Santa's Travel: Santa Claus? Where's he when he's at home?

As you prepare to open up your chimney to its annual visitor and leave out mince pies and whisky (not forgetting a carrot for the reindeer), Simon Calder hunts for the home of Father Christmas.

Santa has more fixed abodes than the Royal Family. Any one-reindeer town, it seems, boasts a residence - including a place in west London, which is where the St Nicholas trail starts.

Travellers on some Eurostar trains to Paris and Brussels may be surprised to see their carriages bearing the motif "North Pole". Santa Claus is not commuting through the tunnel; this is merely the name of the Eurostar depot adjacent to Wormwood Scrubs. "North Pole" is a rather more catchy address than Her Majesty's Prison, certainly not the sort of place Santa would stay.

Father Christmas does have a postal address in Britain, and even a postcode of his own, but a red-nosed helper stresses that the last posting-date for this year has already passed - so no dispatches, please, to Santa, Reindeerland, SAN TA1. (Though it's never too early for 1998 - the first of this year's requests arrived in June.)

The physical manifestation of Reindeerland turns out to be a grotto in the corner of the Royal Mail's Returned Letter Centre in Belfast. "We're not saying he lives there - he just goes to collect his mail there," trills a spokes-elf.

The passengers in the queue at Heathrow's Terminal One this morning believe they know where Santa lives: at the end of the route of flight AY 836 to Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland (with a refuelling stop to take on mince pies in Helsinki). Santa is a significant employer in this part of northern Finland, which handily straddles the Arctic Circle. Indeed, a sceptical Scrooge could point out that snowball fights occasionally break out between different factions of the Santa empire. Sweden and Norway, too, claim to be the first Noel location of choice for St Nicholas, while the Danish post office redirects some letters addressed to Santa c/o Greenland to a sorting office in Odense.

As Cathy Packe explains (previous page), postal workers in Greenland help Santa to answer a number of letters equivalent to about half the national population.

Maybe the sparsity of human habitation in the northern lands means the load has to be shared out across the Atlantic.

American kids' letters to Santa disappear up the figurative chimney to North Pole, Alaska - population 1,500 - and a suburb south east of Fairbanks. Maybe Santa lives on one of the streets here - Santa Claus Lane, St Nicholas Drive or Rudolf Street.

Or perhaps he prefers Canadian citizenship. His maple-leaf helpers are based in Winnipeg. This is further from the true North Pole than is Cornwall, but to strengthen the Canadians' case, Reindeer River and Reindeer Lake are north of here (close to Moose Jaw and Ear Falls, which sound like winter complaints among the reindeer).

Farther on, though, is the Great Slave Lake - and while Santa does not adhere slavishly to the European Commission Directive on Working Hours, particularly on Christmas Eve, he is a sleigh-driver rather than a slavedriver.

The final candidates are the places where he was born and grew up, close to where half a million Brits went on holiday this year.

On the southern coast road of Turkey, between the charter airports of Dalaman and Antalya, stands Patara. St Nicholas was born here around AD300, and later moved to the ancient city of Myra, near present-day Demre. The Lycian rock-tombs were already centuries old when St Nicholas became bishop of Myra in the fourth century AD.

As the Blue Guide to Turkey solemnly relates, "The Church of St Nicholas is on the W side of Demre, about 150m from the main square. In a small garden to the left of the entrance, there is a rather incongruous statue of the saint in the persona of Santa Claus complete with a sack of presents and a mob of children."

Humbug, you may say.

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