Postal Museum - Letters to Santa Exhibition
In Britain, the earliest known letter to Santa was sent in 1895, according to an article in the Grantham Journal.
By the early 1900s, thousands of letters to Santa were sent annually, overwhelming staff at the Returned Letter Office. Eventually, instead of returning letters to sender, the Post Office decided to help Father Christmas and deliver his replies to children across Britain.
The first reply was sent in December 1963 with over 7,500 cards posted that year.
To this day, every year Royal Mail delivers thousands of replies to children across Great Britain who address their letters to Santa.
And now, for the first time, visitors to the Postal Museum in London have access to highlights from a recently donated collection of over six hundred items which previously belonged to private collector Harry Hawkes, and gain an insight into the rich history of childhood wishes.
I was lucky to speak to Eliska Bejrova, guest curator of the exhibit, and ask a little more about the exhibition and why it evokes such magic for children.
How did Harry Hawkes come to collect these letters? Was he a former Post Office employee?
Harry Hawkes was formerly a journalist at the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail, and Sunday Mercury newspapers. He built his collection of more than six hundred items over six decades - he was an avid collector of lots of different things, including Santa mail.
Is there a special Christmas department set up each year at the Royal Mail? How early do they start receiving letters?
We have a fabulous black and white image in our Archive which shows Royal Mail's Christmas Control Room in 1983. Staff there worked seven days a week to cope with an avalanche of 1,000 million cards, letters and parcels over the festive period. Up-to-the-minute reports came into the Control Room at Post Office Headquarters in London three times a day from all over the country. Should disaster strike - a snow blizzard, rail accident, flooding - the Control Room could direct mail to other routes and methods of transport, making full use of the Royal Mail's unique air, road and rail network.
Is each reply from Santa handwritten or typed now? How many 'Santas' are employed each year?
The replies have been standard non personalised, and typescript from the outset. The font used (I’m assuming it’s the same today) is cursive, giving an impression of handwriting.
Were there any unusual years where Santa received many more / fewer letters than other years?
We only have records from the first year in 1963 when over 7,500 replies were sent. The Santa mail service grew in popularity over time, but we don’t have the exact numbers available to compare.
Do you have a favourite letter from the collection, or a favourite reply from Santa?
My favourite card from Santa on display is one from 1991 sent by Jersey Post. On the front is an illustration of Father Christmas sitting at a screen with a computerised reindeer in front of him. Three real reindeer are hiding behind them looking rather worried their job will be overtaken by this robot. It feels so relevant today for us humans.
Any other nice anecdotes you can share about it?
One fun fact about collector Harry Hawkes is that when his children were older, he continued to write letters to Santa under his children's names. He used his left hand to make the letters appear as though they had been written by a child.
The exhibition is on until 2 January 2022 at the Postal Museum in London. Their opening hours are:
Wednesday to Friday 10:30 - 17:00
Weekends 10:00 - 17:00
Closed 24 - 28 December
For more information and up to date opening hours visit www.postalmuseum.org