Every Christmas, children around the world write letters to Santa Claus. While the missives never make it to the North Pole, they do reach Santa Claus.
Santa Claus, Indiana, that is.
Volunteer elves at work
The tiny town may be 6,000 kilometers south of the North Pole, but the residents are some of Santa’s best helpers. That’s because every year, these volunteer elves get nearly 25,000 letters intended for Old Saint Nick. The U.S. Postal Service ensures they arrive no matter how they’re addressed.
Ed Reinhart, who serves as Chief Mail Elf, reports, “They come in the mail and that’s all they have on them - Santa or Santa, North Pole. Some of them say ‘the guy in the big red suit’.” Other times, letters from small children arrive without a stamp or just a sticker in the corner.
Head Elf Pat Koch says the volunteers answer every one of them, and have been doing so for more than a century. "From the earliest we know is that the postmaster started answering letters in 1914 that children wrote."
By 1930, the postmaster was overwhelmed. When Pat’s father heard, he organized local veterans, the American Legion, area clergy and the high school typing classes into the first volunteer letter-writing elves. Pat started helping a decade later.
These days, the elves send out one of four form letters that bear positive messages about sharing, being good, and helping others. “We never promise anything, and we never admonish anything. We just encourage,” Pat says, adding that each letter is individualized. “So they have their name on the letter and there’s something personal."
Even elves need a return address
While they try to answer every letter, the elves are saddened when no return address is included. Their research team tries to track the letters by post marked zip code, but sometimes that’s not enough. So they encourage parents to always check for return addresses before letters are mailed. To get a reply from Santa by Christmas, letters must arrive by December 21. The elves will respond after that, but it may be several days late.
The full address is:
Santa Claus Museum
P.O. Box 1
Santa Claus, IN 47579
Letters to Santa arrive year round, but the bulk of them come in November and December. Ed Rinehart believes there isn’t a country that hasn't been heard from.
This year, Hatchimals (electronic toys that come in plastic eggs), iPhones, puppies, and ponies are all big requests from children. But there are plenty of requests from adults too. Young people from China ask to do well on exams or get into university. "We’ve had some adults that have asked for a diamond ring or a husband,” Rinehart reports with a laugh. “We’ve had adults that ask for healing."
On an average day, he takes a thousand letters to the post office, where he stamps them with a Santa Claus stamp, specially designed each year by a local high school student.
The elves of Santa Claus never dreamed their good deeds would get so much attention. Despite suggestions that people pay for the letters from Santa, they hold firm in their commitment to continue the service for free. As Pat Koch says, "Everything that happens, happens because there are good people who care about the real Christmas spirit and the real meaning of Christmas."