The claim: Children can write letters to Santa, strangers will buy and mail gifts
While Thanksgiving isn't here yet and some are still figuring out menus and safety measures during the second holiday season of the pandemic, others are already thinking of Christmas and planning ahead for presents.
But some Americans may not be able to afford gifts this year, as was the case in 2020 when nearly one in three reported skipping gift-giving due to COVID-19.
A long-standing tradition from the Postal Service, however, may be of help to those struggling financially. And social media users are already spreading the word.
A Facebook post shared Nov. 20 says children can get gifts directly from Santa Claus.
"If your child writes a letter out to Santa and mails it to this address below USPS posts it to the website and someone anonymously will adopt your letter and buy the things or close to it and it will be shipped to your house from 'Santa'!," reads the caption of the post, which is accompanied by a screenshot of the Postal Service's 'Operation Santa' website.
It's true. The tradition has been in place for over 100 years, and not even a pandemic can stop it.
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USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user for comment.
USPS 'Operation Santa' explained
While kids today can expect to receive gifts, the tradition didn't start like that.
It all began in 1912 when Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized employees and citizens to respond to letters addressed to Santa Claus, according to the Postal Service.
It wasn't until the 1940s – when the high volume of letters received pushed what was then the Post Office Department to invite charitable organizations and corporations to participate – that the first gifts were sent along with written responses.
With the growth of technology, the program became all-digital in 2020, allowing anyone in the country to participate and spread holiday cheer regardless of their location.
This year, the Postal Service started accepting letters Nov. 1. Letters must be postmarked by Dec. 10 and addressed to Santa's North Pole address, located at 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888. The address is needed so the letters are properly routed by the mail sorting machines.
The process to participate is simple: Write a letter with legible handwriting, put it in an envelope with a First-Class Mail Forever stamp, include a full return address and mail it to Santa's address.
The Postal Service recommends being very detailed and specific in the letter, adding clothing and shoe size, favorite colors and specific gift ideas for a better chance at receiving that if the letter is adopted.
Letters that meet those criteria will be posted on the official USPS "Operation Santa" website starting on Nov. 29 for registered users to read through and choose which ones to adopt.
Anyone wanting to adopt a letter must register and verify their identity before being able to access the letters uploaded to the website. If potential adopters are unable to verify their identity online, they can go to any of the 19,000 Post Office locations across the country offering the Label Broker service to get verified in person, according to a press release.
All packaged gifts must be dropped off at the post office by Dec. 18 to ensure they are delivered by Dec. 25.
Our rating: True
Based on our research, we rate TRUE the claim that children can write a letter to Santa and strangers will buy and mail gifts. It refers to the Postal Service's "Operation Santa" program, during which people can adopt a "Dear Santa" letter uploaded to the agency's website and buy Christmas gifts.
Our fact-check sources:
24/7 Wall Street, Nov. 17, Prepping to host Thanksgiving dinner? Here are 20 ways you can get ready right now
Miami Herald, Nov. 24, 2020, Millions of Americans can't afford to buy holiday gifts because of COVID-19, they say
USPS, accessed Nov. 23, About USPS Operation Santa, History of the program
USA TODAY, Nov. 16, 2020, Christmas during COVID-19: USPS launches Operation Santa with new digital letter adoption
USPS Operation Santa, accessed Nov. 23, How to write a letter
USA TODAY, Nov. 18, 2019, Where does Santa Claus live? Postal Service releases his exact address. Yes, it's at the North Pole
USPS Operation Santa, accessed Nov. 23, Read Letters
USPS Operation Santa, accessed Nov. 23, USPS Operation Santa sign up
USPS via PR Newswire, Nov. 15, USPS Operation Santa Registration Opens Today
USPS, accessed Nov. 23, Find USPS Locations
USPS Operation Santa, accessed Nov. 23, General FAQs: What are key dates to know for the 2021 program?
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Kids can send letters to Santa, receive gifts through USPS