Remember that letter you wrote to Santa Claus as a kid? Yes, he read it. Or, at least, one of his elves at the United States Post Office did.
According to the USPS, letters to old St. Nick have been pouring in during the holiday season for more than a century. In 1912, Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock permitted postmasters to allow their employees and local citizens to respond to the letters, creating the program that is now known as Operation Santa.
Today, postal facilities in cities around the country allow charitable organizations, businesses and local individuals to adopt letters to Santa Claus as part of the program.
Though the San Diego Postal District in Carmel Valley is not participating in Operation Santa this year, postal workers are still taking the big man's task to heart, opening every North Pole-bound letter and responding to those with return addresses.
According to Don Smeraldi, manager of the USPS Pacific Area HQ Corporate Communications Center, the San Diego Postal District oversees more than 250 post offices in San Diego, San Bernadino, Riverside and Imperial counties, as well as parts of Inyo County, and as of Tuesday have handled approximately 3,000 to 4,000 letters so far this season.
"Our letter sorting machines pass the letters addressed to Santa Claus through to a special bin where they are collected," Smeraldi said in an e-mail. "As many letters as possible that have return addresses receive a response from Santa, courtesy of our Postal Service Elves."
Letters without return addresses aren't simply cast aside, however. Santa's helpers read those too, and occasionally make volunteer efforts to help especially needy children. Since there are no addresses on the letters, Smeraldi said, they are eventually disposed of, though funny or touching letters may be set aside for media purposes.
This year, Santa has gotten requests for everything from puppies (real ones!) to Silly Bandz and new abs to simple wishes for health and happiness. He's also gotten some resumes from struggling parents, Smeraldi said.
The San Diego Postal District hopes to join more than 20 participating post offices coast to coast in the formal Operation Santa program next year, Smeraldi said.
Until then, visit usps.com to find out how to help—and don't forget to check out the video featuring this year's letters!