For many years children writing to Santa were disappointed when he appeared to return their letters without a word. Until 1963, letters addressed to him care of a fictional address were returned to sender because of the legal requirement to treat them as undeliverable. But in 1963, Royal Mail’s scheme to reply to letters sent to Santa began. Mail addressed to Father Christmas c/o Snowland, Toyland, Reindeerland or any other fictional address would be dealt with separately. The Post Office would send a card from Father Christmas inside an envelope with a ‘Reindeerland Postage Paid’ cancellation stamp.
Not all letters to Santa would be dealt with by the Post Office. There were already some commercial and charitable organisations providing this service, and the Postmaster General did not want to divert mail away from them. So letters marked ‘Father Christmas, c/o Gamages’ for example, would still be delivered to that address. Similarly, the Post Office was obliged under international regulations to continue to forward the 80,000 letters address to Santa in other countries, most commonly Greenland and Denmark, to be dealt with by their respective postal services.
Other countries had different schemes in place, and the Post Office considered the advantages and disadvantages of their methods before adopting one. In Denmark, for example, the postal service asked children to enclose a postal order for one kroner, in return for which children received a gift and profits were donated to charity. However, this idea was considered too controversial and legally complex, and in the end the Post Office opted for the free and simpler scheme similar to the one already in place in France.
At the start of the scheme it was difficult to predict how many letters would actually need answering. Only those letters with return addresses could be responded to of course, which was about a quarter of the total sent. At Post Office Headquarters in 1963 five clerical assistants carried out the work of opening, sorting and addressing the envelopes. That year 8000 cards were sent.
The scheme was very well received by the press, and the Postmaster General Reginald Bevins was labelled Santa ‘Bevins’. Since then, Santa has continued to work hard sending out cards each year, and he even has his own postcode: SAN TA1! This year, children hoping to receive a response from Father Christmas have until 15 December to post their letters to him.