Each year, hundreds of thousands of letters sent to Santa from children and families arrive at Post Offices around the country. Most letters ask for toys and games. Some ask for basic necessities. Some ask for help for themselves and their loved ones.
USPS Operation Santa makes it possible for individuals and organizations to adopt these letters and send responses and thoughtful gifts in Santa’s place.
The Postal Service — then the Post Office Department — began receiving letters to Santa Claus more than 100 years ago. In 1912 Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized local Postmasters to allow postal employees and citizens to respond to the letters — a program that eventually 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 by providing written responses and small gifts.
Through the years, the program grew and took on a life of its own. Today, customers can go online to browse through the letters and if one touches them, they can adopt it and help the child have a magical holiday.
The mission of USPS Operation Santa is to provide a channel where people can give back and help children and families — enabling them to have a magical holiday when they otherwise might not — one letter to Santa at a time.
In many Postal Service facilities around the country, postal employees respond to the letters with a handwritten response signed by Santa, while other offices might purchase gifts for the children.
This year, letters sent to Santa from the 15 cities below will be included on the USPSOperationSanta.com website.
*Customers in New York City and Chicago have a choice of browsing and adopting letters to Santa online or in person.
New York City’s USPS Operation Santa program is the largest in the country. It’s a “Big Apple” tradition that has changed very little since the 1940s and one that continues to thrive in the heart of Manhattan, much to the delight of those who visit the iconic James A. Farley building.
Customers choosing to adopt in person will be required to fill out a form and show valid state or federal ID. Customers choosing to adopt online will be required to go through a short registration and ID verification process.
After completing the forms, customers can read and adopt a letter — or letters. To protect the anonymity of the letter writers, all personal information is redacted — no last names, addresses or contact information of any kind are visible.
The customer leaves to fulfill the wish in the letter and returns with the letter to ship the package. The code on the letter links to the letter writer’s address.
Customers are responsible for paying the postage to mail the gift to the letter writer.
Once the customer pays the postage, the retail associate will match the box with the letter writer by using the code.
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.
It’s difficult to provide an exact figure because technically this is considered undeliverable as addressed mail.
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 references 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 person 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 can be used. Then the 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.