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Why the Post Office Delivers Letters to Santa
The Post Office believes in Santa Claus. But that wasn’t always the case.
In the early 20th century, more and more kids started mailing letters to Santa. But the Post Office wasn’t on board. Letters addressed to the North Pole were sent to the Dead Letter Office or, worse, returned to children as undeliverable.
It created something of a crisis for the agency.
“The Post Office Department does not believe in Santa Claus” wrote the New York Times in 1906.
Compounding the crisis was the fact that many individual postal workers ignored the rules and worked to bring a little holiday cheer to the families on their route. There are countless heartwarming stories of postmasters and local philanthropists responding to letters and buying gifts for families.
Making Good PR Official Policy
Post Office policy fluctuated over the next few years until Postmaster General Frank H. Hitchcock made an official change in 1913 allowing postmasters to pass letters on to local charities.
Today the Post Office’s policy is that Santa is, in fact, real, and the agency has continued to expand its role as merry middleman. Santa has an official address (that’s Santa Claus, 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888).
The Operation Santa campaign connects families in need to individuals and groups ready to donate, and Letters to Santa allows parents to respond to their children’s letters via the mail.
This year, the USPS upped its social game to attract more donations in light of COVID-19 by showcasing some letters.
In 1906 and today, post offices had good reason to shut down the Santa shenanigans. The USPS is a closely scrutinized government agency with tight margins and strict regulations governing its operations. These Christmas connections during the busiest time of the year should be an unwanted distraction.
But they’re not.
Formalizing the compassionate work of caring employees more than a century ago was a smart move for the post office. Employers face decisions around these kind of grey areas in employee rulebooks all the time, from what employees can say on social media to how they interact with customers.