Nowadays Santa Claus can be found in shopping malls and department stores and holiday parades - not to mention post offices and other places that have programs to respond to kids' letters to him. But here's a story about the real Santa Claus, a man from Missouri in the first half of the 20th century, who found himself needing to respond to thousands of kids' letters every year.
In the U.K., Royal Mail is asking for permission to stop delivering letters on Saturdays; a similar focus on restricting mail to weekdays has been debated in other countries. It occurs to us that, although it might not be the favorite pattern for mail carriers, if there absolutely has to be another day without mail, perhaps Wednesday or Thursday would be better - that way there wouldn't be a 3-day period between chances of getting a letter!
GoComics' retrospective of the Peanuts comic strip has been focusing on Charlie Brown writing letters to Santa for the last several days (except for yesterday, which was originally published on Beethoven's birthday...).
Concerned that Santa might not get your children's letters (or yours!) in time to fulfill their wishes? Here's another way to send them, traditional in England.
Remember how interesting it was having pen pals from another country in school? That's still happening, as this article about an exchange program with a Japanese school illustrates.
Although all forms of letter-writing are enjoyed by Lex subscribers, many particularly appreciate getting handwritten letters. So do members of The Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society, headquartered in Dorset, England. (Thanks to Lex #12694 and also a college friend for letting us know about this site.)
The USPS offers a couple of ways to get a letter back from the jolly big elf these days. One is for a child to send him a letter in care of Anchorage, Alaska, which results in getting a reply (written by one of Santa's helpers, in the form of the child's parent). Another is Operation Santa, in which anonymous helpers around the U.S. fulfill the gift wishes children send to Santa.
Ever wonder how the practice of writing letters to Santa got started? Here's a history, beginning with the time when letters came from Santa and tended to the stern rather than the jolly.
Scientists in California weren't hoping to start a correspondence when they dropped a "message in a bottle" into the ocean in 1959 or 1960. But they were hoping to find out more about ocean currents. Some of the bottles were found - and more than 60 years later, another one was found recently. Based on the numbers mentioned in this article there might still be thousands or tens of thousands of bottles out there, although it seems more likely that most of them have succumbed to the ravages of time and ocean by now.
Here's an article about a person whose local correspondence started quite to her surprise.
And here's one about someone who's been writing to a cousin for more than 40 years.
Interested in stamps? The National Postal Museum has an online exhibition that features "A Stamp From Every Country," and despite the name there are more stamps from most of the countries, almost a thousand stamps in all, with lots of information on the history of stamps as well.
Lots of articles have been written about the start of mail delivery in Europe, with "postillions" carrying the mail as well as more informal ways of getting letters from one person to another. But other parts of the world also have a history of mail delivery, of course. Here's a look at the one in Pakistan.
...or maybe not. This article details the search for the oldest postcard in Gdansk, Poland, and what it's found so far. A number of other old postcards are pictured, as well .
With many places facing drought of varying severity, a floating post office may be far from most people's minds. But in India, there is such a thing, as this article shows.
Postmarks can be tweaked another way - here's a brief article about using dated postmarks available at national parks on postcards of the parks.
Despite the trend toward basic (and sometimes unreadable) dot-matrix postmarks, and stamps with bar codes, it's still possible for a group to design a postmark for a special event and have it approved for use on the mail, at least for a while. That was the case recently in a Minnesota town celebrating its 150th anniversary.
Although the word "paper" comes from the well-known Greek papyrus, the actual product was not developed from that. Here's a brief, breezy history of where paper, and stationery, did come from, written by a company that's now producing paper from stone and recycled plastic.
Newspaper and magazine columnists aren't the only ones writing about the value of sending handwritten notes and letters. Here's a blog on the topic from the CEO of Frieda's, a company that introduced many of today's fruits and vegetables to the U.S. market.
Part of the fun of pen pals for students has always been knowing how far the letter from Japan, or France, or New Zealand traveled to reach them. For one student in China, though, a letter traveled even farther - from the moon.
Remember when road trips involved sending "large letter postcards" of places visited (or not visited but the stores had the cards anyway)? That tradition continues in digital form and in billboard form - and here's an article from the Smithsonian Institution that gives some of the history of the style's physical origin.
Most articles on letter writing talk about keeping in touch with friends and relatives, or making new friends through pen pals. Many of them point out that the time and thought that goes into a letter can be self-reflective as well as a communication to others, but here's one that focuses specifically on that. It suggests writing a letter to a past self from the vantage point of today, and writing to a future self about today's hopes and dreams. Writing to a future self isn't a new suggestion - we've probably all heard it before, even if we haven't done it - but writing to a past self doesn't seem to show up as commonly in such articles.
On a similar topic as the first link in the last entry, here's a multi-part essay from the National Postal Museum about the history of letter writing in the U. S. The opening page notes that "Letters are what history sounds like when it is still part of everyday life."
Here's an article from a decade ago that celebrates letter writing as a treasure trove of details of daily life throughout history; and another, seemingly undated, about the opposite, letters that affected history.
Actually, it wasn't mail art - attaching silk floss to letters back then was a way of adding extra security to make sure the letter wasn't opened, or at least that if it was, the fact would be obvious. Thanks to Lex #5787 for letting us know about this article.
Many articles over the last couple of years have suggested that people who are suddenly isolated can use letters as a way of keeping in touch, including programs to connect children with seniors in care centers and other common situations. Here's a slightly different one - teachers and students who became suddenly distanced. Although the article is two years old now, it still has some good ideas, not all of which require isolation to be of value.
It's not uncommon to read about a letter - or more often a postcard - that arrives years or decades after it was mailed. But here's an article about that happening with multiple pieces of mail to multiple members of a family.
Here's a brief article about writing letters a few centuries ago, focusing especially on Benjamin Franklin (whose idea for a new alphabet we featured in The World of Letters in Issue 57 of Lex), including his recommendation for learning different styles of handwriting. It also includes an anecdote about how less could be more when addressing a letter to him.
There are many articles that trace the history of postcards - but this one is not only an article but a review of a book on that subject as well.
It's common for someone to write a fan letter to a celebrity - typically a movie or television star, sometimes an athlete or politician. Here's a slightly different take on the theme - a fan letter to a cat.
Periodically there are stories of a pen pal correspondence that lasts for decades after beginning in a school program, or with children launching bottles into the ocean, or in some other way. In this case, not only did the correspondence go on for 64 years, but continued when the granddaughter of one of the writers stepped in when her grandmother passed away.
Stories about mail arriving late - like this one and this one - are fairly common. In some cases it's not clear whether the mailpiece was delivered or not. And here's a story about another way mail can surface after a long, long time.
Pen pals, especially those who begin writing in school as part of a structured program, often write for only a short time, and then people drift apart as they develop different interests. Sometimes, though, the written relationship goes on for a long while. Here's an example - an article about a school pen pal exchange that turned into a lifelong friendship.
Here's a story about the island in Antarctica which contains the farthest south post office in the world. There's past and current information, past and current pictures, and if you scroll all the way down there are links to some other stories about isolated post offices around the world.
In a 2-part video made for The Morgan Library & Museum, a Canadian actor celebrates letters and offers tips on writing letters. In Part 1 he examines one of Beatrix Potter's illustrated letters, as well as one he received from a friend. In Part 2 he gives more tips, and shows his elaborate handwriting. The videos are also available on YouTube, but these links go to the Morgan; and as long as you're there, you can check out their online exhibits of letters from famous people, including Vincent van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, and more.
Here's a story about a student in Singapore who decided to write a letter to Queen Elizabeth. While he didn't get a reply directly from Her Majesty - who undoubtedly has an overflowing mailbox - a lady-in-waiting did send a short personal response. Pictures of both the letter and the reply are included in the article.
Many people have, or find, old letters from family members, and sometimes learn quite surprising things as well as reminiscing about times past. In one case, an author read letters her mother wrote to a pen pal across the ocean roughly 80 years ago, and wrote a book about the letters and her reaction to them.
Here's another article about a correspondence with a famous person, although undoubtedly limited to one letter apiece. And the 2-year-old didn't exactly write the letter to Queen Elizabeth, and the Queen didn't personally pen the reply...but close enough.
Many people write to celebrities and get standard responses sent by the publicity staff, but here's a story of someone who not only had a personal reply, but a continuing correspondence.
Mail to military troops during wartime is, of course, important for morale. But it can also be difficult to get all the pieces of mail to their destinations in wartime conditions, and sometimes it piles up. That happened in World War II, and here's an article about the way some of it was organized and sent on its way. Thanks to Lex #7214 for letting us know about this article.
Do you think you could write 100,000 letters? Here's a story about a woman who may have done so.
In Great Britain, there's a new type of stamp coming out. It includes a barcode that allows users with the proper app to watch videos of sheep and other such postal excitements. (It's supposed to make mail more secure in some way as well, although details of that aren't easy to find.) In a little less than a year the old "Definitive" stamps will be invalid. But for those who enjoy a variety of stamps such as the Rolling Stones or Batman designs, never fear - the old ones can still be used and presumably new ones will continue to be offered without barcodes, at least for now...
The stereotype of people sending postcards on a vacation saying things like "Having a wonderful time, wish you were here" has been around for quite a while. But that's not all postcards can say, as this article about siblings who deepened their relationship with art postcards from the Metropolitan Museum of Art details.
Here's another reminiscence about a lifetime of letter writing, this one from a newspaper columnist who still writes to a childhood friend.
Blogging, texting, and other forms of social media are often criticized for accelerating the decline of physical mail. But here's an article that suggests they can also help spread the word about the joys of sending letters - and greeting cards, which are much of the focus of this story.
A building repair or renovation in Lithuania resulted recently in a stash of letters hidden half a century ago. As much as possible they were delivered in recent months, although that wasn't always easy. According to this article, reactions of the recipients varied from "emotional" to the more sedate response of the person featured in the article.
Here's an article published recently in The Provincetown Independent by a mail carrier and Lex subscriber, about the joys of writing letters and postcards, including links to the national and international organizations promoting "A Month of Letters" (which is happening now!), as well as Postcrossing (and Lex!), and a brief cheer for fountain pens.
Here's a short but poignant reflection on the value of postal mail, from an Irish ecologically-oriented congregation. Thanks to Lex #12534 for letting us know about this article.
Some people enjoy reading old letters, including ones they wrote that someone saved, reminiscing about the events and places mentioned in them. Others find it an emotionally intense experience, re-awakening sleeping memories and thoughts of the times and people. Here's an article about a man whose letters from Vietnam brought up some of both, with excerpts from the letters and discussion of what they referred to.
A teenage friend's practical joke led to a lifelong pen pal relationship, as described in this article.
No doubt Marie Antoinette, writing to a Swedish count who may have been a lover (if perhaps only at a distance), thought that her letters would be unseen by any eyes but his. And someone, probably the count himself, tried to make sure some phrases would be forever kept away from prying eyes. But thanks to new technology, even many of those phrases are now known. And will the rest be readable with some future method?