Each year a huge number of children write santa letter to request the presents they need to receive in the fabled North Pole resident, and in the states those letters tend to be dropped in the real mailbox. So how did that tradition start?
A number of the earliest Christmas correspondence wasn’t actually written to Santa, but instead from him. In the first 1 / 2 of the nineteenth century, Santa Claus was even more of a disciplinary figure than the jolly old fellow who sorts “naughty” from “nice” today. Stories of Saint Nicholas were intended to encourage children to behave, plus some parents even wrote letters “from” Santa Claus to their children discussing their conduct within the previous year, mischievous or obedient, per Smithsonian.
The American picture of Santa Claus developed during the entire 1800s, in the 1823 publication of the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas”-now known by its first line, “’Twas the night time before Christmas”-to cartoonist Thomas Nast’s Christmas illustrations from the widely read Harper’s Weekly. Nast’s drawings of Santa, which first appeared in Harper’s in the Civil War, helped produce the visual references for Santa Claus that are still familiar today, including a red suit and white beard. Nast’s drawings also captured the earliest events of the postal service’s involvement inside the Christmas workflow.
In 1871 Nast drew Santa Claus at his desk reading his mail and sorting it into two piles. Normally the one labeled “letters from naughty children’s parents” reaches well above his head, whereas “letters from good children’s parents” can be a far smaller stack. Many years later, in 1879, Nast came up with first known image of someone making use of the United states mail system to write down to Santa Claus. With this Harper’s illustration, a youthful figure puts a letter addressed to “St. Claus North Pole” within a mailbox with a snowy evening.
By that time, however, the mail system was already used for letters to Santa. On Boxing Day 1874, by way of example, the brand new York Times included an item about letters “deposited within the Richmond Post Office, evidently published by children, plainly established that they, anticipating the annual visit of Santa Claus, wished to remind him of the they most desired.” The Times quoted several letters: one requested “a big wagon-less than very big-four wheels, two packs pop-crackers, a Mother Hubbard book.”
At the beginning, the U.S. Postal Service would consider letters addressed to Santa Claus undeliverable, either returning those to their senders or sending these people to the Dead Letter Office. Around the turn from the twentieth century, however, philanthropists and charities expressed curiosity about fulfilling Santa’s role for poor children who sent him letters. “The Post Office Department is not going to have faith in Santa Claus. Officially the dispenser of Christmas cheer for little folks is really a myth,” the Times wrote in 1906. “The Christmas season has no charm for the prosaic employees from the Dead Letter Office. This means only plenty of extra work and bother for them.” The article went on to deplore the unsympathetic post office and “red-tape-bound officialdom” for his or her insufficient imagination to find a way to honor the children’s requests.
The following year, the Postmaster General allowed his employees to distribute the letters, although the charitable people and organizations to whom these were given found themselves confronted with 98dexnpky task of deciding if the children were really in need of their assistance. The resulting complaints meant the Postmaster General failed to renew the allowance the following year.
His successor wrote a purchase order in 1911 that letters “addressed plainly and unmistakably to ‘Santa Claus’” could possibly be transported to “responsible institutions or individuals” for “philanthropic purposes.” This time permission was renewed and then in 1913 made permanent. Tonight Show host Johnny Carson read out letters from needy children during December shows from the 1960s, helping to popularize this program. In 1989, Santa got his own Local Zip Code.