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Santa's helpers ensure Christmas post gets through

Swiss children who write to Father Chistmas get an official reply

(Keystone)

Every year thousands of letters addressed to Father Christmas arrive from all over Switzerland at the Chiasso sorting office in canton Ticino.

It is the task of a dedicated five-strong team to make sure that all the children get a reply from Santa.

The scheme was started by Swiss Post in 1950. Since then the number of letters from Swiss children has grown each year.

Some 10,000 letters arrived for Father Christmas last year. Swiss Post is expecting at least as many for Christmas 2002.

Given the huge responsibility for ensuring that all the letters receive a response by Christmas Day, Santa's Swiss team have their work cut out.

But despite the volume of mail, they make sure as many letters as possible receive a reply, all with a gift and all stamped with an official "Bern-Bethlehem" stamp.

Modest requests

While many Swiss children are keen to write to Father Christmas, their gift requests are not likely to break his bank account.

Although some children ask for present that not even Santa can manage, many have more modest requests. Some ask for nothing at all, while others even want to give him something.

"Some children desire a little brother or peace in the world; while others just want to prepare a cup of tea for Father Christmas," Liselotte Spengler, spokeswoman for Swiss Post, told swissinfo.

Others are just content to send Santa a picture or photo, she added.

Vague addresses

Although Swiss Post manages to send out replies to most senders (last year they had a success rate of 91 per cent), some children call on Santa's magic powers to divine where they live.

One hopeful boy put his address as simply "Kevin, 2nd floor", leaving the Chiasso team to play the role of detective.

According to Spengler, there are ways of finding out where a child lives, using the electronic postmark, which shows the post office from where the letter was sent.

"We often use the postmark to locate the post office," she said. "Then we call the postman in the community and we ask them if they know the child."

Festive French

Spengler says children from Switzerland's three different language regions differ greatly in their enthusiasm for writing to Santa.

French-speaking Swiss children are very keen on writing to "Père Noel", as they call him, accounting for 70 per cent of all letters received at Chiasso. Italian-speaking Swiss children account for 20 per cent of the letters.

But German-speaking children, who come from Switzerland's largest language region, make up only ten per cent of the letters received.

Spengler puts the French-speaking children's enthusiasm down to the importance Father Christmas plays in French tradition.

swissinfo, Joanne Shields

Key facts

All letters addressed to Father Christmas from Swiss children go to the Chiasso sorting office, where a team of five people arrange a response from Santa.
The scheme was started by Swiss Post in 1950.
Each reply includes a gift and is stamped with an official "Bern-Bethlehem" stamp.
Last year, the Chiasso team received 10,000 letters, 91 per cent of which received a reply.
The French-speaking part of Switzerland sends the most letters at 70 per cent, while the Italian-speakers sending 20 per cent and the German-speakers only accounting for ten per cent.

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