Letters from kids: ‘Dear Santa, for Christmas this year I want a ...’

Operation Santa reveals what Georgia children are asking for, and tries to make those wishes come true
These letters from the US Postal Service's Operation Santa website reveal what many children across Georgia with for Christmas from Santa Claus. (USPS)

Credit: USPS

Credit: USPS

These letters from the US Postal Service's Operation Santa website reveal what many children across Georgia with for Christmas from Santa Claus. (USPS)

The helpful template from the U.S. Postal Service prompts “Dear Santa.”

After which, June, the letter writer identified as ID#1209351 from Georgia, neatly adds in cursive, “for Christmas this year I want a pig thankyou.”

That’s where it ends. One phrase smushed together and a dollop of mystery left behind.

A pig? A fluffy, stuffed one? A real, live pet pig? (Certainly not one intended to be food. Right?)

For well over a century, children — and a few adults — have been writing letters to Santa at this time of year to share their deepest desires. Some appeals are heartwarming. Some heartbreaking. A good number are cute.

And some are kind of, um ... expansive. This year, a letter writer from Georgia, who didn’t share their age, requested a Sony PlayStation 5, a Nintendo Switch, an Apple iPad, phone and MacBook, an Xbox, goalie gloves and Nike shoes. Price tag: Well north of $3,000.

Puppies, electronics, Barbies and action figures also are popular on the Santa letter circuit in 2023.

Compare that to what kids were asking for 100 years ago. Many letters to Santa published in the Atlanta Journal in 1923 included requests for nuts, candy, apples, oranges and raisins. Other writers wished for wagons, dolls, fireworks, bicycles, electric trains, skates, raincoats, dress-up costumes, warm clothes and books.

Still, the range of sentiment is similar. And some thrift is found within the bounty of letters submitted this season to the USPS’s Operation Santa. The national program pairs letter writers with volunteer “adopters” willing to fulfill wish requests or at least respond with a personal note (just in case Santa could use some help).

There are requests for underwear and socks. Baby clothes (asked for by parents). Sheets for twin beds. “A black sweater because it is starting to get cold.” Or “a kinetic sand set like my therapist has.”

A mother from Georgia wrote on behalf of her 10-year-old child who is blind and non-verbal, asking for “a girlie” backpack designed to fit on a wheelchair. She wrote about how Kyleigh likes music and sitting outdoors. She requested fuzzy grippy socks for her and things that light up in color, because she loves that and ”she can see colors.”

Letters, then and now

Writing letters to Santa grew more widespread in the 1800s, pumped up in part by a Thomas Nast drawing in Harper’s Weekly magazine in 1871, showing Santa going through letters. Early on, the postal service turned down letters to Santa, returning them to senders. But rogue postal workers began answering some. And by the early 1900s, the post office changed its official stance, allowing volunteers to adopt letters.

In more recent years USPS installed a system to redact most identifying information in the letters and put images of the not-yet-adopted correspondences online. As of 2020, the only place to adopt letters to Santa from the Postal Service is at USPSOperationSanta.com.

There are rules. The letters must have a first-class stamp, be addressed to Santa, 123 Elf Road, North Pole 88888, and be legible, with a first and last name and correct and complete return address.

Letters to Santa had to be postmarked by Dec. 11 this year to be included in the program. According to USPS, there is no age limit on who can participate: “You’re never too young or old to believe in the magic of the season!”

Volunteers were allowed to adopt at the same online site by Dec. 18, and had to have their identity verified. They drop off gifts or letters to the Postal Service and pay for postage. USPS uses an ID number to get the package to the address of the gift requestor.

There’s no guarantee all letters to Santa will be answered or that wishes will be fully met. This year, by about a week before Christmas, 35,000 letters had been adopted nationwide and nearly 30,000 packages sent. Last year more than 100,000 Santa letters were sent in to the program, but most weren’t adopted.

USPS isn’t the only organization working with Santa letters. A number of local governments, shopping centers, nonprofits and others have Santa letter programs, though many don’t provide gifts in response. Clark’s Christmas Kids, spearheaded by consumer advocate Clark Howard for 33 years, raises money annually to buy gifts for thousands of Georgia children in the foster care system.

Lawyers in training?

Fulfilling some wishes sent through the Postal Service’s program has its challenges. Deciphering the writing can be tough. Spelling is iffy. And then there are requests, like this one that Deacon in Georgia included as an addendum to his list this year: “I would love it to snow 5 feet high please.”

Cary from Georgia conveyed to Santa exactly why he wants a puppy for Christmas: “because I really want it. And I’ve been good all year. Also I already have a dog so I could be good at taking care of it. That is why I really want a puppy for Christmas.” (We cleaned up the spelling on some of these.)

A 16-year-old from Georgia made this appeal: “I have 2 humble requests — an iPad and a Visa gift card. The iPad would be more than just a gift. It would be a window to the world, a tool to enhance my learning, and a canvas to unleash my creativity. It would allow me to explore, learn, and grow in ways I’ve only dreamed of. The Visa gift card, on the other hand, would be a lesson in disguise. It would teach me the value of money, the importance of budgeting, and the joy of making independent choices.”

A future lawyer? Marketing exec? Politician?

Some writers indicate they have special needs. Others seem to be adults in difficult financial straits. A Georgian, who said he is a 47-year-old dad of eight and works for a city public works department, wrote “I just want whatever my family needs. But extra stuff helps always so jeans 40x32 and maybe a $250 auto parts store gift card to get my old Honda Odyssey oil leaker gaskets fixed.”

Occasionally, children remember other people on their list. Eleven-year-old Dahlia of Georgia wrote “Santa, it has been a hard year for our family. My sister and I lost our dad after he was hit by a car and two months later we lost our 4 year old cousin to cancer. My biggest wish is to bring them back. I know that is not possible but I wish it was. I hope you get my letter.” Dahlia also asked for a fluffy blanket, candles, a case for an older iPhone, makeup, and clothes, AirPods and a bike, among other things.

Max from New Jersey asked for electronics for gaming and — in handwriting that might have been that of a helpful adult — added “please keep my dad safe while he’s deployed.”

Emmanuel from Virginia was willing to acknowledge “I know I wasn’t very helpful this year with my mom, but I been taking some extra classes to improve my scores in the school (hope that counts as good action).” Emmanuel then bulleted his 15 requests. Beyond several action figures that retail for $80 each, he included this thorough section:

⋅ bird

⋅ bird cage

⋅ bird food

⋅ water

Other writers might have been racing on deadline.

Greyson from Alabama asked, without pausing for punctuation, “can I please have dumbbells like my dad one is 5 pounds and the other is 5 pounds I will start lifting weights and also one last thing can I get a new iPad cause the one now doesn’t have a balancer to make it stand up. Greyson LOVE!! SANTA!!!”