I don’t know about you, but I’ve been busy this holiday season. Already several times I’ve party planned and cleaned and hosted and cleaned. I’ve shopped for gifts, a task that no matter how early I start, always seems to take until Christmas Eve. I’ve made Christmas candies and cookies, decorated and crafted and spread Christmas cheer in a lot of little ways. But in order to accomplish these tasks, I’ve had to let others slide.
The biggest of those other tasks is sending Christmas cards. I wasn’t feeling too bad about that, though, because I am fortunate not to have many overachieving friends. I’m happy to report that I didn’t receive a single card the day after Thanksgiving (seriously, such a betrayal might signal the end our friendship). Nor did I receive any cards for the first nearly two weeks of December, which goes a long way in making a busy gal feel truly special.
But then this third week of Advent arrived, and with it came the postcards featuring the smiling faces of friends and family and busy children who are growing faster than I can quite grasp, handmade die-cut works of art filled with sweet holiday greetings, and letters recounting a year’s worth of adventures.
So that’s when the guilt started to set in. Because for all I have done so far this busy season, I haven’t designed a postcard or die-cut any artsy Christmas trees or written a year-end letter. I haven’t even purchased a big box of factory-made holiday greetings.
And I feel especially bad about it when I take a moment to realize that even Santa, easily the season’s busiest fictional character with tens of thousands of letters to send, already has this holiday task well in hand.
In my defense, Santa does have a lot of practice. He’s been sending Christmas letters to excited littles at least since the late 19th century, decades before postal policy technically allowed him to do so. Because letters addressed to Santa Claus used to wind up in the Dead Letter office.
Or at least officially they did. There were always those kindhearted postmasters who couldn’t stand the thought of a letter to Santa going unanswered, or an innocent expression of real need going unmet.
One such kindhearted person was Connecticut postmaster Harris Eames, who in 1894 opened a letter addressed to “Sandy Clous” from a little girl in a family he knew. From the letter, Eames learned that the family had fallen on harder times than anyone had realized. The postmaster contacted local businesses and orchestrated a Sandy Clous miracle.
For years, similar heartwarming stories rolled in from post offices all over the country, until finally, in 1913, the Postal Department relented, accepting its position as the gatekeeper for Santa Claus.
The procedure for handling and answering letters from children to their Christmas hero has changed through the years amid growing privacy concerns, but many postal offices still partner with local charities to deliver Sandy Clous miracles through what is collectively known as “Operation Santa.” And the jolly old elf himself will take the time to write back to any child who wants to send him a letter.
Much like Santa’s brilliant gift-giving policy, his letters do require a little help from parents. The current USPS Santa letter instructions state that you must include the response letter in a self-addressed, stamped envelope included in a specially addressed outer envelope.
Oh, and because Santa is super organized and on top of such important tasks, it has to be received in Anchorage, Alaska by December 1oth. That way the postal elves have time to process it and get it back to you by Christmas, postmarked from the North Pole, of course.
I do think the USPS and Santa are on to something. So, I’ll tell you what. If you are hoping to receive a Christmas card from me this year, all you need to do is design one, place it in a self-addressed stamped envelope and a larger envelope addressed to me. Then drop it in your mailbox and I will send it right back to you, postmarked from St. Louis to give it that truly authentic feel.
Now, if you wanted it by Christmas, you’d have had to get it to me by December 10th, since I’ll surely drive around with it in my purse for a few days before remembering to drop it in the mailbox. But since we both know you can’t reasonably expect a Christmas card from me until January, I think there’s still time.