A shaving kit for the long-bearded Santa Claus; carrots for Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer; pacifiers for baby reindeer; and gifts and letters of all kinds make it to Santa Claus’s Main Post Office in Rovaniemi, Finland, every year.
Claus’s colourful and happy post office is housed in a stone and pinewood building within the Santa Claus Village in the Arctic Circle, and is decked out in Christmas decorations all year round. Open on all days of the year and run by the Finnish Post, the one-of-a-kind office has an assortment of Santa Claus souvenirs such as stuffed reindeer, Claus dolls, miniature Christmas trees, snow globes, stockings and greeting cards that people can send to their loved ones directly from the post office.
As well as the half million letters and parcels that are sent out, the office also receives half a million letters from children and adults from about 200 countries every year, addressed to Mr Claus, Mrs Claus and their elves. The sheer volume makes this one of the most popular and thriving postal departments in our increasingly tech-reliant world. Several letters simply addressed to Santa Claus, Arctic Circle (rather than the exact postal address) also reach the famous post office, which was built in 1991.
As Santa himself tells The National via an email interview: “This year, I’ve already received one and a half mountains of letters. But we are still waiting for Kalinda’s letter from Bangalore. The elves are excited if she will wish for a doll or maybe a unicorn.”
Unicorns, dolls and PlayStations are among the most commonly asked for gifts, but there are also those who ask for a friend, a break from their studies and to have a good time with their families, plus confessions of mischief. The more heartwarming posts ask for a parent’s wishes to be fulfilled and for world peace. Most letters include Santa and reindeer drawings, stick images and crayon-drawn landscapes of Santa’s home, making for an endearing art gallery of children’s imagination. All the letters are archived by the post office and many are displayed for visitors to see.
Over the Christmas holiday, the post office receives up to 40,000 letters a day, each packed with Christmas wishes for the grand old man and his team. “The children write the letters as if they are writing them to a friend. And Santa reads every letter,” says elf Anne, 38, a Finnish Post employee for the last 20 years who is working in Santa’s post office this year. “Letters make me feel joy and care. The letters bring people close to me from the other side of the world. The letters tell about hopes, dreams, the lives of ordinary people … they really come from the heart,” says Santa.
Letters aside, the post office sees a flurry of visitors over Christmas. The ever-smiling mail elves, dressed in Christmas colours and pointed Santa hats, help the 400,000 annual visitors, mainly tourists from across the world, pick postcards, stick special Arctic Circle stamps on them, man the cash counter, and answer post and non-post related questions: “where is Rudolph” and “have you seen Mrs Claus” being the most popular queries. They also happily pose for selfies while dropping off the cards in the two post boxes, one for letters to be sent all year round and the other for Christmas deliveries.
Not everybody can work at Santa’s office. An elf must be cheerful, brisk, fluent in many languages, good at customer service and, of course, willing to work over Christmas. “Being here is magical,” says Anne. “The work is different every day, and very different compared to regular mail. We get asked a lot about things not related to postal services.”
Anne and her co-elves, both full-time and seasonal, are also tasked with the job of replying to thousands of letters every year, at the postal office’s expense. Another practice that, perhaps, no other post office in the world follows. “Santa chooses the letters to be answered at random, so any sender can get a reply,” says Anne. “He also tries to respond to places where the letter would reach many recipients at once, for example, schools, kindergartens, children's homes and other similar groups.”
Then there are letters that visitors at the post office or online followers order for their friends and relatives. Mostly meant for children, the letter has Santa ask the children how they celebrate Christmas. It also includes a “niceness certificate”, with Santa’s signature and stamp, and is sent to the desired country, from about $10. The letters can be ordered from shop.posti.fi.
Even if you haven’t had the time to request your special Christmas letter this year, The National got Santa Claus to send a message to all our readers. His advice? “Be kind and take care of yourself and each other. Christmas is a magical time. Let's keep that magic in our minds whether we are children or adults.”