It’s officially the holiday season! I’ve already started jamming my Spotify Christmas playlists. Rambo also got his first Christmas Calendar from Kimmo’s parents, so that will be a new tradition. He gets a treat every day in December until the big day. How cute is this?
The history of Santa
If you ask a Finn, they’ll probably tell you that Santa is from a town called Korvatunturi in Lapland. I know when Kimmo told me this, I almost believed him. But as any good partner would do, I questioned him and googled the facts. Haha!
St Nicholas, the generous medieval Christian saint believed to be the inspiration behind the modern-day Santa Claus, was bishop of the small Roman town of Myra in the 4th Century in what is now Turkey. Turkey, what? Then where did the stories of snow, reindeer, and northern lights come from?
Before Christianity and Santa came to Finland in the Middle Ages, Finns celebrated a pagan mid-winter festival called Yule where men dressed as Nuuttipukki wandered from house to house, came in, and demanded food, especially booze. Nuuttipukki was a scary character (like Krampus) dressed in fur jackets, birch bark masks and horns. The Nuuttipukki were evil spirits; if they didn’t get what they wanted, they would make loud noises and scare children.
When St. Nick came along during the 1800s, his image blended with Nuuttipukki to create Joulupukki (‘Yule Goat’). Joulupukki handed out gifts instead of demanding them. Unlike Santa Claus who climbs down the chimney, Joulupukki would knock on the door and ask “Onko täällä kilttejä lapsia?” (“Are there any well-behaved children here?”).
In November 2017, Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture approved Joulupukki (or Finnish Santa Claus tradition, as it is known today) to be included in the National Inventory of Living Heritage (part of Unesco). This was huge for Finland, and strengthened its position as the country where Santa Claus lives.
Visiting Santa in Lapland
Okay now that you got the history lesson, let’s talk about meeting Santa and real reindeer! I might be a little partial to the fat man because I was a huge fan as a kid, so when Kimmo told me he was going to take me to Santa’s official home, I was pretty stoked. We visited two places in Rovaniemi last November, and I’ll give you the lowdown on both.
Santa’s Village is free to visit, but you pretty much have to pay for any activity you do there.
- Picture with Santa – If you want your kiddos to meet the real Santa, the jolly man in the post office is as good as it gets. They take a high-quality video of your visit and he genuinely asks about you and what you wish for Christmas. When I went in 2018, I wished for Kimmo and I to finally be able to live together in the same country, and guess what? A few months later, Kimmo proposed to me and I got a job in Helsinki! The man made my Christmas wishes come true and I have a video from that day to remember it by =)
- Real Reindeer – I just about freaked out when I got to see real reindeer doing sleigh rides! They’re adorable. The only thing disturbing was that there was a reindeer restaurant right next to it, so after you meet the reindeer, you can also eat reindeer. Santa should probably think about making these two things further apart from each other.
- Husky Park – We didn’t actually go in here because we didn’t want to pay the extra entrance fees, but from what we could see when we peeked through the fence, there were tons of cute huskies excited to greet the guests.
- Cross the Arctic Circle – The Arctic Circle is a circle of latitude that runs 66°33′45.9″ north of the Equator. It marks the southernmost latitude where the sun can stay continuously below or above the horizon for 24 hours – known as the Midnight Sun in the summer and the Polar Night (“Kaamos”) in the winter. In Rovaniemi, the Arctic Circle runs through Santa Claus Village, where it is clearly marked. You can even get a certificate confirming the feat.
- Moomin Snowcastle – We didn’t get to see this because we went at the end of November, and there wasn’t enough snow yet. I would have loved to check this out though, so make sure you check what dates this is available.
Don’t let their cheesy website fool you, we actually enjoyed Santa’s Park more than Santa’s Village. You can think of it more like a theme park. Here are some highlights:
- One ticket price to see everything
- Ice Gallery – We wanted to visit the infamous Arctic Igloos, but you had to be a guest at the hotel to see them, so this was the next best thing!
- Elf School – Yup, get your Elf Diploma!
- Mrs. Gingerbread Bakery – Make your own gingerbread man or woman
- Train Ride – Take a ride through Santa’s Workshop
- Where to Stay – Hotels are pretty expensive. We stayed in an adorable Airbnb which was really affordable.
- Train – From Helsinki we took an overnight train that left around 9pm and arrived at 7am in the morning. If you have the time to kill, I recommend taking a morning train so that you can see the sites along the way. At night it’s pretty hard to see anything, but we didn’t want to waste an entire day traveling, so it was convenient for us to be able to sleep on the train and arrive there in the morning. We got a private room which had 2 bunk beds, bathroom, and shower even.
- Fly – We flew back to Helsinki through the Rovaniemi airport. This was a quick, easy, and cheap flight!
- Santa Express Bus – Once you’re in Rovaniemi, there is a Santa Express bus that stops at Santa Claus Village, Santapark/Arctic Treehouse Hotel, Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle and the the Airport. See timetable here.
But Rovaniemi is just the tip of Lapland. There is so much more to explore. For instance this snowboarding video of Sanni Oksanen was sent to me from two of my American friends and is going viral because sites like TheCoolHunter reposted it. When I went last year in November, there wasn’t enough snow yet, and when we tried to chase the Northern Lights, there was no such luck. I’ll be back for you Lapland and aurora borealis!