WASHINGTON – The post office has been the main gateway to Santa’s magic for generations of children, fast-tracking hundreds of thousands of handwritten holiday wish lists to a fanciful address at the North Pole.
Now, fresh off delivering millions of ballots in the November election, the U.S. Postal Service is turning its attention to another massive undertaking – “Operation Santa.” But these letters to Saint Nick will be digitized and posted online for “elves” – anyone hoping to spread holiday cheer – to adopt and fulfill the gift lists.
The Postal Service says children have been mailing letters to Santa for 108 years, and agency employees and nonprofits helped pen responses for many of those years. In 2017, the mail service launched a gift-donation campaign in New York to allow volunteers to contribute gifts and lighten Santa’s rounds on Christmas Eve. The online program expanded to seven cities in 2018 and 17 cities in 2019.
This year, for the first time, gift-givers can send presents by mail from anywhere in the country.
The Postal Service typically holds in-person events to allow volunteers to read the letters to Santa, but the agency canceled those gatherings this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Most letters are from children asking for toys, gadgets, books, clothes and more, according to a postal spokesperson. But many others ask only for necessities: a winter coat, a mattress, school supplies. Parents struggling to make ends meet also frequently write in, hoping for help providing gifts for their children.
The Postal Service redacts all personal identifying information before uploading the letters to the Operation Santa website, where they will be searchable by state starting Dec. 4. “Elves” or folks interested in adopting a letter, can register online with the Postal Service, then mail the gifts.
Last year, more than 11,000 packages were mailed in response to letters to Santa Claus.
“Letters to Santa tend to be message-in-a-bottle-type letters,” said filmmaker Dana Nachman, whose documentary “Dear Santa” on the letters premiers Dec. 4. “People put out their most sometimes funny, cute, poignant messages. Sometimes they’re sad and showcase poverty in America. But they’re all written in such an earnest, real way that I can’t think of any other opportunity to get into the mind of people in such an authentic way, and it has the emotional breadth of really nothing else I can think of. You on the one hand can have a letter that’s hysterical. You’re crying with laughter. It’s so funny. And then on the other hand, you’re crying because people are asking for mattresses and refrigerators and taking nothing for granted.”
The Postal Service says letters to Santa should be addressed to 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888 (which the agency says is Santa’s workshop and not his residence), include a return address and a stamp. Children can send letters to the North Pole all year, but the Postal Service only accepts them for Santa until Dec. 15.
Using the correct mailing address, Zip code included, is the most important way of ensuring a letter reaches Santa, the agency said, since Santa goes by many names – Kriss Kringle, Father Christmas, Saint Nick and more.
“The letters written to 123 Elf Road are processed just like any other piece of stamped, First-Class Mail,” said Postal Service spokesperson Kimberly Frum. “The address is an official, physical address for Santa’s Workshop and all letters are delivered to this location. You could try to enter it into a GPS. Sometimes it shows up, sometimes it doesn’t. But then again, the magic of the season is unpredictable.”