Whether they’ve been naughty or nice, Hinesville children who sent Santa a letter through the mail will get a response from a very special elf.
Tracy Ray, a rural carrier in Hinesville, is the area’s North Pole representative as a participant in Operation Santa.
According to Donna Ricks, a manager with the U.S. Postal Service, children have sent letters to Santa for more than 100 years. In 1912, Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock established rules about accepting and writing responses to letters, and started the program known as Operation Santa.
Since then, many volunteers and USPS employees have deemed themselves Santa’s personal elves, taking on the job of responding to children.
Ray said she’s participated in the program for about five years, and this year she received about 50 letters. When she gets a letter, she reads it, responds, puts it in a colorful holiday envelope, and then puts it right back in the mail.
"We have a few different forms, and we fix them up with stickers," Ray said.
Ray is one of two postal workers in the region that respond to the letters. The other elf is in Augusta.
Ray said she enjoys carrying on the tradition of Santa Claus, and said some of the children’s letters are entertaining. She added that this year, in particular, she’s had some heartbreaking ones, including one letter wishing for the economy to get better.
Since Ray is a volunteer elf and also has another job with the USPS, some letters are sent to Ricks, who works from Macon and fields children’s letters from cities across the state. Ricks has played an elf for 28 years, and said it makes her happy to help the children.
"I love reading the letters from the children," she said. "Some you know that their parents wrote the letter, some appear to be very needy, and some ask for presents for others, which is rather touching. And then there are some that ask for really expensive items — either they are dreaming or their parents give them too much stuff!" Ray said.
"I have a challenging job handling inquiries and complaints all day, but this time of year I get to enjoy reading a few Santa letters and imagining the child’s big smile when their parents tell them, ‘You’ve got mail!’"
Ray said that the program has gained momentum over the years, and many post offices have joined in.
"As a general practice, any post office can respond to the letters," she said. "We are provided sample Santa letters to send to the children."
The tradition of writing and receiving letters from Santa has also become an Internet phenomenon, with hundreds of Web sites available for parents and children.