The new year is upon us, Christmas is over, with all the lights and trees gone, except in homes where you’ll find a Christmas cone blazing with lights in mid-March. But in one small Finnish city, just six kilometres south of the Arctic Circle with a population of about 64,000, Christmas never stops.
This is Rovaniemi, in the Finn province of Lapland, cradled between the hill of Korkalovaara and the ski-alp of Ounasvaara. Because it is the home of the original Santa Claus, complete with a huge Santa Claus Village and Santa World Arctic Park, where families mostly with young children from Finland and the rest of Europe visit to see Santa throughout the year makes Rovaniemi Airport a hub that handled more than 600,000 passengers in 2022.
The 'original' Santa Claus lives all-year-round in a cavernous cabin in Santa Park Village inside the Arctic Circle, where people pay to see him, and the unique Santa Park site, which has been declared as the top Christmas destination in the world.
When we ask about other Santas in the world, Susanna Seppanen simply bursts into an Eminem re-mix, replacing ‘Slim Shady’ with Santa Claus: “Ours is Santa Claus, the real Santa Claus, and all other Santa Clauses, are just imitators ...”
Located in Lapland in Northern Finland, Santa Park — the home of the original Santa Claus — boasts its own Santa Post Office for his global correspondence, the Santa Claus Reindeer Park, the dog kennels for huskies, Santa’s sled, sleighs and snow-mobile shop, Snowman World, the cosy Three Elves restaurant and bar as well as an official office of Santa Claus.
To stay overnight in the Santa Claus Village holiday cabins costs Ksh25,000 ($202) while Santa’s Igloos and the Glass Resort charge Ksh90,000 ($729) and Ksh100,000 ($810) respectively. Although an entire family can stay in the igloo resort, most visitors are day-trippers. A one-way ticket from London to Rovaniemi costs about $144 for the 2,200km flight.
There is an Elf Academy at Santa Park where one gets an official diploma upon successful completion of sledding and hospitality courses, as Three Elves is the official agent of the 'original' Santa Claus.
Twelve days before Christmas eve, Santa Claus sits in his sitting room and receives guests, mostly children who sit on his lap and tell him their ‘secret’ Christmas gift wishlist, which he promptly passes on to their parents via Santa paper, so that they can buy the presents, and put them under the Christmas tree .
Of course Santa Claus gets all the credit, by children who believe he slid down the chimneys in Finland, and brought these gifts himself.
But on the three days of Christmas – the 24th, 25th and 26th — Santa Claus leaves Rovaniemi on his reindeer, and travels 200km south to the city of Oulu, stopping by places along the 65km-a-day route to hand out gifts to children.
One of his official helpers, Annette Ekholm, describes the typical Finnish Christmas: ''What is our Christmas like? The answer will not be the gorgeous decorations of shop windows or the abundance of Christmas decorations in Yankee movies. No flashing lights and running around in shops. Christmas is more than just Christmas.
Every Christmas is different for us, but in the Finnish way, it comes with beautiful traditions that pass on from generation to generation. ''
Other than the Santa Park and Village, the other phenomenon that draws thousands of visitors is the nocturnal display of aurora borealis (or northern lights) in that part of the world – where green atmospheric layers of molecular nitrogen form curtains that shimmer with deep blues and reds that merge into purple lights — with particularly strong displays exhibiting violet and white and hints of pink.
“Putting together the Christmas tree is always so joyful for the children,” Annette adds.
“Straw decorations are dear to us and they are part of our history. The decorations I love the most are not the nice, sparkling different decorations in the store, but the different decorations made by children and the decorations of our parents and grandparents who have already passed. ''