By Brian Roulston
It’s that time of year again when Santa and all the elves at the North Pole are hard at work making toys, cleaning the sleigh and checking Rudolph’s nose. Reading and writing letters from children all around the world is one of Santa’s most sizeable and favourite things to do. It’s his way of learning about the children and their wishes for Christmas Day.
The tradition of writing letters to Santa Clause began long before the United States Postal Service was established in 1775. According to the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. children would write their letters and then burn them. They believed the ashes would float in the air until they magically reached Santa Clause at the North Pole.
In 1871, Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harpers Weekly, created the image of the Santa Clause that we know today. The tradition of sending letters by mail began in 1879 and it was a result of two additional Norman Rockwell style images that he created. Santa in the first animation was seen sitting at his desk replying to one of the many letters taken from the stacks of mail that surrounded him. The second image depicted a little child leaning up against a lamp-post. His tiny, white dog looked with interest as he dropped an envelope labelled ‘St. Clause at the North Pole’ into the slot of a mailbox mounted to a lamp-post.
Nast’s images captured the imagination of children everywhere; soon the United States Postal Service became inundated with mail addressed to the jolly ol’ guy in the red suit. The U.S. Postal Service was unprepared and routed the letters to the Dead Letter Office only because the service considers Santa to be non-existent. In 1912, the U.S. Postmaster General authorized local postmasters to allow postal employees and civilian volunteers to respond to the letters. It became known as Operation Santa. Since the first Royal Mail-Canada post offices opened in Halifax, Montreal, and Trois Rivières in 1867, children in Canada have been writing letters to Santa.
Many of the Santa Clause letters written by children in the 1970s went to Minnedosa, Manitoba, a small town north of Brandon. Verna and Charlie Green owned and operated a modest grocery store in Minnedosa. Charlie placed a box for the local children to drop off their letters to Santa. The children often used imaginary Christmas-themed addresses such as Snowflake Lane or Candy Cane Lane. In time, word spread, and individuals from all across the country began sending letters there too. The elderly couple happily answered the letters for twelve years.
Canada Post offered to assist Santa in answering some of his Christmas letters in 1982. St. Nick acquired his North Pole postal code (HOH OHO) that year and was given his zip code (88888) by the United States Postal Service seven years later. By 1985, the official Santa Clause Letter Response Team answered 22,000 letters. In 2019, Canada Post and its army of volunteers answered over 1.6 million letters in 38 languages.
When writing to Santa:
1. Provide your full return address. Santa may already know where you live, but his helpers want this information to return your letter. You don’t need a stamp.
- Mom and Dad could turn it into a fun family activity by assisting the children with their letters. Santa likes to look at drawings created by the children and read about their favourite sports, jokes, school, and family activities.
3. The postal elves usually begin answering his mail six weeks prior Christmas. The mail takes a long time to get to and from the North Pole, and Santa has many other things to do before the big night. The deadline for sending letters to Santa Claus is December 10. Following that, letters may or may not get returned in time for Christmas.
While it may not be as exciting as writing a letter to Santa, email has reduced the number of letters delivered by mail. Approximately 80,000 emails were received to the U.S. Postal Service’s website during its first Christmas online in 2017. The Sun, a prominent tabloid in the United Kingdom, received 250,000 emails in the only year they offered the service.
In Calgary, Alberta, a popular free website called emailsanta.com began because of a Canada Post mail strike in 1997. A thousand emails were received by emailsanta.com over several weeks in the first year of the website, solely by word of mouth. After a year, the site received a thousand emails a day. In 2017, the number of emails surpassed one million. According to emailsanta.com, Santa enjoys receiving photos of family outings and scanned pictures of the toys the children would like for Christmas. Even Rudolph joins in on the fun; you can send photos of your pets to the red-nosed reindeer, and because he speaks ‘Animal’ he will reply.
Kerr has received emails from all over Canada, the United States, Russia, and over 200 additional countries, including Iran, Namibia, South Korea, and Ecuador. At the moment, he can only respond in English, French, and Spanish. Kerr gets emails ranging from young children and the young at heart, even a 72-year-old lady wrote to Santa through his website. The Emailsanta.com site offers additional safety tips on how to write to Santa and choose a Santa email service aside from their own.
While we are on the subject of Christmas and mail, did you know John Callcot designed and sent the first Christmas card ever mailed? It was in the United Kingdom to Henry Cole in 1843. Initially, Christmas cards featured Nativity scenes which were popular, but later on, snowy scenes became popular as they reminded the British of a particularly bad snowstorm in 1836. Robins (the bird) was frequently shown on Christmas cards to honour their letter carriers, known back then as Robins, because of their red Royal Mail uniforms. The original Christmas cards in America were prohibitively expensive, and few people could afford them until they were mass-produced in 1875 by a printer named Louis Prang. Unfortunately, email and e-cards services are steadily eroding another one of the most popular Christmas traditions of the past.
I would like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the readers of the North End Breezes and its volunteers.