Can you remember the magic of being a little kid at Christmastime and getting to interact with Santa Claus? Sitting on his lap at the mall photo booth was pretty fun, even if your parents explained that it was really one of Santa's helpers you were meeting. But nothing was more thrilling than mailing a letter to the big man himself.
You'd picture your wish list being carried all the way to Santa's workshop in the North Pole. You'd hope and hope that he'd get the message and leave something perfect under the tree on Christmas morning. And if you were very lucky, you might even receive a personalized response in the mail with your name on it and everything.
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Even though young kids today are accustomed to digital communication, they can still experience that same thrill of mailing a letter to Santa. There are several methods that parents and other caretakers can use to help kids get their letter to Santa this holiday season—and maybe even receive a letter from Santa in return.
Sending letters to Santa with USPS
The United States Postal Service has a longstanding tradition of collecting and responding to kids' Santa letters. Currently, there are two different kinds of Santa services that USPS provides.
USPS Operation Santa
Operation Santa is a long-standing USPS program through which volunteers can fulfill the wishes in kids' Santa letters. There's no guarantee that sending a letter to Operation Santa will get a response, however. These days, the program works like this:
- The child writes a letter to Santa with specific information about the things at the top of their Christmas list as well as their full name and mailing address.
- The child's letter is put into an envelope and addressed to Santa Claus, 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888. (Per USPS, this is officially Santa's mailing address!) A first-class mail stamp must be attached to the top right corner of the envelope, with the sender's full return address in the top left corner. The letter can be dropped in a mailbox just like any other outgoing mail.
- Letters make their way to postal service "elves" who redact any personally identifiable information about the child and digitally scan the letters.
- Scanned letters are posted online through the Operation Santa site. Volunteers can adopt one or more letters and send a letter and/or gifts to the writer. All responses are sent through USPS, and volunteers never get to access any of the writers' information, not even their last name.
The USPS Operation Santa program: a brief history
Kids have been writing letters to Santa since the 1800s, and many of those letters naturally ended up in post offices addressed to "Santa, North Pole" or something similar. Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock launched the Operation Santa program back in 1912 by telling postmasters around the country that U.S. postal service workers could open and respond to those letters.
In 1940, USPS made the program public so kids knew they could send their letters to the post office. Charities and the general public started pitching in with USPS employees to answer some of the letters received by their local post offices and to buy gifts for the kids who sent them.
Letters postmarked from the North Pole
Getting a letter postmarked from the North Pole allows parents and caretakers to do a little sneaky Christmas magic that guarantees a child's Santa letter gets a personalized response. It works like this:
- The child writes their letter and hands it off to an adult for mailing. The adult reads the letter and secretly writes a response letter "from Santa" using a different-color ink and disguising their normal handwriting.
- Both letters go into one envelope. The envelope should be addressed to the child, including their mailing address. Write "Santa, North Pole" as the return address and attach a first-class postage stamp to the top right corner.
- That envelope is put into a larger envelope and addressed to North Pole Postmark, Postmaster, 4141 Postmark Dr, Anchorage AK 99530-9998. Attach appropriate postage. One first-class stamp should be sufficient for a lightweight rectangular envelope, but heavier or square letters will require more postage.
- In Alaska, the outer envelope is discarded. USPS stamps the inner envelope with a special North Pole postmark and mails it back to the child.
Does your kid never look up from their phone? Parents can arrange for Santa to send texts as well as physical letters.
More ways to send letters to Santa
USPS isn't the only organization that welcomes kids' holiday wishes. There are at least a few other places where Santa letters can be sent and sometimes answered. They include:
- Santa Claus, Indiana. Visitors to the Santa Claus Museum and Village can write letters in person and drop them in the mailbox at the museum's Santa Claus post office, but kids can also mail letters to Santa Claus, P.O. Box 1, Santa Claus, IN 47579. If they're received in time, Santa's elves will write back before Christmas.
- Nordstrom stores. Kids who live near a Nordstrom store can stop in and drop their Santa letter in a special mailbox. Participating stores also have Dear Santa letter templates available for kids to grab, or parents can help kids email Santa through Nordstrom's site.
- Paid services. If you're willing to pay for your child to get a customized letter from Santa, there are multiple sites that offer this service. In this case, there's no need to mail a child's letter anywhere. Parents can stash the child's Santa letter as a keepsake and just order a response letter to be delivered by mail.
Helping a child write a letter to Santa is one of those special Christmas traditions that parents, grandparents and other caretakers will always remember fondly—to say nothing of the look on the child's face when Santa actually writes back.