WALLA WALLA -- It is a holiday tradition, which for some families is as time-honored as decorating the Christmas tree, singing carols, or building a snowman. Many children in Walla Walla wrote letters to a certain gift-distributing arctic resident this December, but unlike in years past a lot of those children will receive responses from Santa Claus himself.
The Walla Walla post office receives a significant amount of letters to Santa each Christmas and this year, through cooperation with the Spokane office and regional headquarters in Seattle, many pieces of mail will be replied to, usually with some indication of being sent from the North Pole.
Ernie Swanson, a specialist in the corporate communication department of the Seattle U.S. Postal Service district, described the program as a conduit between the children and Santa Claus and explained how greater participation from local post offices this year will guarantee privacy for the children and lead to a greater quantity of responses from Santa.
Referring to the previous way of answering the letters, Swanson said, "There was never any guarantee, a lot of times when a kid sent a letter off, they didn't necessarily expect a response."
"We used to set the letters aside and give them to local volunteers and businesses," Swanson continued. "But now, however, the local post office participates a lot more and with stricter privacy guidelines."
For Tyler Robinson, the officer in charge at the Walla Walla post office, handling Santa's mail is a special responsibility he does not take lightly and he emphasized how hard postal employees work to deliver the spirit of Christmas.
"We do everything we can to make sure Santa gets back to them," he said. Robinson went on to explain how the letters to Santa tradition also serves a practical purpose in an era where children communicate primarily online and rarely send a handwritten letter.
"It gives them a chance to mail and receive letters for the first time," Robinson said. "To give them their first experience of the Postal Service."
"It's a great thing for the kids," he continued. "For them to grow up and have some faith in the Postal Service -- maybe even help them believe that Santa still exists."