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Santa's elves get busy at Sweden's post office

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17:31 CET+01:00
By Christmas, Posten, the Swedish postal service, expects to have received more than 100,000 letters from children all over the world addressed to Santa Claus.

While Finland has these days cornered the market as the official home of the man in red, Santa's legendary home is traditionally said to be in Lapland, which covers parts of northern Finland, Sweden and Norway. This means that Posten is a major destination for children's letters.

Santa, or Jultomten as he's called in Swedish, honours all the young writers with a response, in Swedish or English, and a little gift. Last year the children got a small puzzle.

In the pile are letters and cards from children in the U.S., Netherlands, Slovenia, Argentina and Japan.

“Thank you for all the things you gave me last year…” one letter from an English child begins.

Foreign kids are usually very polite, telling Santa that they have been good little boys or girls, while the Swedish kids are more to the point, just sending Santa their wish list, says Anette Eriksson, Christmas communications specialist with Posten.

One letter this year has come from a Japanese student, who wrote Santa to practice her English. She didn't ask for anything, but enclosed some origami ornaments for Father Christmas. Another letter was from a 6-year-old Argentinean boy, who asked for toys not only for himself, but also for the poor kids in his neighbourhood.

Scarlett from Britain wrote:

“I will leave you some Coke, milk, chocolate biscuits and a carrot. Have a lovely Christmas.”

Many of the Swedish kids also enclose a map to their house, Eriksson said.

“If they have moved, they are worried that Santa won't find them,” she said.

The foreign kids often include a mention of Rudolph, but mention of the red-nosed reindeer is rare in the Swedish letters.

The items on the wish lists are remarkably similar, with children from all over the world asking, not surprisingly, for video games.

A nicer sister, a spy, a door to one's bedroom and a broom that can clean by itself, are some of the more creative items on the children's wish lists.

All children who include an eligible return address will get a response from Santa. To ensure it keeps that promise, the postal service hires about 15 extra workers to read and respond to the many children who still are believers.

“We call them Santa's elves,” Eriksson said.

It all started in 1891 with Jultomten, a magazine intended to stimulate youngsters, published by a teachers union. Then like now, little children were encouraged to write in and Santa was a popular recipient. So popular in fact, that when the magazine ceased to exist, the Swedish postal service felt obliged to keep the tradition going.

“We do this to encourage letter-writing,” Eriksson said. “Often, it's the very first time a child writes a letter and we want that to be a positive experience. We want them to get something in return.”

All first-grade teachers in Sweden get an invitation to encourage students to write Santa. Red mail boxes with Santa's name on them are strategically located across Sweden.

The first letters start trickling in by springtime, Eriksson said. By late November there is a steady flow and two weeks before Christmas the dams burst.

Eriksson insists that processing the letters doesn't cost much, though she would not volunteer a figure. She said that the red Santa mailboxes are located next to regular mailboxes and won't require additional routes. Posten employs extra people to deal with Christmas correspondence anyway.

“We are basically just using existing resources,” she says.

Santa's elves are a shy bunch. All declined several requests of interviews and refused to reveal their identities.

“It's something of an honour assignment, many come back year after year,” Eriksson said. “They just don't want people to know who they are. I think they want to keep it a mystery.”

And who knows, maybe it really is Santa or Santa's elves that are responding to all these letters. Perhaps they just don't have time to be interviewed…

This year's top-five Christmas list items:

Girls:

1) Doll or a Barbie

2) Pet

3) Stuffed animal

4) Video, or computer games

5) Clothes

Boys:

1) Cars, racing track, other vehicle

2) Video, or computer games

3) Lego

4) Sports items

5) Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh!

Source: Posten AB

Majsan Boström

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