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The Alaskan town where it's Christmas every day

NORTH POLE, Alaska -- The mail comes in sackloads to the town of North Pole every day, all addressed to Santa Claus. The 2,000-inhabitant town in the U.S. state of Alaska does pretty well out of an irresistible name.

Every little American child learns that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. So North Pole, Alaska (which is not the real North Pole) celebrates Christmas all year round. It is deluged with 450,000 letters annually.

“Actually it was just a publicity idea,” says Paul Brown who runs a gift shop in the town near Fairbanks. Even though the town is close to the Arctic Circle, it's still 2,700 kilometers from the earth's axis.

“When the town was founded in 1953 the elders tried to attract business. Can toy companies resist a label 'Made in North Pole'?” Brown asks. After a short pause he answers drily: “Well, they can.”

So the town made a virtue out of necessity and built its year-long promotion around Yuletide.

The street lights look like candy canes, the fire engines sport Christmas wreaths in June. The entrance to the town displays what residents say is the largest Santa statue in the world: 16 meters tall.

This dedication to Christmas also brings responsibilities: almost half a million letters a year arrive addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole” and have to be answered. Local students do the job.

Volunteering to be a Santa Elf is an obligation for people who live in North Pole.

“It's not so bad to celebrate Christmas the whole year. Actually it's quite funny,” says Brown. “Of course it's stressful. Like the real Christmas.” But every visitor is in a good mood. “Even the customers in their eighties: when they enter our store they are kids again.”

Of course, North Pole also has reindeer. Rebecca Jones looks after them.

“When I was at college after my time in the Army, I noticed a reindeer program at the university. I was so fascinated that I said I'll take care of all the poop they make, voluntarily, but teach me everything about these intriguing animals.

“So I became a reindeer handler.”

Right now her attention is on five young animals that were born last year. “Reindeers are very individual. They need a lot of attention,” she says. “They have their own personality. These are very special animals.”

No wonder Santa chose them to pull his sled.

North Pole's Father Christmas takes his job very seriously. When asked his real name he looks puzzled and says “Nicholas!” Then he leans forward and whispers: “Don't believe the story with the bishop. I'm just a simple toymaker.”

Every day, even in high summer, children come to sit in his lap and recite what gifts they want for Christmas. This Santa is always conscious of what parents can afford. “I am child-friendly, but also parent-friendly. I make no promises that parents have to keep.”

Occasionally his job can be tough.

“Sometimes a little one tells me his only wish is that his mommy comes home. Or that granddad be alive again. Then you need strength.”

One boy asked him if he would fly to Afghanistan with his reindeer and bring his father home.

“The mother told me later that the father indeed returned home for Christmas. They had a big, wrapped box and suddenly Daddy jumped out. When I hear stories like that I know I have the best job in the whole wide world.”

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This photo shows Santa Claus in the Santa Claus House in North Pole, near Fairbanks, Alaska, six months before Christmas. The gift shop is known throughout the United States. The town is 2,700 kilometers from the real North Pole. (dpa)

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