Friday, December 2

Writing Santa Claus: When Mail Really Works

In one of the best programs ever conceived by the United States Postal Service (USPS), yesterday marked the first day of its annual "Letters to Santa" program. The campaign has helped fulfill holiday wishes of children and their families for nearly a century.

Through the annual letter-writing program, members of the public and charitable organizations respond to children's letters addressed to Santa Claus, the North Pole and other seasonal characters. The program is especially meaningful given how much people rely primarily on electronic communication. Receiving a letter, especially from Santa or Rudolph, can be an unforgettable experience for anyone.

"We are delighted to once again kick off the holiday mailing season with the start of our annual 'Letters to Santa' program," said Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. "The Postal Service is gearing up for a huge mail delivery to the North Pole to help Santa and his elves get ready for the big day."

The tradition started in 1912 when then Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock allowed postal employees and citizens to respond to the letters in the program that became known as Operation Santa. In 1940, mail volume for Santa increased so much the Postal Service invited charitable organizations and corporations to participate and provide written responses to the letters and small gifts to the children who wrote them.

While the exact number of Operation Santa letters is unknown, the USPS estimates it reaches into the millions (New York City handles 500,000 letters alone). The program works because postal workers sort the letters between those that wish Santa a happy birthday and those children who are in need. Those from children in need are then adopted by individuals and organizations, who respond to the children and often mail them a gift based on the letter (volunteers are responsible for the gift and return address).

All names (except the first name) and location references are blacked out before volunteers and organizations adopt the letters to protect the identity of the senders. If you would like to participate in helping fulfill some of the wishes of children in need, please read the USPS letter adoption guidelines.

In lieu of having a letter sent in for adoption, the USPS also allows parents (and others) to mail self-addressed stamped letters (presumably written as Santa Claus) in larger envelopes to a specific address in Alaska. The postal service will send the letter back with a North Pole postmark. For more information, refer to the USPS Fact Sheet. To receive the North Pole postmark, letters must be sent prior to Dec. 10.

There are other commercial enterprises that offer paid Santa letters and gifts, but USPS is not associated with any of those programs and is the oldest Letters From Santa operation in the United States. It is generally managed by local post offices. The USPS has a dedicated page for the program.

Before any questions about whether the program is a wise investment of taxpayer dollars, it's important to note that the Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. It is a self-supporting government enterprise. Most people are unaware of this fact.
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