From the Czech Republic with love: a giant Christmas tree for Malta. Drumming up voter support: opposition leader Mirek Topolanek dresses up as Santa Claus. And - put yourself in a nativity scene! Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

The small mountain town of Bozi Dar - Gift of God -in Czech - has the highest altitude in central Europe /1,028m above sea level /. This popular skiing resort in the Krusne Mountains offers a very special Christmas service. The local post office uses a different Christmas stamp every year and people who want to make their Christmas greetings to friends really special send it to the Bozi Dar post office for stamping. Tens of thousands of people do and every Christmas the small town is snowed under with mail. "In the past few weeks alone we have stamped tens of thousands of greetings," says the head of the post office Sona Kasparova. "Even with volunteers helping out it's a huge job. We get mail bound for the US, Canada, Japan, Malasia, China, Chile and Brazil, to name just some destinations." Every year the stamp has a different Christmas motif. In past years it has had a picture of a nativity scene, a carp - the traditional Czech Christmas dish, a lamb, a smiling baby in a cradle and others. Last year's was a close up of a snowflake, this year it is a burning candle floating in a nutshell - an old Czech Christmas custom.

You can get special stamps for other occasions as well - the town of Kraslice offers a special Easter stamp every year, while Milostin in central Bohemia, stamps Valentine cards.

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
In line with tradition, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek himself lit the Christmas tree standing outside the government' headquarters on Mala Strana. He distributed presents to children from an orphanage and congratulated the winner of the best Christmas tree decoration. Asked by one of the kids what he himself would like to get for Christmas, the Prime Minister said "something practical - like a pair of socks"! The unexpected response evoked expressions of amazement and disbelief on the faces of the kids present, who probably spent hours imagining what they'd want for Christmas if they were in his shoes.

Of course, if the Prime Minister really wants that pair of socks his best bet would be to go a very special telephone booth in Prague six and call up Santa Claus to let him know. This is a new service the town hall thought kids might appreciate. Most Czech kids sent letters to let Santa know what they want but those living in Prague can visit the magic telephone booth where someone who claims to be Santa talks to them, writes down their name, age and address and promises to see what he can do - before discreetly passing on the information to their parents. "We are glad we set it up," one official said. "Kids really use it a lot and you can see that they are very impressed to be talking to Santa Claus in person."

Photo: CTK
The Czech Republic has sent a Christmas tree to Malta this year. The twelve metre tall fir tree is about 40 years old and it comes from the forests of south Bohemia. A visiting Maltese official is said to have expressed admiration for the country's forests because such trees do not grow in Malta. The local authorities promptly decided one should be sent there as a special Christmas greeting. The idea was received with enthusiasm and the south Bohemian fir tree set off on a long trip. It will grace the main square in Valetta and is to be lit by the Maltese president himself on December 17th.

Bethlehem Light
Every Christmas a steady stream of people make their way to the headquarters of Czech Radio- the building on Vinohradska 12, just minutes away from Prague's Wenceslas Square. They arrive with little lanterns and candles in order to take home the light of Friendship from the town of Bethlehem. This is now a nine year old tradition and the "Bethlehem light" as it is called will arrive at the Czech Radio building on December 21st. It will remain there until December 25th. The Light of Friendship travels from Bethlehem, by plane, to 25 countries around the world, and burns in institutions such as the United Nations or the European Parliament. Ever since the Czech Republic joined the tradition nine years ago more and more Czechs come to Czech Radio to take the light of friendship home for Christmas.

For several years now the west Bohemian town of Pilsen has been working on a unique nativity scene project. Everyone in town has been invited to take part and make a figurine for the nativity scene. Last year the nativity scene had 238 figurines. This year it is expected to get around fifty more. The idea is that everyone in Pilsen should have a hand in its making - and everyone can work with whatever material that suits them best - wood, plaster, paper, ceramics or glass. Some people have made figurines of themselves to put in the Nativity scene - others make them look like their friends or just use their imagination. The only condition is that the figurine be around 20 centimetres tall and should be able to stand upright.

The leader of the right wing Civic Democratic Party Mirek Topolanek donned a Santa Claus costume last week to drum up some publicity ahead of next years general elections. His sack was full of rubber stamps which he promised to rid people of if they voted him into office. Although reporters had a field day, many Civic Democratic party officials were secretly rather concerned. Four years ago the then-party leader Vaclav Klaus also dressed up in a Santa Claus costume - for the party's New Year greetings card. The card was a major hit, but six months later the Civic Democrats lost the elections. Will history repeat itself? -many Civic Democrats are now asking themselves. If it does, they'll know who to blame.