Each year 1000s of children write letter to santa to request the presents they want to receive from your fabled North Pole resident, and in america those letters are usually dropped inside a real mailbox. But exactly how did that tradition start?
Some of the earliest Christmas correspondence wasn’t actually written to Santa, but instead from him. From the first one half of the 19th Century, Santa Claus was more of a disciplinary figure compared to jolly old fellow who sorts “naughty” from “nice” today. Stories of Saint Nicholas were designed to encourage children to behave, and a few parents even wrote letters “from” Santa Claus with their children discussing their conduct on the previous year, mischievous or obedient, per Smithsonian.
The American image of Santa Claus developed through the entire 1800s, from the 1823 publication of the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas”-now known by its first line, “’Twas the night before Christmas”-to cartoonist Thomas Nast’s Christmas illustrations inside the widely read Harper’s Weekly. Nast’s drawings of Santa, which first appeared in Harper’s through the Civil War, helped make the visual references for Santa Claus which are still familiar today, together with a red suit and white beard. Nast’s drawings also captured the earliest times 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” is really a far smaller stack. A few years later, in 1879, Nast created the first known image of someone utilizing the United states mail system to create 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 being utilized for letters to Santa. On Boxing Day 1874, as an example, the brand new York Times included an item about letters “deposited within the Richmond Post Office, evidently created by children, plainly revealed that they, anticipating the annual visit of Santa Claus, wished to remind him of the things they most desired.” The Times quoted several letters: one requested “a big wagon-less than big-four wheels, two packs pop-crackers, a Mother Hubbard book.”
In the beginning, the Usa Postal Service would consider letters addressed to Santa Claus undeliverable, either returning those to their senders or sending those to the Dead Letter Office. Round 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 will not rely on Santa Claus. Officially the dispenser of Christmas cheer for little folks is a myth,” the days wrote in 1906. “The Christmas season has no charm for your prosaic employees from the Dead Letter Office. It indicates only a great deal of extra work and bother to them.” This article went on to deplore the unsympathetic post office and “red-tape-bound officialdom” with regard to their absence of imagination to find a way to honor the children’s requests.
The next year, the Postmaster General allowed his employees to distribute the letters, but the charitable people and organizations to whom these folks were given found themselves confronted with 98dexnpky task of deciding regardless of if the children were really needing their assistance. The resulting complaints meant the Postmaster General failed to renew the allowance the next year.
His successor wrote an order in 1911 that letters “addressed plainly and unmistakably to ‘Santa Claus’” may be transported to “responsible institutions or individuals” to use for “philanthropic purposes.” This period permission was renewed as well as in 1913 made permanent. Tonight Show host Johnny Carson read out letters from needy children during December shows from the 1960s, assisting to popularize the program. In 1989, Santa got his own ZIP Code.