Holiday happenings

In pictures: The story of the U.S. Postal Service delivering the holidays

By David P. Coleman

Ext black and white photo
The exterior of the New York City Main Post Office illuminates the Big Apple night sky with holiday greetings and a reminder to Mail Early” circa 1950. Collection of U.S. Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has been delivering holiday cards, letters to Santa and packages to America’s mailboxes for decades. It is a rich part of the history of the Postal Service. Below is a look back at how the Postal Service has been Delivering for America during this festive time of year across our great nation. Also, find out more about USPS postal history.

Horses pull a sleigh marked “U.S. Mail” near Nome, AK. Before airplanes, dog sleds and horse sleds were the primary forms of mail transportation during the winter months in Alaska.

Asheville, NC, letter carrier H.B. Ray prepares to make his holiday deliveries on a horse and carriage, Dec. 24, 1913.

City letter carriers pose for a photograph while loaded with holiday parcels and letters circa 1915. These armfuls likely only represented a portion of their daily workload. Prior to 1950, most city letter carriers made multiple delivery trips during their workday.

Rural carriers in Waynesboro, VA, load their vehicles with parcels the day before Christmas, circa 1920. When rural free delivery began in Waynesboro in 1903, the weight limit for parcels shipped via U.S. Mail was just 4 pounds. By 1920, parcels weighing up to 70 pounds could be mailed.

A child entrusts his letter to Santa to a letter carrier in Washington, DC, on Dec. 4, 1920. Since 1911, postmasters have been authorized to share letters to Santa Claus with philanthropic individuals and organizations interested in fulfilling children’s wishes.

Lillian Simopoulos, wife of the Greek ambassador to the United States, helps her son mail a letter to Santa in Washington, DC in 1925. Before the 20th century, one popular method of mailing letters to Santa was to place them in the chimney, because smoke was believed to magically transport wishes to the North Pole. By the 1890s, many children put greater faith in the U.S. Post Office Department.

New York City Postmaster Albert Goldman delivers sacks of letters to Santa Claus. Goldman, who served as postmaster of the city from 1934 to 1952, organized the Community Chest of the New York Post Office Employees' Committee, which played Santa to some of the city’s least fortunate children every year.

New York City postal employees sort holiday parcels, circa 1948.

New York City Postmaster Albert Goldman stands next to a “Mail Call in Korea” poster that emphasizes mailing Christmas cards and parcels early to service members stationed in Korea in 1950.

In New York City, Acting Postmaster Robert Christenberry sorts through hundreds of children's letters to Santa Claus in a publicity photo taken on Dec.12, 1958. Postmasters worked with local news media to raise awareness of the thousands of Santa letters eligible for adoption each year by philanthropic individuals and organizations.

Acting New York City Postmaster Robert Christenberry posts a letter in a giant mailbox on the street in New York City on Dec. 8, 1958. The mailboxes were used to promote holiday mailings.

Transportation workers at the New York General Post Office host a Christmas party for neighborhood children on Dec. 23, 1959. New York City’s postal workers, who numbered more than 30,000 in the 1950s, formed community service organizations along occupational and other lines.

New York City Postmaster Robert Christenberry accepts a parcel at the beginning of the annual Mail Early campaign on Nov. 9, 1959. Every year, postmasters nationwide worked with local news media to encourage customers to mail letters and packages early during the holidays, to ensure timely deliveries.

Mr. ZIP, Mail Early campaign poster, 1963.

Los Angeles Postmaster Leslie Shaw discusses with Santa Claus the importance of mailing holiday gifts early and using a ZIP Code, circa 1964.

In 1975, a letter carrier gathers mail from a collection box in Falls Church, VA. Delivering holiday mail during harsh weather conditions is the norm in some parts of the country. It calls to mind the famous inscription on the old New York City General Post Office: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

Customers line up to buy stamps at a temporary Christmas station across from Radio City Music Hall in New York City. In the 1950s-1970s, some of the city’s temporary Christmas stations were designed to look like giant collection boxes. Temporary stations were established in the early 20th century to help handle holiday mail.

In 2013, Damascus, MD, Letter Carrier Sun Farong delivers mail during the holiday season.

In 2016, Washington, DC, Letter Carrier Rivera Cruz handles packages during the holiday season.

In 2018, Sales and Services Associate SA Kanani Caravantes assists a customer at the Rudolph Shipping Shack at the Honolulu Main Post Office.

Bethlehem, MD, postmarks of 2019 holidays stamps. According to the Bethlehem postmaster, customers travel from the surrounding communities and Delaware every holiday season to receive the Bethlehem postmark on their holiday cards.

In 2019, Customer Relations Coordinator Lisa Harris (left) and Baltimore Postmaster Le Gretta Ross-Rawlins help kick off the “Letters to Santa” campaign in the lobby of the Main Post Office in Baltimore.

In 2022, the Postal Service unveiled its new holiday-themed stamps in North Pole, AK. From left: Santa Claus; Andrea Avery, assistant inspector in charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Michael Elston, secretary, USPS Board of Governors; Michael Miller, president, Santa Claus House; Michael Welch, mayor of North Pole, AK; and Bruce Ward, mayor of Fairbanks North Star Borough, AK.

USPS Postmaster van illustration.