New security rules have proven too complex for Alaska’s post offices to bear, so they’re ending their participation in Operation Santa, the 50-year-old program where letters addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole” are answered by volunteers. The program will continue elsewhere, reports the Associated Press, but when I called the USPS to find out where letters should be addressed I was told parents should contact their local post offices for information.
The United States Postal Service has been running the current version of Operation Santa since the 1940s, when the public was invited to help out by adopting and responding to individual letters. In 1954, the Alaskan town of North Pole got in on the scam in a big way by becoming the official destination for any letters that were addressed to “Santa, North Pole.”
But then our modern legal system gummed up the works, when someone discovered a registered sex offender volunteering for the program in Maryland in 2008. (I can’t find any mention of what offense led to his registration, which seems like info you would need before determining whether he posed a threat. It’s a lot easier to say “Omg sex offender coming after your children!” though.) In a panic, the USPS closed the entire program for a few days while they addressed security issues.
Now they’ve addressed it: the last names and addresses of kids who write in are encrypted, and it’s up to each participating post office to decide whether or not they can handle the new complexity. Alaska can’t.
Anchorage-based agency spokeswoman Pamela Moody said dealing with the tighter restrictions is not feasible in Alaska.
“It’s always been a good program, but we’re in different times and concerned for the privacy of the information,” she said.
If that news didn’t shatter your holiday illusions about the postal service, here’s one more thing: Anchorage is now handling all the North Pole postal cancellation marks. To be fair, North Pole was never equipped to handle the thousands of requests each year, so Fairbanks did it until this year. Fairbanks, however, is only about 10 miles northeast of North Pole, while Anchorage is about 260 miles south.
“Popular Santa letter program ends in Alaska” [Associated Press]
“Postal Service Tells Gift-Givers Not to Help Santa” [New York Times]