GENEVA Santa Claus' elves are dealing with so much mail they hardly have time to make the toys.
The bearded gentleman also known as St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Pere Noel and dozens of other names worldwide will receive more than 6 million letters in the mail this year, the U.N. agency that connects national post offices said Tuesday.
And that's not counting the United States, where the U.S. Postal Service says it handles a million letters yearly to Santa.
In at least 20 countries, postal workers collect and respond to letters addressed to "North Pole," which otherwise would be stamped "undeliverable" or "address unknown."
"It matters little where Santa lives; he is evidently everywhere," the Universal Postal Union said.
Finland, whose northern Lapland frontier claims to be the home of the real Santa, receives the most mail from abroad and responds to children in 150 countries.
Canada's postal service replies in 26 languages, and Germany's Deutsche Post writes back in 16.
France handles the most letters in total with over 1.22 million sent to Pere Noel last year. It is followed by Canada, with 1.06 million; Britain and Finland, 750,000 each; Germany, 500,000; Portugal, 255,000; and Spain, 232,000.
The U.S. Postal Service has been answering Santa's letters the longest, since 1912. USPS spokesman Larry Dozier in Los Angeles said the service answers about 1 million letters to Santa each year.
"We have individuals, corporations, churches that come in to grant those children's wishes," Dozier said.
More than 120,000 letters arrive from abroad in North Pole, Alaska where residents in the small community of 1,600 volunteer to keep up with responses.
Some countries do more than just respond to children desperate to have just the right presents.
In Ukraine, children sending letters by Jan. 10 are automatically included in a national lottery for 1,000 prizes.
In Canada, Santa even has his own postal code H0H 0H0 recalling his characteristic chuckle.
While some countries are now responding with written letters to e-mailed requests, "Santa still receives far more letters than e-mail, proving that kids still write letters," the agency said.Children, however, should remember to put a return address on the envelope.
On the Net:
Universal Postal Union: www.upu.int