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

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:


1) Doll or a Barbie

2) Pet

3) Stuffed animal

4) Video, or computer games

5) Clothes


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

For members


GUIDE: The Local’s gift guide of classic Swedish Christmas items

Swedish Christmas decorations are minimalist but 'mysig', with the lights appearing in every window around this time of year a welcoming sight to brighten up the darker months in the run-up to Christmas. Here's our guide to some Christmassy Swedish gifts.

GUIDE: The Local's gift guide of classic Swedish Christmas items

Christmas lights

Some characteristic Christmas lights you have no doubt spotted in the windows of houses and apartments where you live ar the julstärna or Christmas star and the adventsljusstake or Advent candlestick.

These Christmas decorations are available in countless different variations, both cheaper options at stores like Clas Ohlson and IKEA, and more expensive versions at design stores like Svenssons i Lammhult or Designtorget.

Other popular decorations include the änglaspel, angel chimes which rotate when candles are lit underneath, and the Julbock, a Christmas goat made of straw modelled after the famous Gävlebock, the 13-metre-high goat often set on fire by arsonists in the northern Swedish city of Gävle.

Also worth mentioning is the Jultomte, Christmas gnomes that are often mistaken as Santa. These can be found in almost all souvenir shops in many different sizes and are an unmistakably Swedish decoration found in every household.

Christmas snaps. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Christmas drinks

Many would say that a Swedish Christmas celebration is not complete without snaps – traditionally served at all major holidays, it is essentially Swedish vodka with spices and herbs like aniseed, fennel and caraway seeds.

The ritual of drinking about 60ml of snaps with pickled herring and potatoes is accompanied by singing drinking songs called snapsvisor, which get increasingly more rowdy as the night goes on and as more alcohol is consumed.

Coupled with the other Christmas favourite, glögg (spiced wine), snaps is an essential part of the Swedish Christmas dining experience. You can make your own snaps at home by steeping some spices in vodka or unflavoured brännvin, or buy a bottle to gift to a snaps-loving friend or family member at the nearest Systembolaget. Here is The Local’s Swedish-style snaps recipe and more about its history and why it is so popular at Swedish holidays.

Knäck and pepparkakor. Photo: Jurek Holzer/SvD/TT

Christmas treats

A Swedish julfika (Christmas Fika) is incomplete without a few staples. The most classic are lussekatter (saffron buns), bright yellow buns most often formed into an S shape eaten around Christmas, pepparkakor, which are thin spiced gingerbread biscuits and julknäck, small caramel flavoured sweets.

You can serve these with warm glögg (alcoholic versions available at Systembolaget with low-alcohol or alcohol-free variants available at most supermarkets), or with some sort of Christmas tea or coffee – look for lussete (tea spiced with saffron, orange and sometimes, chilli), julte or julkaffe (tea or coffee with Christmas spices). Pick any of these depending on your preference, these treats are perfect for warming you up on a cosy winter afternoon.

Other classic Swedish favourite Christmas snacks and drinks include juleskum – soft candy with an admittedly unappetising name in the shape of Santa, and julmust Christmas soda. Julmust is so popular in Sweden that it outsells Coca Cola during the Christmas season every year.

Although Swedes might not be massively impressed if you gift them juleskum or pepparkakor as a Christmas present, they can be great gifts for friends and family back home if you’re celebrating Christmas outside of Sweden this year. Most if not all of these items are available at supermarkets, and you might even be able to pick them up in the airport or train station if you’re looking for a last-minute gift.