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ROVANIEMI, Finland (Reuters) - At Santa Claus' Lapland home in Finland, his helpers sort out piles of letters from around the world, each detailing children's requests for this Christmas.
In English, Italian or other languages, youngsters' handwriting adorn the envelopes addressed to Father Christmas, some decorated with colourful hearts and stars.
As the holiday nears, every day is busy for Santa's team in Rovaniemi, which calls itself his official hometown, near the Arctic Circle.
"Santa Claus is getting more and more popular, he receives about half a million letters every year from all around the world," Elina, who works as a postal elf, said.
"We are busy here in Santa Claus' main post office at the Arctic Circle to help him open all the letters and get all the wishes ready for Christmas."
A board in the post office says Santa can get some 32,000 letters a day at Christmas time. Last year, around 500,000 letters arrived. China, Poland, Italy, Britain, Finland, Japan and Russia top the list of senders.
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Thousands of visitors come to see the Rovaniemi Santa attraction each year ahead of Christmas, meeting the man himself, his reindeer and enjoying the magical scenery.
With just a few hours of light at this time of year, they make the most of sleigh rides among the snow-covered trees during the day.
Lapland tourism is a rare bright spot in Finnish economy, which is struggling to recover from a long stagnation. Travelling to Lapland increased 10 percent from January to October to more than 2 million overnight stays, and the number is expected to hit a new record in the full year.
"Another year is coming to its end and it has been a turbulent year with many big problems but also many very good things," Santa said in his Christmas message.
"Now as Christmas is coming close, reach out for those who need a helping hand, do it with compassion - that's the real Christmas spirit."
Reporting by Reuters Television; Additional reporting by Pawel Kopczynski; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alison Williams