As much as history reveals, the Postal Service began receiving letters to Santa Claus more than 100 years ago. However, its involvement was made official when in 1911 Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized local Postmasters to allow postal employees and citizens to respond to the ever growing number of letters received every holiday season.
n the 1940s, mail volume for Santa increased so much so that the Postal Service extended the same invitation to charitable organizations, community groups and corporations to help respond to children who wrote letters to Santa.
This year, 2016, the Postal Service is celebrating the 104th anniversary of the Operation Santa program as it continues to fulfill the dreams of children nationwide. More than one hundred years later, postal employees, volunteers and organizations remain committed to making children’s Christmas wishes come true.
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.
Each year, however, in select Post Offices the general public is invited to “adopt” Santa letters. In all locations where the public may adopt letters written to Santa, strict privacy guidelines are in place. Any member of the public choosing to adopt a letter may simply respond in writing or if they choose grant the wish, a decision that is left to the individual.
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 to the delight of those who visit the iconic James A. Farley building, in the heart of the Manhattan.
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 is all set to fulfill the child’s wishes, he or she returns with the letter and/or gift wrapped item(s) to the same post office location for mailing. A postal employee weighs the package and the individual pays for the postage. Later, 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 adoptee never has access to the mailing address.
Children of all ages send letters to “Santa Claus, North Pole, Alaska” every year. Unless these letters contain a complete Alaska address, the letters will remain in the area they were mailed. Where available, these letters are routed to the nearest post office that coordinates responses, often in postal administrative sites like District Offices.
As time and resources permit, these offices help provide a written response to letters bearing a complete return address. While responses are not promised, the Postal Service understands that a letter to Santa is often a child’s first written correspondence. Through this seasonal outreach, the Postal Service helps to promote literacy and letter writing.