Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where Do Santa's Letters Go?

Santa's Letters
It was another Christmas in New York City and the holiday lights had been up since Thanksgiving giving the city more sparkle than normal.  The air was crisp and the streets glistened with a fresh coat of rain which reflected the holiday lights creating a magical feeling of excitement. I left my apartment for errands  that day dressed in layers of sweaters  with a mens over coat that was many sizes too big covering them.  I then topped off my unique outfit with a plaid scarf wrapped around my head and neck and tucked into my coat making quite a bulky silhouette. It may not have been high fashion but I was warm. I headed to midtown on the subway getting off at Thirty Fourth Street. I forced my way up the stairs of the subway through crowds of holiday shoppers.  Once in the fresh air I turned and focused on the main post office with its stairs that seemed to never end and its many columns that dwarfed everything around them. The majesty of the building was lost on the many flustered holiday shoppers, and today, of all days, there was a special aura encasing its heavy stonewalls.
New York City's Main Post Office
As I timidly crossed the busy street my enthusiasm grew. I pushed open the heavy post office doors to reveal the flurry behind.  This was a day I looked forward to each year: Operation Santa! I turned and looked down a long lobby to my right; piles of letters knee-high coated the floor. So many piles they filled the end of the large marble lobby. People dressed in warm winter clothes, some still with the winter burn marking their face, attempted to sort the madness.  Despite the insanity, however, every face had one thing in common: smiles from ear to ear. Some of the sorters had eyes edged with tears of happiness and others those of sadness, who had which was hard to tell.
I joined them on the floor scooping a large pile of letters close to me and began to read. I made two careful piles one was maybe and one was no. I read many stories that day. Some full of hope and hardship, some of spoiled children wanting all of the latest toys. The larger piles I drew from  was made up of all the letters  children had stuffed  into  mail boxes across the United States hoping that Santa would receive them and grant them their wish.
This year was a special year I was able to pick two letters, one for me and my husband and one, after explaining operation Santa to her, my mother in law. Her larger income enabled her to support a bigger family than I could.
After reading many letters I found mine. I always knew I had the right letter when I felt the tug of my heartstrings and my warm tears drift down my cheeks. This letter was from an eight year old boy living in the Bronx who was asking for a pair of jeans and a blanket for his mother. I tucked it away and started looking for my next letter.
In this letter I planned on looking for a family in need. I found it more quickly in a large pile that other helpers couldn’t do - not many people could afford to do the larger families. It was a perfect  family for my mother in law: five children only asking for simple pieces of warm clothing. Up I went with my two letters carefully placed deep within the pocket of my men’s overcoat.

Santa's Letters
The next day I delivered the family’s letter to my Mother in Law. Then I set out with my husband to do the shopping. First of course we bought the jeans and the blanket. Next for me was the best part, we bought more clothes and toys and things for his mother, as many presents as we could afford on our tight budget. We then went home with our bounty and wrapped each item with bright Christmas papers and ribbons.
With all the items wrapped I then placed each one carefully in a clean brown box. After writing a happy message on a brightly colored piece of paper, only Santa would have, I taped up the box. Being an Artist I couldn’t stop there so I decorated the box with drawings of Santa and his reindeers, presents and Christmas trees.
Despite the lines snaking out the door this trip to the post office was always fun, redeemed by the fact that I had my Santa package. My package started the whole line talking about everything: the drawings on the box, the letter written by a small sweet boy in need, and Operation Santa. When I’d finally reached the counter an excited shout would go out from the teller to all the other tellers.
“Look it’s a Santa package!”
Everyone would cheer with excitement and I’d feel so thrilled and proud which seemed almost unfair that I was getting so much joy and glory out of doing something for someone who really deserved much more.
You never hear about the package delivery or about their reaction, which is probably what gives the whole process such a great feeling of giving.
So, that’s my Operation Santa story, but I have to say it was totally trumped by my Mother in Law; if you knew her you would not even question this statement.

Santa's Letters
Her story starts quite differently. It starts with a call to her personal shopper at Neiman Marcus. Then, the letter was picked up by her personal shopper who proceeded to put together all the desired items with one addition. The shopper was instructed to include a complete Christmas dinner.
My Mother in Laws packages were not delivered by the mail as mine was, but by the Neiman Marcus delivery truck. The problem with this was that her letter, like mine, was sent from the Bronx, and in the 1980’s the Bronx was no place for any delivery truck.
After the delivery was made Neiman Marcus gets a call from another family in the building asking if the women who sent the first package would do the same for them. So the personal shopper calls my mother in law to share the new request.

Neiman Marcus

“Of course,” She says, “give them what they need and a dinner too!” 
This part of the story was conveyed by her personal shopper to us along with much laugher on all our parts.
“So I pack up all the boxes and took them down to the delivery area. Seeing the address on this group of packages.
The driver says ‘no way! I’m not going! I was almost killed! The neighborhood is full of burnt out buildings, the halls had drugged out people in them; and gangs were all over the area.’ He felt he had barely escaped with his life.”
Which all of us could believe driving a delivery truck from Neiman Marcus into the Bronx
Well my Mother in Law was a good customer at Neiman Marcus so not delivering her order was not an option. With some negotiation and getting management involved the driver agreed to go back only with a police escort.
So, in the end, with the help of the USPS, Neiman Marcus, and the police, all packages made it to their destinations. When we sat down later that week to celebrate our Christmas dinner we all knew three families that were having at least one day that was a little better than the rest.
This story is from when I lived in New York City during the mid-1980s. I did some research and Santa operation has changed to Santa Letters. They have some rules now like you don’t get the child’s address (which I think the Neiman Marcus delivery driver would agree is probably wise.) 

Here’s the Link to the post offices that participate in the Santa’s Letters Program

Merry Christmas everyone!


  1. That's a great story. When I taught school I would sometimes put together a basket for a family from my classroom that was in need. We also put together school baskets through the PTA. This year we donated to an organization in our home town that is putting together family baskets. It's a better feeling than getting lots of things you don't really need at home. - Margy


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