The Grinch might have wanted to steal Christmas, but it was a registered sex offender who accomplished the mission, at least when it comes to the public helping out Santa Claus by answering his mail.
The century-old tradition of allowing the public to answer letters to Santa was canceled by the United States Postal Service (USPS) after it was discovered that a volunteer worker in Maryland is a registered sex offender.
The discovery made last year by a postal worker prevented the volunteer from answer a child’s letter, and playing it safe, the USPS stamped out volunteerism for Santa letter writers.
In Los Angeles Richard Maher, spokesman for the Postal Service in Southern California, said:
“No Dear Santa letters will be made available to the public in the Los Angeles area this year, and that includes businesses, church groups and community organizations.
Unfortunately, we live in an age where we just can't be too careful — especially in regard to children. First and foremost, our goal is to protect the safety and privacy of the children and their families.”
The tradition is believed to have been initiated by then Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock in 1912, when he gave the okay to local postmasters to all USPS employees and the public to answer the letters to Santa from children.
In 2006 regulations concerning Operation Santa began to be tightened with would-be responders presenting identification and filing forms. Eventually the rules tightened even more, including redaction of all the child’s personal information, such as addresses, phone numbers and email addresses before volunteers can read them. It is now so labor-intensive that many post offices, including those in Los Angeles, have had to abort the program.
Letters to Santa have already begun arriving. In the Los Angeles area alone, nearly 30,000 are received each year.
Hardest hit by the decision are the citizens of North Pole, Alaska, which has been receiving letters addressed to the North Pole since 1954.
"It's Grinch-like that the Postal Service never informed all the little elves before the fact," North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson told the Associated Press. "They've been working on this for how long?"
Isaacson said caution to protect children is necessary, but was incensed that a sex offender’s actions on the East Coast should affect North Pole’s program. He thinks it’s outrageous that his town was not notified earlier of the decision and they were hit with it at the last minute.
It isn’t a total loss.
Parents can answer their children's letters to Santa, which will be sent to them with a North Pole postmark. The parent’s letter should be put in a envelope, addressed to their child with a return address marked from “Santa, North Pole” and be stamped with the correct postage.
That envelope should be put in a larger envelope and sent to:
North Pole Holiday Postmark
4141 Postmark Drive
Anchorage, AK, 99530-9998
Letters must be received in Anchorage before Dec. 15, 2009.