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Santa's letter delivery network analysed

Monday 17 December 2018 Data Insight & AnalyticsDemographic Data


Nathan Edwards's picture
By Nathan Edwards

As I’m sure you are no doubt aware, Christmas is fast approaching. But what you may not have noticed, is that you have now missed the deadline for sending your letter to Santa! That’s right, the official Royal Mail deadline was Friday 7th December. But why would there be a deadline? And how could it be official? And why is it set by the Royal Mail? Prepare yourself, because this might ROCK. YOUR. WORLD. (if you’re still a true believer that is).

For many years now, a tradition has stood in which children (and some adults) write letters to Santa Claus/Father Christmas detailing their behaviour over the year and politely request some gifts they would love to receive come Christmas Day. Santa reads through every single one of these lists and decides whether the child has been good or bad and delivers presents accordingly. It’s a cute tradition and, for many, heralds the start of the Christmas period.


Operation Santa

In 1963 a new initiative, named Operation Santa, was authorised by the then Postmaster, General Reginald Bevins (later dubbed Santa Bevins). From this day forward, any letter stamped and sent to Santa’s official postal address, along with a return address, would receive a reply from Santa himself! In case you want to get involved next year, Santa’s address is as follows:

Santa/Father Christmas,
Santa’s Grotto,

And if you would prefer a reply in Welsh, Santa is happy to accommodate:

Sion Corn,
Ogof Sion Corn,
Gwlad Y Ceirw,

This was a massive success and in its first year of service, more than 8000 cards with a Reindeerland postmark were sent from Santa over the Christmas period. Nowadays, more than 800,000 letters are sent to this new address [1] and each of them get a response!

However, it’s not all easy going. Each year, postal offices receive a huge influx of letters all addressed to Father Christmas / Santa Claus (or one of the many other alternative names he is known by).

It is now estimated by the Universal Postal Union (the trade body for postal services around the world) that letters to Santa now result in at least SIX MILLION extra items of mail each year.

To complicate things further, due to standard postal protocols, any correspondence addressed to any other real geographic location – such as Lapland or Greenland – must be sent to the correct regional/national sorting office (in this case Finland or Denmark respectively). As you’d expect, this quickly becomes an incredible logistical nightmare. It is worth noting that any letters addressed to the vague addresses such as the North Pole, or The Arctic, are marked as undeliverable and immediately doomed to sit in a nearby postal office.

Although this is a lovely sentiment and brings joy to so many, it does raise the question of just how far do these letters actually travel? InSite gives us the answer to this question.


Around the world and then some

OK, first there’s a bit of information we need to get out of the way first. These letters do not actually reach Santa Claus. Instead of going abroad, the Royal Mail send all of these to a sorting office where hired ‘elves’ write out the reply (some sources say that these are still hand-written). This sorting office is somewhat surprisingly located in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Utilising CACI’s Postcode level population data [2], we can identify the key Christmas letter writing demographic across the United Kingdom and use InSite’s Distance Matrix application [3] to find out just how far these letters will travel from source to sorting office and back. The results are not as you would expect!

Using 2018 population estimates, this gives us an estimated number of 6,965,565 letters coming from roughly 1,286,630 postcodes across the UK.


If this were the case, and the letters were stamped and addressed correctly, these letters would travel an astounding 2,710,453,074.76km one way to Belfast – or 5,420,906,149.51km by the time they are returned to the writers.

However, this is a much larger number than what is realistically possible. As mentioned previously, only 800,000 letters are sent through the Royal Mail each year which equates to 11.49% of the estimated number of Santa letter writers identified in the data. Applying this weighting to our distance travelled gives us a far more realistic result. With this weighting applied, these letters travel an estimated 471,995,926.79km each year.

Letters to Santa, just from the UK, travel a combined distance of 11,777 times around the Earth!

These are astronomical figures! Travelling this far they could alternatively go to the moon and back almost 614 times! Or to Mars and back 4 times taking a scenic route. This is a remarkable feat by our national postal service, made even more incredible by the use of straight line distances (as the crow flies). If you measured the distance travelled along Britain's roads and seas, this figure balloons to a massive 1,020,936,688.35km. At this point you're well past Jupiter and approaching Saturn.


Insight to rival Santa's

So is our insight as good as Santa's? Not quite. While we can let Santa know where to deliver eargerly anticipated presents (and perhaps even where the best mince pies, brandy and carrots will be to keep him going), we can't even begin to let him know who's been naughty or nice. Besides, that's a decision we don't want to have to make. 

But we do have access to insight that can help you and your business. Do you want to know detailed demographic data on your target market? Where they are, what brands they relate to and their propensity to spend on groceries, luxury products, social activities and more? Do you want to know more about your own delivery network and it's efficiencies? Our little elves (they prefer to be called data analysts) can reveal the details. 

To find out more - please get in touch. 




Letters to Santa now add an extra 6 million extra items into the postal network every year. But how far do these letters travel? Where do they all come from and where do they go? Nathan Edwards gets the answers from our own little elves (data analysts).

Santa's letter delivery network analysed