Tag Archives: Letters to Santa

Dear Santa: The History of Writing to Father Christmas

In this post, Archives Assistant Ashley March gives us a preview of his talk next Tuesday (1 December) at 7pm. Ashley has been delving through the BPMA’s files to explore how, with the Post Office’s help, Santa started writing back to children across the UK.

My adult interest in writing to Father Christmas started – as the best stories do – with an unexpected question. A couple had come to use our Search Room, and as one of them pored over pages and pages of pension records, looking for a trace of his great grandfather (or some other long-distant relative), the other shyly approached the desk and asked me, with a glint in her eye, ‘Do you know what happens to the letters to Santa?’

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Christmas card from Santa, 1994

I can’t say the question had occurred to me before, and it was April at the time, so hardly festive. After only a little digging, however, we found a folder of research that others had done on the topic, packed with intriguing documents. A surprise to me – the first ‘letter from Santa’ the Post Office sent wasn’t safe and traditional in design, but rather bold and stylish:

Letter from Santa card cover 1963

Letter from Santa card cover 1963

Letter from Santa 1963

Letter from Santa 1963

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A press release dated 21st December 1963 explained that for the first time, ‘children who had sent letters to Father Christmas in Snowland, Reindeerland, Toyland, etc., and who had put their addresses on their letters, would receive a message from Father Christmas.’ Around 7,500 of the cards pictured were sent, with a special postmark:

Reindeerland postmark 1963

Reindeerland postmark 1963

It turns out we have quite a few files dedicated to Santa mail, back then and since. Looking through the titles, my head filled with questions: Why start sending Santa’s replies at that time? Why the Post Office? And who decided what Santa could send? We take it for granted today that Father Christmas writes back to any of us (if, all importantly, we supply a return address), but we should remember that it might not have turned out this way.

Different ideas had been floated: one manager suggested sending a record featuring Santa’s voice as ‘even more attractive and in keeping with the times than a letter’, and below you can see a charmingly rustic mock-up of a colouring book that Santa might have sent if writers had been asked to pay for his reply:

Proposed Santa colouring book

Proposed Santa colouring book

It might have been made in a hurry!

It was possibly made in a hurry!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rummaging around in our repository, I’ve unearthed a great selection of stories like this to share, so please join me if you can. Did I mention that there will be mulled wine?

-Ashley March, Archives Assistant

Join Ashley next Tuesday 1 December at 7pm. Book your tickets today online or ring + 44 (0)20 7239 2570 to reserve your place!

Letters to Santa

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.

Letter to Santa Claus, 1963

Letter to Santa Claus, 1963

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.

Reply from Santa Claus which appeared in a specially designed greetings card, 1963

Reply from Santa Claus which appeared in a specially designed greetings card, 1963

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.

Thank you letter to Santa Claus

Thank you letter to Santa Claus

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.

Specially designed reply card from Santa, 1964

Specially designed reply card from Santa, 1964

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.

Sources: POST 122/6325POST 122/6339, Royal Mail Archive