Operation Santa

Currently, there are two versions of USPS Operation Santa™ being offered to customers in select locations —Legacy Operation Santa and Digital Operation Santa. This is an overview and FAQs for both versions.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of letters addressed to Santa arrive from children and families. Some letters ask for toys and games. Some ask for winter clothes. Some ask for help for themselves and their loved ones. With Operation Santa, individuals and organizations can send responses and thoughtful gifts in Santa’s place.

Operation Santa fact sheet

Promo image for Operation Santa digital service on DeliverCheer.com

Digital Operation Santa

Visit the online Operation Santa program at: www.DeliverCheer.com

What is the origin of Operation Santa?

As close as we can tell, the Postal Service began receiving letters to Santa Claus more than 100 years ago; however, it was in 1912 when Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized local postmasters to allow postal employees and citizens to respond to the letters — this became known as Operation Santa.

In the 1940s, mail volume for Santa increased so much that the Postal Service invited charitable organizations and corporations to participate — providing written responses and small gifts.

Through the years, the program has taken on a life of its own and today cities around the country have enormously successful programs with recognized charitable organizations, major corporations, local businesses, private citizens and postal employees making major differences in the lives of children from coast to coast.

What is the program’s mission?

The Postal Service and its employees play vital roles in communities around the nation—in terms of the post office building itself being the city center in many smaller communities and the employees who work inside them. We live in the communities we work in. Our children go to school there. We shop in the local stores. We eat in the restaurants. We participate in the community business. The mission is simply to help wherever we can and do the right thing by helping children.

What We Do

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 in the heart of the Manhattan, much to the delight of those who visit the iconic James A. Farley building.

Individual customers and representatives of organizations wanting to adopt a letter must come to a participating Operation Santa Post Office in person.

2018 Operation Santa locations

  • For organizations wanting to adopt a letter, please send a representative with correspondence on letterhead from your company/organization authorizing the representative to view the letters on behalf of your company/organization. Your representative must present his or her employee ID and a valid state driver’s license or state-issued ID card.
  • For individuals wanting to adopt a letter, please bring a valid state driver’s license or state-issued ID card.

After completing the forms, you may then read and choose a letter(s). To protect the anonymity of the letter writers, all personal information will be blacked out in the letters you view — no last names, addresses or contact information of any kind will be visible.

Bring your selections to a postal clerk so the clerk can notate which letter(s) you will adopt.

Here is the fun part — you get to be Santa’s helper by fulfilling the wishes of the letter writer.

Once you have fulfilled the wish, you simply bring your wrapped gift(s) back to the same Operation Santa location to mail.

Individuals and organizations will be responsible for paying the postage to mail the gifts to the recipient.

Once you pay the postage, the postal clerks will match your box with the letter writer by using an internal numbering system.

The return address on the box will read "Operation Santa, North Pole."

Privacy guidelines

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.

Do all letters addressed to Santa Claus go to the North Pole?

No. Only letters addressed to a specific North Pole address — complete with correct ZIP Code — are sent there. The vast majority of letters for Santa Claus are addressed “Santa Claus, North Pole” or just simply “Santa” — these letters are processed just like all the other letters, but because they do not have a complete address, the Postal Service mail sorting equipment processes them into a default area. The default letters are then sorted — mail that might have been incorrectly addressed is taken one place and the Santa letters to another place.

Generally beginning the first week of December, groups of postal employees around the country begin sorting Santa letters. This begins the process of making some well-deserved child’s dreams come true.

How many letters do you get each year?

It’s difficult to provide an exact figure because technically this is considered undeliverable as addressed mail.

How many kids and families has this program helped?

Countless.

Holiday Newsroom