It is, unsurprisingly, Scandinavian design at its absolute best. The white leather sofas and armchair have sleek, clean lines, the floors are herringbone parquet, the marble fireplace is framed with burnished copper (the only items on the mantelpiece are glass candlesticks that I think are by Alvar Aalto), the rugs are grey sheepskin, and the large glass sliding doors overlook a gigantic fire pit in the garden, which is surrounded by very extensive sunken circular seating. “We have a lot of elves to entertain,” as Santa puts it. There is the biggest telescope I’ve ever seen in a private house, by one of the glass doors. “I’m an expert astronomer,” Santa says, matter-of-factly. Of course he is. He navigates the night skies of the world every year.

Nordic berries

We sit down to lunch. These are the things that Santa tells me are never in their house: mince pies, Christmas cake, ham, turkey, striped candy sticks, Christmas pudding, gingerbread, spiced biscuits, or spiced beef. “For obvious reasons,” as he explains. We eat fish; a superb poached wild salmon, studded with jewel-coloured Nordic berries (the only ones I recognise are lingonberries), with samphire and potato flatbreads. Champagne is offered, but none of us actually have any, mindful of the interview ahead.

It’s now almost totally dark outside, although it’s not long after 1.30pm. The white lights strung among the trees in the garden glow like tiny stars beyond the glass. Before we sat down to lunch, Santa had lit the log fire, and as we sit down together, it’s blazing up the chimney. I turn on the recorder on my iPhone, and we agree that everything will be on the record. I take notes too, of course. Having waited so long for this opportunity, I am leaving nothing to chance.

We tackle the myths first. One of the most persistent Santa myths that continues to this day is that if children are “bad” that Santa will leave them coal or sticks instead of gifts.

“There are no bad children,” Santa says. “There are only bad circumstances for children to live in.” He wants me to put it on the record that he has never, ever left coal, sticks or onions for any child in the world. (I hadn’t known onions was a thing, but I promised I’d put it in, so there it is.)

Is his beard real? I feel embarrassed asking this question. It’s so personal. But again, there is an enduring myth out there that Santa has a fake beard. “Let me put it this way,” Santa says. “I was a hipster before the word was ever invented. I have had a beard since I was old enough to grow one.” He looks at me. I look at him, and his lovely long snow-white beard. I have received strict instructions from my editor to pull Santa’s beard, but I just can’t do it. Even the idea fills me with mortification. It would be totally inappropriate. I do not pull his beard.

Does he really wear his red robes all year long? “I do,” he says. “But they’re not the same ones, you understand. They’re laundered every day. I have wardrobes full of red robes. That way, I never have to think about what I’m going to wear in the morning. Like the man who invented that phone you’re using (he gestures towards my iPhone). He only ever wore a black turtleneck and a pair of jeans.”

International affairs

Then we move on to more general questions. Santa is the best-briefed man in the world on international affairs. He is the only one who literally travels the globe each year, visiting, even if briefly, every country in the world. His perspective is unique. I find myself thinking that if he were ever to retire – he will never retire – that his experience would be invaluable in the United Nations. His red-robed presence would certainly make the meetings more lively.

“And don’t forget, I have all the letters,” he reminds me. “The letters sent to me from children all over the world. Along with their requests for gifts, many of them also tell me what’s happening in their countries.”

A thought strikes me. Does Santa ever keep any of the children’s letters he receives? “A selection,” he says. “I keep one or two a year, just for my records.” He gets up and goes over to a mid-century teak sideboard, and opens the deepest of its three drawers. He comes back with several bundles of envelopes. “I file them by decade,” he explains. There are a dozen or so bundles, neatly tied up in plaited reindeer hair.

I carefully open a few envelopes, trying not to gasp. After all this is a man to whom chimneys all over the world are permanently open, no matter what class, creed or ethnicity of those who live within. As I look through them, I realise these letters would fetch unimaginable sums at Christie’s or Sotheby’s or indeed, at any auction house in the world.

"Dear Santa, Can I please have a toy guitar this year? I sure do love to sing. Momma says she'll get me a real one when I'm 11. I'll play you a mean carol next year if you leave me a toy guitar. Elvis Presley, aged seven."

“Dear Santa, Can you please bring me a chemistry set this year. My older brother has one, and I want one too, because I am as smart as he is, if not smarter. Maria Sklodowska, aged eight.”

“Is that who I think it is?” I ask Santa.

"Yes. That's Marie Curie, " he says. "She was Maria to her family as a child, and then later took her husband's name."

“These came from Ireland, your country,” Santa says, handing me two more envelopes.

“Dear Santa, I would really like a wireless of my own because I love to listen to people talking, but I know they are very dear. If a wireless is too dear for you to bring, I would be happy with a surprise. Gay Byrne, aged seven.”

Santa’s eyes twinkle mischievously as I open the next envelope. “Even as a boy, this lad had a certain something in his letters, a spirit that made me think people would like to read about his life once he grew up. Or has he grown up?”

I am astounded to discover that the next letter comes from one of my Irish Times colleagues, none other than columnist Ross O'Carroll Kelly.

“Dear Santa, Can I please have a Manchester United football jersey and a soccer ball? But could you leave them in the shed behind the house because my dad says he doesn’t agree with soccer. He wants me to play rugby for Ireland one day. Also, can you be as quiet as possible, because my mother says the whole Santa Claus thing is ‘terribly working class’. Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, aged 6¾.”

“I think this letter will be of particular interest to you,” Santa then says. He hands me a stiff white envelope with an inner gold flap. His face is inscrutable.

“Dear Santa, I already have everything money can buy. But what I really want is to be president of the United States. If you give me this, I will arrange for my father’s private jet to fly you round the world each Christmas, so you don’t have to freeze in your old-fashioned sleigh, and you will also be able to reach my house faster, as I don’t like waiting till morning to open my presents. Sincerely, Donald J.Trump. Aged seven.”


I look at Santa. A thought has struck me. Is this what happened? Can a child achieve its unforeseen destiny through a letter to Santa? Santa reads my thoughts. “No,” he says. “I do not give every child everything they ask for. But that does not mean they cannot find other ways to get them.”

Santa has one last letter to show me. It’s from a child in Dublin, and it arrived, he tells me, only the previous day.

“Dear Santa, I hope you can find me this year, because for the last few months, we have kept moving. I am in a bed and breakfast on Gardiner Street with my two little brothers and sister and my mother, all in the one room. We all cry a lot. Please, Santa, can we have a real home for Christmas? Jessica [surname with Santa], aged nine.”

I look at Santa. He gently takes the letter back, and puts it carefully into a pocket in his red robes. “There are some things children should never have to ask for in a Santa letter,” is all he says.

It is time to go. When I have boarded the sled again, and am about to leave for the airport, Santa puts his gloved hand on my arm. He looks at me with sudden, intense scrutiny. The reindeer are snorting and pawing the snow, ready to trot.

“Address as a child?” Santa asks.

I tell him.

“Did I get it right?” he asks. As it happens, my iPhone is still on record. Later, when I play the recording back, I will realise this is the only time in the interview Santa is anything less than utterly confident. “I know everyone leaves thank-you letters the year after, but I always wonder if I really did get the gifts right.”

His eyes are the eerie blue colour of ancient, compressed ice. Into my head comes an image of a box of beautiful dolls’ house furniture, left under the tree one Christmas. The furniture included a piano, with pedals and a lid that opened; a sideboard with tiny pull-out drawers and doors, that exactly resembles the one in Santa’s house, where he keeps the letters from children; a wardrobe with a mirror on an inner door; a little goldfish aquarium; a red and white polka dot spotted armchair; and many more pieces. I played with the furniture for years, and invented a thousand stories around the dolls who lived in my dolls’ house.

In this moment, I finally realise that along with the dolls’ house furniture, what Santa also gave me that Christmas in childhood was something that has lasted a lifetime: the gift of storytelling. “Yes, Santa,” I reply, and dare to briefly touch his cheek. “You got it right.”

The resulting smile is wholly unexpected in its frank delight; a flash of pure joy and light across his face, gone as swiftly as a shooting star in the Nordic night sky. Then the reindeers break into a swift, urgent trot, and within seconds, when I look behind, Santa is already lost from view, hidden deep within the snowy, silent forest.

Rosita Boland travelled to Lapland as a guest of Sunway Holiday, the Irish-owned holiday company. Sunway has two magical Lapland options to choose from; Santa's Sleepover is a one-night trip and the Sleighbell Spectacular is a two-night trip. Trips start from €899 per adult and €799 per child. The flights are direct from Dublin, Shannon and Cork to Finland. You can book now for 2017. (at 2016 prices) for a limited time only by visiting sunway.ie/Lapland or calling 01-2311800 .