If you celebrate Christmas, you probably wrote Santa letters every year when you were a kid. Maybe you left them by the fireplace, or by the plate of cookies and milk. But perhaps you also wrote Santa a letter and mailed it to him, simply writing "To Santa" or "The North Pole" on the envelope, because, well, magic! Although, according the USPS, you actually have to write out a formal address to Santa, which is 123 Elf Road, North Pole 88888. (And yes, you still need to use a stamp!)
Every year, thousands of children write and mail Santa a letter, many asking for toys and their justification for it (they were good all year, of course!).
Where do letters to Santa go?
It turns out, the U.S. Postal Service actually sends these letters to 15 regional post offices that participate in a program called Operation Santa. People who live around those areas can volunteer to write back to the children (don't worry, their identities and addresses are not disclosed). Volunteers can also include a gift with the letter, and bring it back to the post office. The USPS will then mail back the letters and gifts to the children. USPS employees can also respond to letters, but they usually don't purchase gifts along with the letters.
Operation Santa, according to the USPS's site, originated in 1912. About 100 years ago, the USPS started receiving letters to Santa Claus and in 1912, Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock decided to allow USPS employees — along with volunteers — to respond to the children's letters. Now, you don't even have to physically be at one of these regional post offices to select a letter — you can "adopt" a letter online, write back, and even give children gifts.
Interested in joining Operation Santa? Check out the website and adopt a letter. Letters from kids have to arrive before December 15, otherwise they won't be uploaded to the site and made available for people to "adopt." The USPS encourages children to write the letters as soon as possible so that Santa's elves have enough time to post them online. Back in 2017, the Smithsonian Mag reported that The New York post office was getting around 500,000 letters each year.
Another way that a child's letter to Santa can get answered in through the Letters From Santa program, but that requires you to know if a kid is sending one. You'd have to have to send your response to the letter to:
North Pole Postmark
4141 Postmark Dr.
Anchorage, AK 99530-9998
The child should receive a letter "from Santa" in return. If you're interested in doing this next year, find the full instructions on the USPS's website.
"We recommend sending your letters by December 7 so that they can be received by the Anchorage, AK, Postmaster no later than December 14. Santa’s helpers in Anchorage, AK, will take care of the rest!" the USPS advises on their site.