The U.S. Postal Service and Santa Claus have had a long and symbiotic relationship.

There’s the unwavering commitment to their appointed rounds, undaunted by rain or sleet or snow.

Then there’s that behind-the-scenes magic — delivering millions of presents in one night … give or take. And don’t forget the mystical way a letter posted in Portland can be in Chicago in two or three days.

Were it not for the post office, the “Miracle on 34th Street” might have been a prequel to “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

So it’s no surprise that when it comes to letters to Santa, postal employees feel the urge to pitch in.

“It’s important for the children to receive a letter from Santa and know that Santa is out there and, hopefully, that their wish will come true,” said Denise Gonneville, a mother from Saco who is one of the Portland post office workers who volunteer each year to read letters to Santa and write responses. “It just feels good to volunteer and be able to do something for the children out there.”

Most letters are typical pleas for largesse, asking for toys or games and promising good behavior. A few get you right in that ol’ bowl full of jelly.

“There was one girl, she was asking for her brother to be home from Afghanistan because he’s the only one that listens to her,” Gonneville said.

One girl asked that her father get a job closer to home so he could spend more time with the family.

The volunteers — workers and retirees — take stacks of “Dear Santa” letters home with them to open, read and reply, addressing and sealing each envelope.

“We tell them that Santa will try to do his best to give every child their wish, but there are so many children out there and Santa’s out there just one night,” she said.

Santa’s helpers at the post office answered the last of the letters Wednesday. Kids who didn’t get their letters in before then learned a valuable lesson in planning ahead.

Financial pressures and stringent privacy precautions have reduced the number of post offices nationally that participate in the wish-list letter answering campaign.

But Portland is still among them.

“We send out a call for volunteers each year, and postal employees are never shy about stepping up to keep the dream of Santa Claus,” said spokesman Tom Rizzo. The Portland post office has answered 1,200 letters to Santa in each of the past three years, he said.

The holidays make this week the busiest of the year for the Postal Service.

Monday was the heaviest mailing day of the year, with 800 million pieces of mail sent nationally, compared with the average of 559 million. An estimated 1.4 million were sent in Maine.

Wednesday was the biggest delivery day, with most people seeing more mail than any other day of the year, Rizzo said.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]