Since the middle 1800’s American children have been writing and mailing letters to Santa Claus, often with the help and encouragement of their parents. Addressed to a fictional character, and often with the incomplete address of “North Pole,” those envelopes containing a child’s hope and wish list are dropped into a mailbox.
The United States Post Office has been receiving those letters for a very long time, and it’s involvement was made official in 1912 when Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized local Postmasters to allow postal employees and citizens to respond to the letters “To Santa” received each holiday season. The program became known as “Operation Santa.”
In the 1940’s, the volume of holiday “Santa” mail increased so much so that the Postal Service extended an invitation to charitable organizations, community groups and corporations to help respond to those children who wrote to Santa. The program has continued to grow and today the Postal Service estimates that the number of letters to Santa it receives each year “is easily in the millions.”
That basic program continues today. The Postal Service has Operation Santa sites in action around the country. In the vast number of locations postal employees respond to the letters by providing a written response signed by Santa, while other Post Offices may work with local schools, municipalities and community groups who volunteer for the joyous task.
In select Post Offices the general public is invited to “adopt” Santa letters from children. Any member of the public choosing to adopt a letter may simply respond in writing or, if they choose, grant the child’s wish. New York City’s Operation Santa serves as the largest public adoption Post Office in the country. A “Big Apple” tradition that has changed very little since the 1940s and one which continues to thrive in the heart of the Manhattan.
Of course, strict privacy guidelines are in place. In 2006, national policy guidelines were created regarding the handling and adoption of letters addressed to Santa. These guidelines were designed to protect the children who wrote to Santa and mandated that individuals wishing to adopt letters must do so in person, present valid photo identification and fill out a form that includes the list of letters being adopted.
In 2009, the Postal Service changed the letter adoption process by redacting or blacking out all reference to the child’s address and assigning the letter a number. Individuals interested in adopting letters go to the post office, select the letter(s) and sign an official form. When the individual has fulfilled the child’s wishes, they return to the same post office with the letter and/or gift for mailing. A postal employee weighs the package and the individual pays for the postage, or a Priority Mail Flat Rate box could be used. Then a postal employee matches the number on the letter with the child’s address, prints and applies a label to the package and readies it for delivery. The individual never has access to the mailing address.
U.S. Post Office