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In Germany, postal elves reply to Christmas letters with messages of joy, hope

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As Christmas approaches, children long for things: cars, laptops, dolls, electric trains. The airwaves are bombarded with news of Christmas sales barometers. A stressed-out society rushes to consumption.

But in Germany, children still write to the Christkind ("Christ Child"), or to Santa Claus, in the hundreds of thousands – yearning not for only gifts, but for a bit of comfort and joy. 

Since the beginning of the Advent season in late November, close to 75,000 children have written to the "Christmas Post Office" of Himmelstadt ("Heaven's City"). The tiny Bavarian village of 17,500 is one of seven towns with special post offices dedicated to receiving and answering letters with children's Christmas wishes. 

"I write a letter. I sign it 'Your Christkind,' and I give the children a piece of advice. I send them a little angel, a drawing, a poem," says Rosemarie Schotte, who, for more than 20 years, has been in charge of the Christmas post office in Himmelstadt, working with 30 village volunteers to answer every single letter.

"We want to bring back the spirit of Christmas, which is a celebration of love, not necessarily big presents," says Schotte. "One has to look within one self, to remember how good you have it in life, be grateful to have a family."

The letter-writing tradition all started decades ago when a letter addressed to the Christkind ended up in Himmselstadt. Postal workers, not knowing what to do with it, just answered it. The following year, a few more children wrote. Over the years, what had been a few isolated letters turned into a flood. 

In 1965, Germany's first "Christmas post office" opened in Lower Saxony's Himmelsthür, or Heaven's Door. Six other post offices in places with names associated with Christmas popped up, including Engelskirchen ("Angels' Church"), Himmelpfort ("Heaven's Gate") and Himmelpforten ("Heaven's Gates").

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