They sent me an…
He was too big!
I sent him back.
. . .
So they sent me a…
He was too jumpy!
I sent him back.
. . .
So they thought very hard,
and sent me a…
He was perfect!
I kept him.
from Dear Zoo
written and illustrated by Rod Campbell
Four Winds Press, 1982
By now you know my dad was a philatelist. I’ve mentioned it often. I like the mouth-feel of the word and I’m proud of myself for being able to spell it correctly without looking it up. All us kids knew what one was. It was a little piece of knowledge we had that most of our friends did not.
My dad was not a letter writer. He was a stamp collector. The stamps were incidental to the mail. They were the purpose for his collection, his and his group of like-minded friends.
When I saw a small article in my local paper about a new documentary about a United States Postal Service program, I wanted to learn more. Dear Santa is a film from IFC. You can see the trailer and find out lots of info about the film at https://www.dearsanta.movie It comes out on December 4, and will be available in theaters and VOD (Video on Demand)
From its website page https://about.usps.com/holidaynews/operation-santa.htm I learned that the USPS has been receiving letters to Santa for over 100 years. (If you’re curious about the history of the USPS itself, check my blog from July 28, 2020.)
In 1913, then Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock decided to formalize the hundreds of thousands of requests the Post Office received each year. Most were for toys, but many did (and still do) not fit into a box. Things like a necessary surgery, a favorite food or any food, a sibling. A blanket. Shoes. Well, blankets and shoes do fit in boxes, but you know what I’m after here. Hitchcock authorized local Postmasters to allow postal employees and regular citizens to respond to the letters. This was the beginning of a program that became known as Operation Santa.
During World War II, the volume of letters increased so much that the Post Office invited local charities and corporations to join in. They provided small gifts and responses to the letters until Operation Santa gained a life of its own. With its own mission statement: “…to provide a channel where people can give back and help children and families — enabling them to have a magical holiday when they otherwise might not — one letter to Santa at a time.” (source of quote is in the above link)
When I was growing up, Hanukkah (Chanuka, Chanukka, Hannukaah, …) was a pretty important holiday. We lit the candles in our Chanukkiah, one more candle each night to symbolize the growing light and goodness in the world. We sang songs. We played dreidel, we ate potato latkes with applesauce and sour cream. But presents were not the mainstay of our holiday. My girls will tell a similar story about the gifts. They did receive a gift each night, but most tended to be practical. Underwear, socks, a board game we could play together…gloves. Where did all those single gloves go?
So when I found out about Operation Santa and read some of the letters, and felt their sincerity, I decided to join in.
This year is the first year Operation Santa is nationwide. Letters addressed to Santa will be accepted from November 16 through December 15. If you or your child or someone you know would like to write a letter, all the information you need is here: https://www.uspsoperationsanta.com/getinvolved/letterwriting
If you want to fill a request, start here: https://about.usps.com/holidaynews/operation-santa.htm Letters can be viewed beginning December 4. You can read them and choose to answer one or more. All identifiable markings such as full name, address of letter writer and letter responder and even the zip codes will be removed by the Postal Service before the letters are uploaded to their site. For security reasons, all adopters will be vetted by the Postal Service. The forms, the FAQs, the letters will all be uploaded December 4. Once a child’s letter is chosen, that letter is removed from the site. Letters will be continually added until December 15. The Postal Service keeps track of all the letter-writers and letter-responders. If you send a gift, the USPS will track it and send you an email when it arrives. All anonymous. On both ends.
This is where you can read letters from previous years. https://www.uspsoperationsanta.com You will also find Santa’s address, forms to fill out to be vetted, sign up, and beginning December 4, read this year’s letters. You can keep checking back until December 15, and choose to adopt a child, some children, or a whole family.
Hanukkah or Christmas, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Bodhi Day, or the Birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Sahib, all are causes for celebration. After all the turmoil of this American year, 2020, I want to celebrate them all!
Whatever your religion, or no religion, I hope you find your own causes to celebrate, large and small.
-—stay curious! (and spread good cheer)