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Santa's American Headquarters: Santa Claus, Indiana

3:30 PM, Dec 25, 2012   |    comments
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Santa Claus, IN, CBS News

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. - This is a story about the magic of Christmas. It begins with two words: "Dear Santa."

"Are you getting ready and fattening up?" asked one boy named Kaleb. "How are things at the North Pole?" asked a girl named Audrey.

Call it one of the wonders of the Christmas season: Children who don't simply believe in Santa Claus, but also believe he answers his mail.

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And then there are those who believe in answering Santa's mail. They live in a place where Christmas is a year-long celebration. About 82 years ago, Santa Claus, Indiana, a small rural town on the Kentucky border, started the tradition of answering letters to Santa.

In 1930, a local businessman with a big heart was in charge. Folks affectionately called him Santa Jim.

Pat Koch is Santa Jim's daughter. Now 81, she's been helping Santa since she was 12 years old.

She has the advantage of the postage that says Santa Claus, Indiana. "The only Santa Claus with a post office," Koch said.

That's why letters with no address, no zip code and even no stamp arrive in Santa Claus each day.

" We get letters that say, 'North Pole.' We get 'Big Red Guy,' Guy in the Red Suit.' They all get delivered," Koch said.

"This is the Santa Elves' headquarters," she said, giving a tour of the post office.

Unlike commercial letter writing operations today, their service is free.

"For my daddy I would like for him to find a job. And for my Mommy a little time to relax," one letter read.

Under her watchful eye, dozens of elf volunteers answer nearly 30,000 letters each year in red ink, each with a personal postscript that teaches a lesson.

"If we can make a difference with just one child, that's the difference," Koch said.

Now the keeper of the letters, she displays the best ones in this museum.

"Here's my favorite: 'I want my dad to be smarter. Please can my dad be smarter,'" she read.

Aiden, Audrey, and Kaleb received their letters from Santa, but it's clear they already understand what Christmas is all about.

When asked what Christmas means to him, Aiden replied: "That you should believe in other people."

Audrey said: "That it's a happy time and a fun time, and you get to spend it with your family. I like it.

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Byron Pitts, CBS News

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