Letters to Santa: Why charity groups fought to have kid’s letters end up in the dead letter office.: "A century ago, charities fought to have children’s wish lists sent to the dead letter office. They lost. By Alex Palmer"
What could be more innocent than a letter to Santa? A child jotting down her heart’s desires in pencil or crayon and dropping it in the mailbox, naively hoping the wish will be granted by Christmas morning: It’s a tradition that goes back at least to the mid-1800s, and it is a reminder of the holiday’s more idyllic past.
These days, such letters are viewed as an opportunity to help the less fortunate. In many cities across the U.S., the Postal Service mak
es available Santa letters to groups or individuals who want to fulfill the wishes enclosed within. It’s a small gesture, multiplied hundreds of thousands of times a year, that brings joy to both the giver and the recipient. What harm could come from that?
Oh, just teaching kids to beg, cheat, and lie—at least, that was the conventional wisdom of charity groups in the early 1900s. As such, the Post Office Department, now known as the U.S. Postal Service, found itself in the middle of a wild confrontation between a press and public that never failed to find delight in a note opening with “Dear Santy,” and groups that claimed Santa letters were the product of con artists in training.
“The Post Office Department does not believe in Santa Claus,” lamented the New York Times in a 1906 article about the government policy that undeliverable mail—including letters addressed to a certain chubby, sleigh-riding fellow—be sent to the dead letter office and destroyed. ...
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