Letters to Santa – A journalistic tradition

Published 3:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2023

An Editorial Opinion of The Greenville Advocate

The tradition of exchanging letters with Santa is an American tradition dating back more than 150 years. Going back to the 19th century, the heartfelt notes provide a lens into the lives of children, past and present, and some of the earliest efforts to popularize the idea took hold among journalists who promoted the idea in newspapers and magazines.

During the Civil War, American postal workers began hand-delivering mail to urban centers and citizens began to view mail as a pleasant surprise. The Chicago Tribune captured the sentiment, commenting that the addition of delivery men had changed the city’s understanding of postage.

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As the cost of postage dropped in the mid-1860s, parents were better able to pay for stamps and children began to see the postman as a connection to Santa Claus.

Thomas Nast, a journalist writing and drawing art for Harper’s Weekly magazine in 1871, depicted Santa sorting letters from the parents of good and naughty children, helping to spread the idea of sending mail to St. Nick. Nast is also credited with popularizing the idea that Santa lives and works at the North Pole, providing a destination for children’s letters.

Nationwide, newspapers began reporting the arrival of Santa letters at local post offices. Many published the children’s hand-written letters, and some offered prizes for the “best” letters.

In those days, children often requested practical gifts, such as writing desks, prayer books, or something for “papa.” In later years, children asked for more fun items – candy, a doll, a baseball bat.

Letters began to pile up at the Post Office Department, later called the United States Postal Service. After public outcry and complaints from the press, the department changed its policy in 1913 and allowed local charity groups to answer the letters.

The Greenville Advocate is proud to carry on the tradition of publishing Letters to Santa. In previous years, elementary school teachers were asked to help students create letters which were then published in a December issue of the newspaper.

The Advocate will publish Letters to Santa again this year, with a twist we hope will make the effort easier than ever before.

Parents of students in Pre-K through first grade can help children complete a simple form on our website at www.greenvilleadvocate.com/contest. All children in the Butler County community are encouraged to participate by submitting an entry by Dec. 11.

Submissions must be completed online and can be entered from a computer or mobile device. All submissions received by Dec. 11 will be published in the Dec. 20 issue of The Greenville Advocate.