In search of the man in red

By on November 28, 2009

A traditional white Christmas with the family is a rarity these days. Fortunately, the old-world Christmas feeling of snowball fights, jingling reindeer bells, snowflake-patterned jumpers and the man in red, Santa Claus, can be found by the young and the young at heart in the magical world of Lapland, where it’s Christmas everyday.

Much of Lapland falls within the Arctic Circle, and the province of Lapland occupies thirty percent of Finland’s land area but is home to just over three percent of its population. You’ll encounter more reindeer than people and very few creatures of the two-legged variety, give or take a few trolls and elves. Lapland offers Narnia-like landscapes with eco-snow adventures, and has a festive spirit every day of the year.

Finns say Santa Claus lives near the gateway to Lapland at the northern Arctic Circle and a world away from the cosmopolitan-style capital of Helsinki. Despite the weather and the remoteness, Laplanders are a warm and friendly people with a natural thirst for laughter and ice cold vodka.This is the traditional homeland of the Sámi people, one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures, who have no word for war but more than ninety for snow.

Santa Claus is said to live in the hills of Korvatunturi near the Lapland capital Rovaniemi, and his winter playground can be explored by husky- or reindeer-drawn sleds. It’s a wilderness of pristine frozen lakes, endless forests and snow-covered hills. In this magical environment, it’s easy to confuse reality and fantasy as days are like nights and the early hours of the morning are lit up by the awe-inspiring Revontulet (Aurora Borealis).

Santa Claus can be found every day of the year at the rather unimaginatively-titled Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. See the portly gentleman busy himself and his team of elf toymakers and postal workers. The village includes the all-important post office, complete with chimney and Santa’s Grotto, where you can have a chat with the bearded fellow if you so desire. He can also be found at a variety of ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ locations. No one seems to worry about the clashing logistics, and while being overtly commercial, Santa and his little helpers are all handled with respect. Real or not, Santa is very much part of Lapland’s past, present and future, and is guaranteed to win over even the most cynical of family members.

Meeting Santa Claus is a tough act to follow but Lapland manages to deliver with an abundance of eco-tours. Take a trip to a reindeer farm, go on snowmobile safari (kids ride behind in trailers), and try a husky-drawn sled ride. Add to the magic and spend a night at the Arctic Snow Hotel, fashioned from ice and snow, or stay in a genuine igloo.

Hi-tech thermo glass igloos are the latest way to see Lapland’s other famous resident, the Aurora Borealis, known as “Revontulet” in these parts. Gaze up at the dramatic sky from the comfort and warmth of your own bed. The more adventurous can venture out in the icy night in  a special glass-roofed bus or go on a midnight snowmobile safari in search of the mysterious lights.

The Finnish part of Lapland has also become a major family ski destination and is more reasonable than its Nordic neighbours. Resorts such as Saariselkä, Ruka, Olos and Levi (the “official ski resort of Santa Claus”) are extremely child-friendly,  and provide gentle floodlit courses necessary for the ‘blue twilight’ of December and January, when the sun never comes out. Temperatures in the winter months can often fall below 30 degrees centigrade, so it’s “heat tech” time and tour operators provide thermal outer suits. The traditional dish of reindeer meat sautéed in butter (poronkaristys), along with reindeer (poro) sausages and meatballs, also help to keep the family warm and full of energy.

If you haven’t found the magic of Lapland by now, then it must be time for your daily rejuvenating sauna – a Finnish favourite, guaranteed to revive any frozen bits you might have. As you thaw, keep an eye out for Santa. He’s been known to partake from time to time. Lapland is after all, the most magical of destinations!

INFO

Santa’s hangouts

www.santapark.com

www.santaclausvillage.info

Santa Claus address in Finland, 96930, Lapland, Tahtikuja 1, Rovaniemi

For more information www.visitfinland.com

Places to stay

The Arctic Snow Hotel – www.arcticsnowhotel.fi

The Igloos Village Kakslauttanen – www.kakslauttanen.fi

The Santa Claus Hotel – www.hotelsantaclaus.fi

Getting there

Finnair flies direct to Finland’s capital, Helsinki, from Tokyo. You can fly to Lapland, directly to Rovaniemi, Kemi-Tornio, Ivalo, Kittilä and Enontekiö, or travel by rail in the comfort of a sleeping car.

About Carl Williams