, HONG KONG, Dec 24 – Hong Kong is an unlikely home for Santa Claus, with its sub-tropical climate and status as an autonomous region within communist China.
But the former British colony not only celebrates Christmas — its famous skyscrapers awash in festive lights — it is one of the few places in Asia where children who send letters to Santa get a response.
Every year, Hong Kong Post puts a rotating team of about 10 letter sorters on the task, penning personalised replies from Old Saint Nick to the 4,000-odd letters received in English and Chinese.
"Of course, we put mail processing as a priority, but after (letter sorters) are finished regular work, they try to find time to write letters to kids," spokeswoman Mary Chung said of the group who are hand-picked by superiors.
"It\’s sort of a like a special mission for the letter writers. Sometimes they feel an interaction with the children and they imagine how happy the kids will be when they get a response."
Most kids tell Santa about their toy wish list, which puts Hong Kong\’s postal agency in a key position to figure out what gifts are a big hit in any particular year, Chung said.
"So if dinosaurs are really popular, then our staff will draw a dinosaur on the card," she added.
Hong Kong\’s ties to Santa aren\’t just about decorations in retail stores, or shapely women in tight Santa skirts and black heels hawking gym memberships to commuters as the big day approaches.
Last year, Hong Konger Jimmy Chan beat rivals from around the globe to become the World\’s Best Santa in an annual competition in northern Sweden.
But Santa\’s ghost writers in the teeming city of seven million don\’t make any guarantees, especially since some wish lists call for a cornucopia of toys.
"We only write one or two lines. We say we hope your wish comes true, but we don\’t make any promises," Chung said.
Some letters ask about Santa\’s wife while others can be heart-wrenching, such as the one from a boy whose wish was to have one day with his deceased father.
"It was very touching," Chung said.
Hong Kong Post designs its own cards for the annual campaign, while letters addressed to Santa in other parts of the world are passed along to postal agencies in those countries.
Singapore Post re-directs all mail addressed to Santa Claus to a post office address in Finland.
"This year, we have about 340 letters from the kids" as of last Friday, a spokeswoman told AFP, adding that Santa replies to "about six percent" of his mail.
The letters are forwarded to "Santa Claus main post office" — run by Finnish national post office Itella.
Britain\’s Royal Mail runs a letter-writing service for mail sent to Santa in "Reindeerland", while Canada Post said it receives letters from more than one million kids, with 11,000 current and retired employees helping to pen replies.