Santa Claus – in about five weeks – is coming to town.
And for the first time ever, we know exactly where he will be coming from.
The U.S. Postal Service has a scoop on the fluffy, scruffy mystery man who shimmies down chimneys in a red coat once a year: his street address, including his ZIP code.
For decades, kids have sent their Christmas dispatches to the vague “Santa, North Pole.” Operation Santa, the USPS program launching Monday that fulfills wish lists for needy little ones, decided that texting tykes might get their tinsel in a tangle when it comes to taking pencil to paper.
In an effort to make kids better scribes, the Postal Service created letter writing kits that include templates (from a “holly” letter to a “ho, ho, ho” letter), letter tips (tell Santa your size) and a primer on envelope technique.
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And how do you execute the perfect signed/sealed/delivered? With the correct postal address: 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888.
An official address means a quicker beeline to St. Nick, said Kim Frum, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service. “Sharing Santa’s official mailing address will allow letters to reach the North Pole faster than in years past because with an actual street number and ZIP code, our machines can sort them – unlike being sorted by hand, which is how letters simply labeled Santa, North Pole, are handled,” she said.
The Postal Service hopes more young ones can soon be letter perfect. “The other benefit for kids is that it can also generate excitement about writing letters and sending mail,” she said. “They can take the Santa letter writing skills and apply it to writing letters to Grandma and Grandpa or other family members.”
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Beyond sharpening old-school strengths, Operation Santa, in its 107th year, has a foothold on the future. USPS is pushing forward in 2019 with a digital program to let people browse and adopt Santa letters online.
After a successful test in New York and an expansion last year, there are 15 cities – from Sacramento, California, to Boston to San Juan, Puerto Rico – where you can don your digital elf hat to adopt a letter through Dec. 20.
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“The letters we receive from the 15 participating cities are the ones which will populate the USPS Operation Santa website. So it’s important that people in those cities and surrounding areas send their letters as soon as possible,” Frum said.
The Postal Service maintains a legacy program in New York and Chicago where letters can be adopted in person from Dec. 2 through 22. Those who adopt digitally must still go to the designated post office to ship the gifts, Frum said. Strict privacy guidelines are always in place
Operation Santa has a magical history.
The first Santa missives surfaced more than 100 years ago. In 1912, Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized postmasters to allow postal employees and regular folks to respond to the letters. By the 1940s, Santa mail had hit blizzard status, and USPS invited charities and businesses to join postal workers in providing written answers and small gifts.
Now, everyone from schools to community groups to corporations helps USPS play Santa’s helpers.
Though most letters are from children, adults sometimes offer pleas that can melt hearts, Frum said.
“Last year, the Camp Fire in California devastated so many communities,” she said. “There were adults who lost everything, but all they wanted was to replace their kids’/grandkids’ books, clothes or favorite stuffed animal, which were destroyed in the fire.”
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But the most powerful and poignant prose comes from the smallest of voices.
”I don’t want anything for Christmas but my mom to be happy,” wrote Riley last year.
Deana asked for a laptop, a German shepherd puppy “and for my mom to find love.”
Lily, who likes baking, fashion, dancing and “staring at the stars and the moon,” said she had saved $175 of her allowance, but it wasn’t enough to buy her photo-loving mom a camera, a dream gift her mother couldn’t afford because she “pays all the bills alone.”
“If you can’t help me, it’s OK,” she told Santa. “Just smile when you see the moon out. Most likely I’m looking at it and smiling, too.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Operation Santa: How to write a letter to North Pole, with the address