In today's digital world, letter writing is somewhat of a lost art. But during the holiday season, millions of children take out their pencils and paper and address letters to a jolly old man named Santa Claus.
Many of the letters are simply addressed to: Santa Claus, North Pole. But even with that limited information, the U.S. Post Office manages to deliver these letters to the North Pole -- North Pole, N.Y., and North Pole, Alaska, that is, where hundreds of volunteers are waiting to make sure Santa delivers.
In 1953, the USPS designated the post office in North Pole, N.Y., zip code 12946, as one of its official substations. Every holiday season, bags and bags filled with "Dear Santa" letters pour in.
Doug Waterbury, owner of Santa's Workshop, the theme park that houses the North Pole's post office, said his staff is helped by some extra-special elves during the busy season. Local senior citizens and members of charities like Operation Santa open and read each letter.
"It's really important that we try to read and respond to as many of them as we can," said Waterbury.
The small post office in North Pole, Alaska, is another location where the USPS sends thousands of Santa letters each year. Like its sister city on the east coast, North Pole, Alaska, has many local residents who pitch in during the holiday season.
They pitch in to answer questions like: "What list am I on, the naughty or nice list?" and, from a little girl named Ashley, "How many cookies do you think you can eat on Christmas night?"
While many kids write to Santa asking for toys on their list, some ask the big man for something simpler.
"I want a big bear hug," wrote Taylor. "I wish I could see you but I am always sleeping."
Others just want to reaffirm their belief in the legendary man. As one letter opened by an elf at the North Pole post office read: "Every year more and more people stop believing and even though I am 11 so people laugh at me. I still believe you. I was wondering since people are not believing if you could send me a picture of you and your elves. That will prove to all nonbelievers you are true."
So how do letters like these and millions of others addressed simply "Santa" get there?
The USPS isn't revealing any secrets. A statement on its Web site regarding letters to Santa simply says, "The USPS will see that the letter is received at the proper place."
If you would like to send a letter to Santa, the USPS and workers at the North Pole post offices in New York and Alaska have some advice:
Always include a return address so Santa can write back to you with a North Pole postmark.
Mail the letter in a larger envelope and include a self-addressed envelope to speed up the return process.
Mail the letters to:
North Pole Christmas Cancellation
5400 Mail Trail
Fairbanks AK 99707-9999
Last-minute letters can be sent to Santa on the Web: www.emailsanta.com
Additional reporting by The Associated Press