A perennial this-time-of-year favorite, Miracle on 34th Street features a kind, old gentleman (Edmund Gwenn) who insists he is the real Santa Claus, getting a job at Macy’s and bringing holiday cheer to a single mother and her daughter. During the course of the film, the store psychologist has it in for Kris Kringle and sends him to Bellevue. This leads into a high-profile hearing in which a young lawyer named Fred Gailey (John Payne) sets out to prove that Kris Kringle is the one and only Santa Claus.
As the hearing reaches the final day, on Christmas Eve no less, when Gailey presents three letters simply addressed “Santa Claus” to the judge. This is to prove that the U.S. Postal Service believes Kris to be the real deal. When the prosecutor demands more then three letters, and the judge insists that Gailey put the exhibits on his desk, almost a dozen postal workers enter the court with 21 giant mail bags filled with letters. A Christmas miracle happens, and Kris Kringle is vindicated.
This got me thinking: With all that has changed in our world in the past 66 years, could all the letters to Santa delivered to the U.S. Post Office be used to prove Kris Kringle is the real Santa Claus?
The Answer: Yes, but they would probably be delivered late.
In Miracle on 34th Street, Gailey reads from The World Almanac to establish the professional and expert nature of the post office:
The post office department was created by the Second Continental Congress on July 26, 1776. The first postmaster general was Benjamin Franklin. The post office department is one of the largest business concerns in the world. Last year, under Robert Hannegan, it did a gross business of $1,112,877,174
More over, he references the federal statute that makes mail fraud a crime. These continue to be undisputed facts, and while the post office makes mistakes now and then, they still manage to deliver my mail to me and everyone else in the country with minimal problems.
Earlier in the film, workers at the post office get the idea to send all the letters to Santa to the New York County Court House because young Susan Walker (Natalie Wood) sent a personal letter to Kris Kringle there. In this scene, the postal workers estimate that there’s at least 50,000 letters in the dead letter office, addressed to “North Pole, South Pole, and every other place.”
Even today, there are oodles of letters sent to Santa Claus from children all across the United States. Currently, the U.S. Postal Service estimates that it receives millions of letters each year in this manner. Additionally, towns like North Pole, Alaska, and Santa Claus, Indiana, still receive thousands of letters addressed to Santa each year.
So the volume of mail is plenty to make the case, but…
Would they get to the courthouse on time?
The Christmas season is one of the busiest times of year for the U.S. Postal Service. It’s still the least expensive way to ship packages around the country, which is its main incentive compared to more expensive (and admittedly more timely and sometimes more reliable) services like FedEx and UPS. This time of year, the name of the game is to get things packed and shipped out so they arrive on Christmas Eve. Adding an entire fleet of mail trucks to empty out the dead letter office might not be considered the wisest use of the service’s resources.
With the recent crash in paper communication, the U.S. Postal Service has been living in a grim financial shadow. Earlier in 2013, the organization lost an estimated $1.9 billion over three months. That’s almost twice the gross business that Fred Gailey quoted in 1947 to prove the organization’s professionalism and expertise. With an estimated daily operating deficit of $25 million a day and recent cost-cutting concepts like ceasing Saturday delivery, the U.S. Postal Service can barely keep its trucks running, let alone allocate the resources to deliver tens of thousands – or millions – of letters to a lunacy hearing in New York City on Christmas Eve.
But there’s an even bigger problem. Even though the U.S. Postal Service has been receiving letters to Santa for more than a century, with this year marking the 101st anniversary of an official Letters to Santa program, much of the work has been taken out of the local districts’ hands. Back in 2006, the U.S. Postal Service set up national rules and guidelines for their Letters to Santa program. This was done to protect the location and identities of the children writing in, and it allowed volunteers to donate resources to help needy kids around the country. This is a great act of charity on behalf of the Postal Service, but it would result in a logistical nightmare for getting these letters delivered.
And on Christmas Eve, no less.
Would the digital age be good for Kris Kringle?
Now that we’re in the information age, there are dozens of sites devoted to receiving and responding to emails to Santa Claus from children around the world. More over, other Santa-themed internet applications – like the wildly popular NORAD Santa Tracker – allow for up-to-the-minute communication with the jolly old elf himself.
Heck, Santa even has multiple Twitter accounts, though none of these accounts have as many followers as Kim Kardashian does, so you might as well cancel Christmas right now. (Also, like Will Ferrell, it’s unlikely any of these are run by the actual Santa Claus himself. You know how old people are with technology.)
Unfortunately, with no consolidated center for Santa activity on the web, there is very little chance of a dramatic display of proof like we see at the end of Miracle on 34th Street. Also, we all know that information found on the internet may be as reliable as celebrity death hoaxes and chain letters from Bill Gates and Walt Disney Jr.
Sadly, in today’s world, it would be unlikely that any form of digital proof would be as impressive as a pile of letters on a judge’s desk. Those letters – possibly many more than are seen in the film – would be available to offer such proof. They’d get there, sure, but probably not until December 26th or 27th, after Kris Kringle spent Christmas in the pokey.