Santa Claus? No grown-up believes in him any more! And yet, even the adults can be seen standing reverently when visiting Santa's office in Finland.

A little boy, far back in the line at Santa's Finnish HQ, is fearfully clutching his mother's legs, genuinely believing that he is looking upon the real Santa. And it's no wonder, for the jolly old gentleman really does look just like the Santa that every child dreams about.

"Come over here,'' this Santa says with his friendly smile. "Sit down next to me.''

Actually, Santa lives in Korvantunturi, a mountain close to the border with Russia. The mountain is said to be shaped like a gigantic ear, so that Santa can hear all the wishes made by children around the world. But because the place is rather remote, Santa has set up a second domicile in Rovaniemi, capital of Finland's Lapland region. There, he receives visitors all year.

In 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of US President Franklin D Roosevelt, heard about this when she visited the city. And so that she could indeed meet with Santa, the locals even built a small wooden cabin - thereby launching what would become a successful tourist attraction.


Today, the cabin is still there. But one might easily miss it, what with all the souvenir shops dominating the scene. In some ways this is kitsch, but people have come for other reasons - for example, taking a picture in the Arctic Circle, visiting Santa Claus, and seeing his post office.

This looks a little bit like a cozy living room that has not been tidied up for some time. Letters are piled up everywhere. They arrive from all over the world: Germany, France, the United States, China, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Jamaica, Togo and Ethiopia among other places. Scribbled in a child's handwriting, they are addressed "To Santa Claus, Arctic Circle,'' or maybe "Santa, Lapland''.

"The letters are all delivered,'' assures Cristina Sandoval, "including those that are not stamped.'' Post offices worldwide simply forward them to Rovaniemi. And so Santa can receive upwards of 32,000 letters in a single day. Per year, it comes to more than half a million. Cristina must know, for she is one of the elves who work for Santa. On her head is a red velvet hat which rises up to a point. Her outfit also includes a red jacket and a white scarf.

Across from the post office, outside the office of Santa Claus, dozens of people are waiting to see him. After a heavy wooden door has opened, another elf points the way. Past the flying machines with which Santa can reach even the remotest regions of the planet, and past the "world rotational speed regulator,'' a huge machine with a lever.

"This is how Santa can slow down time, so that within just a few days he can hand out all the gifts around the world,'' the elf explains.

Then, the moment arrives. The door to the office opens. Santa is sitting on a wooden chair and bids the visitors to take a seat next to him.

While photos are being taken, he answers questions in English, French and German. He says he has more reindeer than there are stars in the skies and assures the sceptics that he is the one and only Santa Claus.

And how old is he? "I can't remember,'' he admits. "I once wanted to count how many Christmases I've already seen. But I fell asleep after 365.''


In the meantime, the small boy has overcome his shyness. With his mother he approaches Santa, who asks, "would you like to climb up on my lap?''

Shyly, the boy nods - and then a broad smile spreads across his face.