Do your kids write letters to Santa?

If so, they are not alone. Kids all over the world write letters to Santa with their deepest wishes and hopes for Christmas day, and this tradition, at least in some form or another, dates back more than 150 years.

A very different kind of Santa Claus.

The earliest letters weren’t written to Santa Clause; they were written from Santa Claus to children, particularly the naughty ones. In the early 1800s, Santa Claus wasn’t the jovial, jolly fellow he is today. Back then, Santa was more of a disciplinarian, and he wrote letters to kids who misbehaved, warning them to shape up and giving them advice on what they can do to improve their behavior. In that era, childhood wasn’t celebrated as an important part of a person’s life as it is today and parents weren’t very concerned about fostering their children’s imaginations.

During the Civil War, mail started being hand delivered by postal workers in urban centers. Because of this, many Americans started seeing the mail as something exciting rather than an inconvenient errand, and more and more children started actually responding to Santa’s letters. Eventually, the postman became a conduit to Kris Kringle himself, at least in the eyes of many children.

The use of the post office to correspond with Santa largely started in America. While American children were addressing their envelopes to the North Pole, children in Scotland were shouting their Christmas wishes into their fireplaces and children in other European countries thanked Santa for their gifts by leaving out shoes or stockings.

In the 1870s, newspapers all over the United States started reporting on the multitude of Santa letters being sent to local post offices. Eventually, parents started sending their children’s letters to Santa to the newspapers themselves. Some newspapers even held contests and offered prizes for writing the best letters to Santa. Back then, most of the requests in Santa letters were practical and simple, like prayer books and writing desks. Over time, these gifts shifted to more care-free items, like dolls or candy.

Who responds to all of those letters?

As the letters piled up and were left unanswered, the press and the public started complaining. In 1913, the Post Office Department (which is what the United States Postal Service was formally known as) changed their policy to allow charitable organizations to answer the letters. In Santa Claus, Indiana (the actual name of the city!), the Postmaster himself replied to the Santa letters and enlisted other volunteers to do the same.

In 1947, Operation Santa Claus was established, which was an informal group of employees from the Post Office Department who responded to letters from Santa. This program evolved and was nationally formalized in 2006. Now, people who respond to Santa’s letters have to present a photo I.D., and the full names and addresses of the children are redacted so that only the postal employees who deliver the response have access.

Encourage your child to partake in this magical, Christmas tradition!

Kids have been sending letters to Santa for over 150, and those letters give us a glimpse of history in the eyes of children, which is surely a rare gift. Keep the tradition alive by encouraging your child to write their own letter to Santa, and shop with us at Worcester Envelope Company for the bulk envelopes you need.