Santa Claus is getting a gift from the U.S. Postal Service: a bar code to help sort the tens of thousands of letters sent to him at the North Pole.

Post offices around Alaska are offering envelopes with computer bar codes and the pre-printed address: "SANTA CLAUS, NORTH POLE AK 99705-9998." Mail carrying the code can be scanned quickly by computers."Automation is for everyone, including Santa Claus," said Postal Service spokeswoman Nancy Schmitt in Anchorage.

The bar code is intended to introduce the public to the technology and help children learn to address an envelope properly, Schmitt said. The envelopes are free and require postage stamps.

The letters are answered by civic groups and schoolchildren acting as Santa's helpers in this community just southeast of Fairbanks, Schmitt said.

The North Pole post office receives more than 50,000 letters to Santa each year. It also receives nearly 100,000 special requests annually for its "North Pole AK" postmark on cards sent from around the nation.