The U.S. Postal Service began receiving letters to Santa Claus more than 100 years ago. Its involvement was made official in 1912, when Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized local postmasters to allow postal employees and citizens to respond to the letters.
Over the past 60 years, the program has taken on a life of its own. Today, cities around the country work with recognized charitable organizations, major corporations, local businesses, and postal employees to make a difference in the lives of children from coast to coast.
Hundreds of thousands of children of all ages send letters to “Santa Claus, North Pole, Alaska” every year. Unless these letters contain a complete Alaska address, the letters remain in the area they were mailed. Postal “elves” go through the letters and separate those that wish Santa a happy birthday from those that express serious need.
The Postal Service has Letters to Santa programs in operation around the country that vary as much as the locations themselves. Some cities and towns work with local schools to write letters back to the children as if they were Santa; some work with established groups and assist with the collection of gifts; and others invite the public to adopt Santa letters.
This holiday season, you too can be an elf and help Santa Claus visit children who might not otherwise have any gifts to open at Christmas by joining Operation Santa. For more information and to find a participating Post Office near you, visit http://www.operationlettertosanta.com/.
New York City’s Operation Santa program is the largest in the country, receiving more than a half-million letters a season. Every year the iconic James A. Farley Building on 8th Avenue is visited by tens of thousands of people who come in person to adopt letters. In New York City, the program has changed very little since the 1940s and continues to thrive much to the delight of both the readers and writers of letters to Santa.