One of the busiest departments at the Bern headquarters of the Swiss postal authorities at this time of the year is one dealing with the thousands of letters sent by children to Santa Claus.
Some are addressed to "Santa Claus in the sky" others to "Santa Claus in Cloudland" or "in the deep forest". But whatever the address they all end up at the temporary "Santa" department in Bern, from where replies are dispatched to the youngsters, whose ages range from about five to 13.
"Last year we received about 8,000 letters and postcards," says post office spokesman, Hubert Staffelbach. "By the look of things there will be many more this year. Already by the middle of the month we had processed over 4,000."
Most of the children write to ask for a particular toy, and a rising number of them - even the younger ones - have remarkably sophisticated wishes.
"For example, more and more say they would like a mobile phone," said Staffelbach. "But we also get letters from children who say there are family problems, and ask if Santa Claus will help keep mummy and daddy together."
Post offices throughout the country forward the letters to Bern and will even try to trace senders who don't include their postal address in the letter.
This year, each child is to receive a card with a picture of Santa Claus on the cover. Inside there's a message from him - in German, French or Italian - explaining why he is replying from the post office. "I come here to collect the letters because the mailbag is too heavy for the postman to bring to me in the heart of the forest," it says.
Santa Claus goes on to thank each child for his or her letter.
Replies are also sent to messages sent by electronic mail if the postal address is given. "But so far we receive very few," says Staffelbach. "Children prefer the traditional means of communication with Santa Claus."
by Richard Dawson