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 1912 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.
In 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, 2017, the Postal Service is celebrating the 105th 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 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. Both individual customers and organizational representatives must fill out the proper PS Forms 6012 (organization), 6012-A (organization record of letter), or 6012-I (individual) and show identification before viewing any letters.
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."
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.
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.
The Postal Service and its employees play important roles in communities around the nation. Postal employees live in the communities in which they work. Their children attend school there. They actively participate in community business, shop in its stores and patronize local restaurants. It makes perfect sense for postal employees to want to help their fellow citizens, especially during the holiday season.
They were first established in 2006. Unfortunately, we live in an age where we must be careful about freely identifying the full names and addresses of children sending letters to Santa. Our goal is to protect the safety and privacy of children and their families while still allowing people to help them by fulfilling the wishes they express in their letters to Santa.
Individuals and organizations who would like to participate in the Letters to Santa program are now asked to come to their local participating Post Office, present ID and fill out a short informational form before receiving copies of original letters to Santa from children. These copies have last names and addresses blacked out.
We don’t think so. We continue to receive millions of letters to Santa from children nationwide.
No. Participation is voluntary. The decision to participate is made at the local level. If an office does participate, it follows the procedures we’ve established for the program. Most major metropolitan areas have active programs.
We believe the number is easily in the millions.