Vanderbilt Kicker Becomes First Woman to Play US College Football in Major Conference

Sarah Fuller was playing around with a teammate a couple months ago when she kicked a soccer ball through the uprights from 45 yards away. She joked about being able to kick a football with teammates during the Southeastern Conference soccer tournament.On Saturday, she made history.Fuller became the first woman to participate in a major conference football game when she kicked off for Vanderbilt to start the second half at Missouri, a moment that may take some time to soak in for her.”I just think it’s incredible that I am able to do this, and all I want to do is be a good influence to the young girls out there because there were times that I struggled in sports,” Fuller said. “But I am so thankful I stuck with it, and it’s given me so many opportunities. I’ve met so many amazing people through sports, and I just want to say like literally you can do anything you set your mind to.”Fuller kicked with a holder rather than using a tee in a designed squib kick, and the senior sent a low kick to the 35-yard line where it was pounced on by Missouri’s Mason Pack. Fuller didn’t get any other opportunities in Vanderbilt’s 41-0 loss to Missouri.Vanderbilt Commodores place kicker Sarah Fuller is pictured before a game against the Missouri Tigers, Nov. 28, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (Denny Medley – USA Today/Reuters)Coach Derek Mason made clear that Fuller kicked for the Commodores because of need, not for history or publicity. COVID-19 protocols and restrictions left Mason with very few options, prompting him to reach out to the soccer team for help.Fuller, a 6-foot-2 goalkeeper, decided she was up for the challenge.”I’m not about making statements,” Mason said. “This was out of necessity. You look at our week. Our students had gone home. The ability to have access to students and tryouts was almost nil in terms of like what’s available. … That just happened to be the most viable option.”After Fuller’s kick, she went straight to the sideline, where she high-fived some of her new teammates and swapped some elbow bumps. Fuller’s parents watched and cheered from the stands along with her boyfriend and best friend.Fuller wore “Play Like A Girl” on the back of her helmet. The senior will get to keep the No. 32 jersey she wore Saturday, the same as her number when playing soccer.After her kickoff, reaction poured in on social media. Fuller was the No. 2 trending topic on Twitter, followed by Vandy. Her soccer team wrote on Twitter: “Glass. Everywhere.”As in glass ceiling.Pat McAfee, a former National Football League punter, reviewed Fuller’s squib kick, noting the ball didn’t go out of bounds and there was no chance of a return, setting up the defense.”Congrats to @SarahFuller_27 for being THE FIRST EVER WOMAN TO KICKOFF A POWER 5 GAME,” McAfee wrote. “Incredibly rare to be the ‘1st ever person to do something’ these days..this is really cool.”Fuller also made clear she’d be up for continuing to help the football team if needed. She believes she can refine her timing and technique with more practice.Vanderbilt (0-8) visits No. 13 Georgia next week.”If she wants to kick and she’s available, we’d love to have her,” Mason said.

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Washington’s Kennedy Center Opens for Public Amid Pandemic

COVID cases are exploding across the US and it’s unclear how long the pandemic will last. But in Washington, the Kennedy Center is cautiously working on a comeback, as Karina Bafradzhian reports.
Camera: Andrey Degtyarev

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UK, EU Resume Face-to-face Trade Talks With Time Running Out

Teams from Britain and the European Union resumed face-to-face talks on a post-Brexit trade deal Saturday, with both sides sounding gloomy about striking an agreement in the little time that remains.EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier returned to London to meet his U.K. counterpart, David Frost. Talks have been held virtually for the past week as Barnier completed a spell of self-isolation after a member of his team tested positive for the coronavirus.COVID-19 is just one complication in negotiations that remain snagged over key issues including fishing rights and fair-competition rules. Barnier said Friday that the remote talks had made little progress and the “same significant divergences persist.”The U.K. left the EU early this year but remained part of the bloc’s economic embrace during an 11-month transition as the two sides tried to negotiate a new free-trade deal to take effect January 1. Talks have slipped past the mid-November date long seen as a deadline to secure a deal in time for it to be approved and ratified by lawmakers in Britain and the EU.If there is no deal, New Year’s Day will bring huge disruption, with the overnight imposition of tariffs and other barriers to U.K.-EU trade. That will hurt both sides, but the burden will fall most heavily on Britain, which does almost half its trade with the EU.While both sides want a deal, they have fundamental differences about what it entails. The 27-nation EU accuses Britain of seeking to retain access to the bloc’s vast market without agreeing to abide by its rules and wants strict guarantees on “level playing field” standards the U.K. must meet to export into the EU.The U.K. claims the EU is failing to respect its independence and making demands it has not placed on other countries with whom it has free-trade deals, such as Canada.To reach a deal the EU will have to curb its demands on continued access to U.K. fishing waters, and Britain must agree to some alignment with the bloc’s rules — difficult issues for politicians on both sides.British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Irish leader Micheal Martin on Friday that he remained committed “to reaching a deal that respects the sovereignty of the U.K.,” Johnson’s office said.

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French Protesters, Police Clash Over New Security Legislation

Violent clashes erupted Saturday in Paris as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest new security legislation, with tensions intensified by the police beating and racial abuse of a Black man that shocked France.Several fires were started in Paris, sending acrid smoke into the air, as protesters vented their anger against the security law that would restrict the publication of police officers’ faces.About 46,000 people marched in Paris and 133,000 in total nationwide in about 70 cities, including in Bordeaux, Lille, Montpellier and Nantes, the Interior Ministry said. Protest organizers said about 500,000 joined nationwide, including 200,000 in the capital.President Emmanuel Macron said late Friday that the images of the beating of Black music producer Michel Zecler by police officers in Paris last weekend “shame us.” The incident magnified concerns about alleged systemic racism in the police force.”Police everywhere, justice nowhere,” “police state” and “smile while you are beaten” were among the slogans brandished as protesters marched from Place de la Republique to the nearby Place de la Bastille.”We have felt for a long time to have been the victim of institutionalized racism from the police,” said Mohamed Magassa 35, who works in a reception center for minors. “But now we feel that this week all of France has woken up.”People with banners and posters attend a demonstration against security legislation, in Paris, Nov. 28, 2020.”The fundamental and basic liberties of our democracy are being attacked — freedom of expression and information,” added Sophie Misiraca, 46, a lawyer.Several cars, a newspaper kiosk and a brasserie were set on fire close to Place de la Bastille, police said.Some protesters threw stones at the security forces, who responded by firing tear gas and using water cannon, an AFP correspondent said.Police complained that protesters impeded fire services from putting out the blazes and said nine people had been detained by the early evening.French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin condemned “unacceptable” violence against the police, saying 37 members of the security forces had been injured nationwide.Investigation launchedAn investigation has been opened against the four police involved, but commentators say the images, first published by the Loopsider news site, might never have been made public if the contentious Article 24 of the security legislation had been made law.The article would criminalize the publication of images of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity.” It was passed by the National Assembly, although it is awaiting Senate approval.Cars burn during a demonstration against the “Global Security Bill” opposed by rights groups in France, in Paris, Nov. 28, 2020.The controversy over the law and police violence is developing into another crisis for the government as Macron confronts the pandemic, its economic fallout and a host of problems on the international stage.In a sign that the government could be preparing to backtrack, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Friday that he would appoint a commission to redraft Article 24.But he was forced into a U-turn even on this proposal after parliament speaker Richard Ferrand, a close Macron ally, accused the premier of trying to usurp the role of parliament.For critics, the legislation is further evidence of a slide to the right by Macron, who came to power in 2017 as a centrist promising liberal reform of France.”The police violence has left Emmanuel Macron facing a political crisis,” said the Le Monde daily.’Anger and fear’The issue has also pressured the high-flying Darmanin, who was promoted to the job this summer despite being targeted by a rape probe, with Le Monde saying tensions were growing between him and the Elysee.The images of the beating of Zecler emerged days after the police forcibly removed a migrant camp in central Paris.A series of high-profile cases against police officers over mistreatment of Black or Arab citizens has raised accusations of institutionalized racism. The force has insisted violations are the fault of isolated individuals.Three of the police involved in the beating of Zecler are being investigated for using racial violence and all four are being held for questioning after their detention Saturday was extended for another 24 hours, prosecutors said.In a letter seen by AFP, Paris police chief Didier Lallement wrote to officers warning them they risked facing “anger and fear” in the coming weeks but insisted he could count on their “sense of honor and ethics.”

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Catholics in France Oppose Prayer Service Restrictions Imposed on Places of Worship

As French authorities ease some measures taken due to the coronavirus pandemic, Catholics in the country are challenging the size limit still imposed by the government on prayer services.The coronavirus pandemic places a heavy burden on France, where more than 50,000 people have died of COVID-19. Places of worship were still open during the lockdown, but regular prayer services were banned due to health concerns.Believers in France were relieved this week when French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that prayer services could resume Saturday in places of worship.During a press conference, Castex explained it would be progressive in places of worship, as they have become clusters during the pandemic, in France and all over the world. Only 30 people at a time will be allowed at prayer services inside places of worship and with stringent sanitary measures. That number might increase by December 15, when the lockdown ends, if the epidemic is under control, the French prime minister said.France’s Catholics Protest Lockdown MeasuresAs COVID infections rise, safe-distance restrictions include bans on public masses, prompting observant French Catholics to take to the streetsSince the announcement, the government has been heavily criticized for the arbitrary number. The 30-person limit for any building no matter the size – from tiny churches to gothic cathedrals – is not acceptable to a lot people, like Christiane, a Catholic from Paris.She says with this decision, authorities are making fun of them, as 30 people in a cathedral does not make sense to her. She said it shows disdain toward Catholics.Some Catholic clergy has vowed to fight the decision and said it hopes the government will shift its restriction on places of worship, according to Roman Catholic Bishop Matthieu Rougé of Nanterre, a city near Paris.“Many Catholics and non-Catholics find the decision ridiculous, unfair and disrespectful of Catholics,” said Rougé. Thirty people in a very large church is ridiculous. Why such a repeated mistake? These are institutional failures. There is, also, I think, a lack of consideration for faith or believers.”Shops regarded as “non-essential” also reopened in the country Saturday. Bars and restaurants will not reopen until at least January 20. 

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Cluster Munitions Ban is Saving Lives and Livelihoods

A report by the Cluster Munition Coalition finds significant progress has been made in stigmatizing and eliminating these weapons since the global treaty banning cluster munitions came into force 10 years ago. Activists note that over the past decade, 1.5 million cluster bombs containing more than 178 million bomblets have been destroyed.  This represents 99% of all stocks declared by the 110 state parties to the treaty.The director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division, Stephen Goose, says no state party to the convention has used or produced cluster munitions for the past 10 years.  However, during this period, he says the Cluster Munition Monitor has documented the sporadic use of these weapons by eight countries that have not signed the treaty.  He says Syria has used cluster munitions without stop since 2012.“We have documented more than 686 cluster munition attacks in Syria since July of 2012,” said Goosei. “This is the real black spot on the issue of cluster munitions around the world, with the degree to which Syria, with great assistance from Russia has been a regular user of cluster munitions.” The Monitor reports cluster bombs were used by Libya and Syria in 2019.  This year, it notes the use of these weapons by Syria and by Armenia and Azerbaijan in the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.The Monitor has identified at least 4,315 cluster munition casualties in 20 countries and other areas during the past decade, although the real total is probably higher.  Editor and research leader of the Monitor Loren Persi says more than 80% of the global casualties have been recorded in Syria, with children accounting for half of them.“One of the things to keep in mind is that the success of the convention is such that apart from this use in Syria, the number of casualties in most affected countries from the remnants of cluster munitions has actually been decreasing significantly over this period from hundreds of casualties recorded in some countries, particularly in Laos the most affected,” said Persi.Persi says Laos has reported just five casualties this year.  He calls this a milestone and a sign of the ban treaty’s great success in preventing casualties from cluster munitions globally.

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Pope Installs New Cardinals, Including First African-American

Pope Francis on Saturday installed 13 new cardinals Saturday, including the first African-American to hold the high rank, further expanding the pontiff’s impact on the group that will one day elect his successor.The cardinals were installed in a ceremony, known as a consistory, that was markedly slimmed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.Instead of the usual thousands, only 10 guests per cardinal were allowed in St. Peter’s Basilica as the pope gave the men their ring and traditional red hat, known as a biretta.Nine of the 13 are under 80 and eligible under Church law to enter a secret conclave to choose the next pope from among themselves after Francis dies or resigns.It was Francis’ seventh consistory since his election in 2013. He has now appointed 57% of the 128 cardinal electors, most of whom share his vision of a more inclusive and outward-looking Church.Thus far, he has appointed 18 cardinals from mostly far-flung countries that never had one, nearly all of them from the developing world. In Saturday’s consistory, Brunei and Rwanda got their first cardinals.While Europe still has the largest share of cardinal electors, with 41%, it is down from 52% in 2013 when Francis became the first Latin-American pope.With each consistory, Francis has increased the chances that his successor will be another non-European, having beefed up the Church in places where it is either a tiny minority or where it is growing faster than in the stagnant West.The nine new electors come from Italy, Malta, Rwanda, the United States, the Philippines, Chile, Brunei and Mexico.In his homily, Francis told the men to keep their eyes on God, avoid all forms of corruption, and not succumb to a “worldly spirit” that can accompany the prestige and power of their new rank.Everyone in the basilica except the pope wore a mask. Each new cardinal removed theirs when they knelt before him to be invested.Wilton Gregory, the 72-year-old archbishop of Washington, D.C, becomes the first African-American cardinal at a time the United States is examining race relations after a spate of police killings of unarmed Black people.Gregory made headlines in June when he blasted President Donald Trump’s visit to a Catholic shrine in Washington, after police and soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear protesters so Trump could be photographed in front of a historic Washington church holding a Bible.Gregory said he found it “baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated”.Catholic conservatives condemned Gregory and sided with Trump.In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Gregory said he wanted to find common ground with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden despite disagreements on issues such as abortion.Gregory was one of a handful of new cardinals who were quarantined for about 10 days in their rooms in the Vatican guest house where the pope also lives. Cardinals from Brunei and the Philippines could not travel and will receive their ring and hat from a papal delegate.Four non-electors over 80 were given the honour after a long service to the Church. The most prominent is Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, an Italian-American who has worked around the world and is one of the Church’s top experts on immigration.

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US Sanctions Chinese, Russian Firms Over Iran Dealings

The U.S. announced economic sanctions Friday on Chinese and Russian companies that Washington said had supported the development of Iran’s missile program.The four firms, accused of “transferring sensitive technology and items to Iran’s missile program,” will be subject to restrictions on U.S. government aid and on their exports for two years, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.The sanctions, imposed Wednesday, were against two China-based companies, Chengdu Best New Materials and Zibo Elim Trade, as well as Russia-based Nilco Group and Joint Stock Company Elecon.”We will continue to work to impede Iran’s missile development efforts and use our sanctions authorities to spotlight the foreign suppliers, such as these entities in the PRC (China) and Russia, that provide missile-related materials and technology to Iran,” Pompeo added.President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal established three years earlier under then-President Barack Obama.Trump has since reimposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic republic in what he calls a campaign of “maximum pressure.”The Trump administration has also since shown its determination to sanction any foreign country or company that does not comply with its Iran policies.

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Hundreds of ‘Zombie Mink’ Resurfacing from Mass Graves

Denmark’s government said on Friday it wants to dig up mink that were culled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after hundreds resurfaced from mass graves.Denmark ordered all farmed mink to be culled early this month after finding that 12 people had been infected by a mutated strain of the virus that causes COVID-19, which passed from humans to mink and back to humans.The decision led to 17 million animals being destroyed and to the resignation last week of Food and Agriculture Minister Morgens Jensen, after it was determined that the order was illegal.Dead mink were tipped into trenches at a military area in western Denmark and covered with 2 meters of soil. But hundreds have begun resurfacing, pushed out of the ground by what authorities say is gas from their decomposition. Newspapers have referred to them as the “zombie mink.”Jensen’s replacement, Rasmus Prehn, said on Friday he supported the idea of digging up the animals and incinerating them. He said he had asked the environmental protection agency to investigate whether it could be done, and parliament would be briefed on the issue on Monday.The macabre burial sites, guarded 24 hours a day to keep people and animals away, have drawn complaints from area residents about possible health risks.Authorities say there is no risk of the graves spreading the coronavirus, but locals worry about the risk of contaminating drinking water and a bathing lake less than 200 meters away.

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Maradona’s Death May Trigger Family Inheritance Battle

Diego Maradona’s tormented private life, with its tangled relationships and paternity suits, suggests distributing his inheritance will be a complex task for lawyers bracing for claims from a slew of children — those he recognized and those he didn’t.”There’s going to be a big fight. He didn’t leave a will,” according to a source close to the family who declined to be named.Maradona made and wasted millions over his years at the pinnacle of his fame with Barcelona, Napoli and Argentina, and he also made some shrewd investments. Some reports circulating since his death estimate his estate at $90 million.Angered over a dispute with his daughter Giannina last year, he threatened to donate all his wealth, including properties, luxury cars and sponsorship contracts, to charity.’I’m going to give it all away'”I know that now, as you get older, people are more concerned about what you leave behind than what you are doing,” he was quoted as saying at the time.”And I tell them all that I’m not going to leave them anything, that I’m going to give it all away. Everything I’ve got in my life, I’m going to give away,” he said.Under Argentine law, however, people can give away only a fifth of their assets. At least two-thirds must be left to the spouse or offspring of the deceased.Giannina, 31, had sparked the row by accusing the former star’s entourage of not taking proper care of him, which seems to have been a recurring theme of their relationship.Father and daughter had reconciled by his 60th birthday in October, with Giannina lauding him in a series of affectionate messages posted on social media with her sister, Dalma.”He is my great example of all the things to do and all the things not to do. I have admired him, yesterday, today and always. He taught me to forgive, to forgive myself,” Gianinna wrote.A fan mourns in front of flowers and posters left in tribute to Diego Maradona at the entrance of the Boca Juniors stadium known as La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 27, 2020. Maradona died Nov. 25 at age 60.Complex tiesClaudia Villafane was Maradona’s childhood sweetheart since age 15. His only wife, they divorced in 2003.Their two daughters, Dalma, 33, and Giannina, were the only children he recognized for many years.But there were others, spawning the joke that Maradona had fathered his own soccer team. It threatens to make the task of distributing his inheritance a complicated one for his lawyer, Matias Morla.The football icon had been forced to acknowledge three other children over the years, including Diego Junior, born a few months before Dalma.Conceived with Italian singer Cristiana Sinagra, and born in 1986, months after he captained Argentina to World Cup glory in Mexico, it took Maradona 29 years to acknowledge his paternity. Ill with COVID-19, Diego Junior was unable to travel from Italy to his father’s funeral.In 2008, the football legend recognized Jana, born in 1996 to Valeria Sabalain, the former girlfriend Maradona was closest to during the last months of his life.Another son, Diego Ojeda, was born in 2013 from his relationship with ex-girlfriend Veronica Ojeda.Other claimsBut others have staked paternity claims against Maradona, including at least three in Cuba where Maradona spent years in a drug rehabilitation program, according to his lawyer.Spats between the ex-partners and Maradona’s children have been a recurring theme of his life and have been given a full airing on social media and Argentine television channels.His eldest daughters and their mother appeared to be the ones in control of the funeral arrangements Thursday.However, the World Cup winner was in a legal dispute with his ex-wife over ownership of hundreds of items of memorabilia from his career.

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Macron Calls Images of Police Beating Black Man Shameful for France 

President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that images showing Paris police beating up a Black music producer were shameful for France and that government would have to find a way to restore public confidence in the force.Prosecutors are investigating the violent arrest of Michel Zecler, who said he was also racially abused by the officers, after CCTV footage of the incident was released. The police watchdog is also investigating.Four police officers were being held for questioning as part of the investigation, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.The beating inside the entrance of a building was captured on closed circuit television and mobile phone footage, which has circulated widely online and has made headlines around Europe.”The images we have all seen of the aggression against Michel Zecler are unacceptable. They are shameful for all of us. France should never allow violence or brutality, no matter who it comes from. France should never let hate or racism prosper,” Macron said in a statement on his Facebook page.’Respect the law’He added that the police force should be exemplary.”Those whose job it is to apply the law should respect the law,” he said, adding that he has asked the government to urgently make proposals about how to restore confidence in the police.The beating of Zecler risks inflaming racial tension, with allegations of repeated police brutality against Black and ethnic communities at the forefront of many people’s minds after the death of Black American George Floyd in Minneapolis in May added fuel to  the “Black Lives Matter” movement.Dominique Sopo, president of anti-racism group SOS Racisme, told Reuters Zecler had been the target of a “racist attack.””For police officers to act that way, they must have a tremendous feeling of impunity. This situation is a symptom of an impunity that has been going on for too long,” he said.Paris police already faced criticism this week after social media photos and videos showed officers hitting protesters as they cleared out an illegal migrants’ campsite in a central Paris square.Incident at studioThe music producer told reporters he was set upon by police at his studio in Paris’s 17th arrondissement on Saturday.He said he had been walking in the street without a face mask — against French COVID-19 health protocols — and, upon seeing a police car, went into his nearby studio to avoid being fined. However, he said, the police followed him inside and began to assault and racially abuse him.Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France 2 television on Thursday that the officers would be punished if the alleged wrongdoing was confirmed.Zecler’s arrest came amid fierce debate in France over legislation that would limit journalists’ ability to document French police officers at work.Around 3,500 people marched against the bill in the western city of Nantes, where police used tear gas and made several arrests. Many in the march also protested against police violence, some with their faces bandaged in support of  Zecler. A similar demonstration is planned in Paris on Saturday.The outrage generated by Floyd’s death in the U.S. in May has resonated in France, particularly in deprived city suburbs where police often clash with youths from ethnic minority backgrounds.Protests in Paris in June focused on unsolved cases of people dying during police operations, such as Adama Traore, who died in police detention near Paris in 2016.

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In Santa’s Mailbag, a Peek into Children’s Pandemic Worries

Jim, from Taiwan, slipped a face mask inside the greeting card he sent to Santa and marked “I (heart) u.” Alina, 5, asked in her Santa letter written with an adult’s help that he please use the front door when he drops in, because the back door is reserved for Grandma and Grandpa to minimize their risk of contamination.  And spilling out her heavy little heart to “Dear Father Christmas,” 10-year-old Lola wrote that she is wishing “that my aunt never has cancer again and that this virus no longer exists.”  “My mother is a care-giver and sometimes I am scared for her,” Lola explained, signing off her handwritten letter with, “Take care of yourself Father Christmas, and of the Elves.”  The emotional toll wrought by the pandemic is jumping off pages in the deluge of “Dear Santa” letters now pouring into a post office in southwest France that sorts and responds to his mail from around the world.  
 
Arriving by the tens of thousands, the letters, notes and cards — some mere scribbles, other elaborate labors of love in colored pens — are revealing windows into the tender minds of their young authors, and of adult Santa fans also asking for respite and happiness, at the tail end of a year of sickness and tumult.  Like this letter from young Zoe, who limited her requests to a music player and amusement park tickets because “this year has been very different from others because of COVID-19.”  “That’s why I am not asking you for many thing(s) to avoid infection,” Zoe wrote, signing off with “Merci!” and a heart.  In theory, and often in practice, any letter addressed “Pere Noel” — French for Father Christmas — and slipped into any post box around the world is likely to wend its way to the sorting office in France’s Bordeaux region that has been handling his mail since 1962. Toiling out of sight among vineyards, his secretariat of workers (who call themselves “elves”) spends the months of November and December slicing open envelopes decorated with hearts, stickers and colors, and spreading Santa magic by responding on his behalf.  From the first letters opened at the secretariat from Nov. 12, it quickly became apparent how the pandemic is weighing on children, says the chief elf, Jamila Hajji. Along with the usual pleas for toys and gadgets were also requests for vaccines, for visits from grandparents, for life to return to the way it was. One letter in three mentions the pandemic in some way, Hajji says.  “The kids have been very affected by COVID, more than we think. They are very worried. And what they want most of all, apart from presents, is really to be able to have a normal life, the end of COVID, a vaccine,” she says.  “The letters to Father Christmas are a sort of release for them. All this year, they have been in lockdowns, they have been deprived of school, deprived of their grandpas and grandmas. Their parents have been occupied by the health crisis and whatnot. So we, of course, can tell that the children are putting into words everything they have felt during this period.”  “We are like elf therapists,” she adds.  Replying to 12,000 letters per day, the team of 60 elves sets aside some that move them or catch the eye. Lola’s is among those that have stood out so far, with its heartfelt confession to Santa that “this year more than the others, I need magic and to believe in you.” The elves say their sense is that children are confiding worries that they may not have shared with parents.  Emma Barron, a psychiatrist specializing in the mental health of children and adolescents at the Robert Debré pediatric hospital in Paris, says landmark dates, including birthdays and holidays like Christmas, provide structure in childhood. Amid the pandemic’s uncertainty, the Dec. 25 anchor of Christmas is particularly important to kids this year.  “Children are quite surprising in that they can adapt to many things,” Barron says. “But rhythms, rituals and things like that are an integral part of children’s mental stability.”  As the letters flood in, it’s also clear that this goes beyond childhood. Santa is proving a beacon to adults, too, with some writing to him for the first time since they were kids.  One asked for “a pandemic of love.” A 77-year-old lamented that “lockdown is no fun! I live alone.” A grandparent asked Santa to “say ‘Hi’ to my two grandkids that I won’t be able to see this year because of the health situation.”  “Your mission will be hard this year,” wrote Anne-Marie, another adult suppliant. “You will need to sprinkle stars across the entire world, to calm everyone and revive our childhood souls, so we can dream, at last, and let go.”

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