If you want to learn how mail works, what better guide than Elmo?

Letter writing is probably an abstract concept for a generation of schoolchildren more likely to have held a mobile device before ever touching a pencil. That’s why the furry red creature with a sweetly squeaky voice is tagging along with a U.S. Postal Service carrier on “Sesame Street.”

The episode airing Thursday is part of the beloved children’s program’s “everyday heroes” series, according to executive producer Ben Lehmann, who wanted to spotlight postal workers who have served communities through the pandemic.

The show follows Elmo as he mails his first letter and begins to wonder how it gets to where it needs to go. Angela Hampton, a mail carrier from New York, walks him through the intricate relay that is the nation’s mail system, starting at the local post office and ending with Elmo’s letter reaching his new puppy, Tango, on Sesame Street.

There’s also a delivery for the Cookie Monster, who immediately devours his package of confectionery joy, cardboard and all.

The episode includes basic mailing tips and encourages children to write letters to their loved ones. “Obviously the mail is not perhaps what it once was,” Lehmann said, “but it’s really messaged in the episode that if you want to get a meaningful piece of mail, you have to also send mail to others.”

Even so, the mail service is expected to deliver 12 billion pieces of mail this holiday season, including as many as 950 million packages.

The episode also coincides with the Postal Service’s 109th annual Operation Santa program, which posts letters online from families in need. In turn, anonymous donors dubbed “elves” send presents to lighten Saint Nick’s rounds on Christmas Eve.

The Postal Service began accepting letters for the program on Nov. 1, and registering “elves” on Nov. 15. Approved “elves” can begin adopting letters on Nov. 29.

Last year, elves adopted 24,000 letters and sent more than 21,000 packages, according to the Operation Santa website.

The Postal Service says letters to Santa should be addressed to 123 Elf Road, North Pole, 88888 (which the agency says is Santa’s workshop and not his residence), include a return address and a stamp. Children can send letters to the North Pole all year, but the Postal Service only accepts them for Santa until Dec. 10.

“Sesame Street” filmed the episode in May in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. The Postal Service consulted on production to help scriptwriters accurately portray the mail system and offer the most useful instruction to children, agency spokeswoman Sara Martin said.

“For children, the magic of how something goes from one place to another is a fascinating journey,” she said. “Seeing how letters travel through the processing equipment will amaze them, too.”

The episode airs Thursday on HBO Max. “Sesame Street” and its colorful crew of muppets made their debut on the streaming service last week after more than five decades as a public television mainstay.


A previous edition of this article misstated the dates for registration and letter adoption for Operation Santa, and the quantity of letters adopted and packages sent for the program in 2020. The Postal Service updated those dates and figures on its website after this article was first published.