They huddle in hot saunas, drink spice wine and reminisce about good times while the children open their presents delivered by Santa Claus.
During the other 364 days in the year, children from all over Finland head off to Finnish Lapland’s Santa Claus Village in the Arctic Circle to place their Christmas orders.
In 1925 Finnish broadcaster Uncle Markus from the Children’s Hour show revealed to children all over Finland, that Santa Claus lived at Korvatunturi in Lapland. Today, no matter what time of the year, the elves at the bustling Santa Claus Village are kept busy serving the crowds that come to visit Santa’s home and workshop.
As a large part of Lapland is located within the Arctic Circle, winter comes early in mid-October.
The cold darkness creeps over the rest of the Finnish landscape until by December, an icy gloom settles over the entire country.
This cold wintry season is Finland’s longest and plunges the country into a blue-tinged darkness illuminated mostly by the twinkling of Christmas lights.
During this Christmas season, the familiar tunes of Christmas carols float comfortingly through the air.
Although every town or city has its own Christmas market that adds to the yuletide atmosphere, many people head to the cities to soak in the Christmas ambiance.
Wrapped snugly in warm winter coats, they stop to gaze at the elaborate department-store window displays and to admire the giant Christmas tree at Helsinki’s Senate Square.
At noon on Christmas Eve each year, the Christmas Peace message is broadcasted across the country from Finland’s oldest city, Turku.
This is a deeply engrained tradition that dates back to the 13th century. Across the country, cemeteries flicker with candles lit in honor of family members who have passed away.
Most families begin their celebrations by relaxing in a traditional Scandinavian Sauna, followed by a traditional Christmas dinner which is often a banquet of bountiful blessings from the freezing seas.
A feast of pickled herring, smoked salmon and roe, accompanied by rosolli (a vegetable salad made from beetroot, carrot, potato and gherkins) and a Christmas ham is washed down with mouthfuls of warm glögi, the traditional Scandinavian spicy hot mulled wine.
No rest for Santa
At Santa’s Office in Finnish Lapland, Santa warms his feet by the fire as he meets some new friends from Korea.
Speaking in Korean, he says “Have you been good children?” A boy and a girl stare at him in goggle-eyed awe. “Yes, we have Santa” the boy replies as his sister nods her head earnestly.
The white-bearded jolly old man dressed in his customary red suit pulls out a giant atlas, flips to the map of Korea and uses his red felt pen to mark the town they live in.
The kids giggle in delight as he scrawls their names into his book. Standing in the queue, is a blond-haired blue-eyed Scandinavian family, a grey-haired man with a clipped German accent and another Asian family who watch in amazement, marveling at Santa’s linguistic skills.
Souvenir photos with Santa are snapped as proof of this meeting to friends at home. Winter, summer, autumn or fall, this is a scene that is repeated all year round at Santa Claus Village.
Santa Claus Village consists of Santa Claus’ Office, Santa Claus’ Main Post Office, a reindeer park and Santa Park (a children’s amusement park).
The post office is manned by an army of busy elves that rush around selling stamps, Christmas children’s books, decorations, souvenirs and stamping post cards.
No matter what time of the year, it is a hive of activity with visitors writing their Christmas cards which the post office will stamp with that mysterious Arctic Circle postmark and deliver to a delighted addressee at any time of the year.
This is also where the bags of letters received by Santa from children all over the world are kept.
The story of Santa Claus can be traced back to around 280 AD where a monk named St. Nicholas lived in Turkey.
St Nicholas became a popular protector of children when he saved three poor sisters from being sold to a brothel by sneaking into their house and placing three sacks of gold under their Christmas tree.
By the Renaissance period, he had become Europe’s most popular saint and his feast day was celebrated on December 6, during the anniversary of his death.
In 1809 in America, Washington Irving’s book Knickerbocker History made references to a stern dark-robed Dutch St Nicholas, Sinter Klass. Irving’s Christmas poem, The Children’s Friend, published in 1821 was the first to mention his reindeer and sleigh.
It was 1822 before America was presented with an image of Santa Claus as a portly jolly old man with supernatural abilities to ascend chimneys.
American Biblical Scholar Clement Clarke Moore published a Christmas poem called An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas – better known as The Night before Christmas – which portrays Santa Claus flying from house to house on a sleigh led by eight flying reindeer, leaving presents for good little children.
Little did he realize that in 1997, one of his four original handwritten manuscripts of the poem would sell at auction for USD$211,000.
Between the 1860’s and the 1880’s, Harpers Magazine illustrator Thomas Nast drew pictures of Santa as a jolly rotund old man in buckled clogs smoking a long-stemmed pipe in his workshop at the North Pole. Santa’s image reached its pinnacle in 1931 when Coca Cola’s annual advertisements featured drawings of Santa Claus holding, drinking and receiving Coca-Cola as gifts.
Today, children from all over the world can either visit Santa at his workshop in Finnish Lapland, email or contact him through internet telephone and videophone.
St Nicholas Festival
The St Nicholas Festival is celebrated, in a number of different countries, to honor the saint that the Santa Claus legend sprang from.
On December 6 in Demre, Turkey, the birthplace of St Nicholas, a feast takes place in the Martyrium church, built on the site of the saint’s final resting place. Visitors to the shrine pay their respects by placing candles around the saint’s crypt and attending the special multi-denominational service held at the church.
Each May, the public square in Italy’s Bari becomes a festive fairyland during the Festa di San Nicola di Bari which is celebrated to commemorate the arrival of St. Nicholas’ remains at this town. The main event is the traslazione or translation, a re-enactment of the arrival of the saint where his statue is taken out to sea from the Basilica di San Nicola and brought back again.
At St. Nicolas-de-Port, people gather in the basilica to pay homage to St. Nicolas.
In Amsterdam, Sinterklaas parades through the streets with brass bands, colorful floats, lively jesters, and cycling clowns. Sweets in sacks are thrown into the watching crowd.
Finland’s Independence Day coincides with St Nicholas Day on December 6.
Who delivers gifts?
In Switzerland and Germany, Kris Kringle delivers presents to well-behaved children.
In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten delivers gifts in a goat-drawn sleigh. Pere Noel stuffs the shoes of French children. Babouschka visits Russian children to leave gifts by their bedsides. La Befana is a kind witch who swoops on a broomstick into Italian homes with toys.
In England, Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children’s stockings with holiday treats. British children leave him whiskey instead of milk, and mince pies instead of cookies, Australian children leave him beer and mince pies.
Chinese children hang muslin stockings for Dun Che Lao Ren or Christmas Old Man. Santakuro, Japan’s first Christmas book was published in 1898 featuring the Japanese Santa. Last year, Finland’s Santa flew from Santa Claus Village to visit the children of Korea at Seoul’s COEX Mall.
Korean Airlines flies to Helsinki with connections to Rovaniemi where Santa Claus Village is located.
While in Helsinki, stay at the five-star historic Kämp Hotel, located next to the St. Thomas Christmas Market. Hotel Kämp, Pohjoisesplanadi 29, 00100 Helsinki, tel: +358 (09) 576 111, email: [email protected]
For more information on visiting and staying in Rovaniemi visit the Santa Claus Tourist Centre – Rovaniemi Tourist Information Rovakatu 21, FIN-96200 Rovaniemi, Finland, Tel. +358- (0)16- 346 270.
Santa Claus’ Main Post Office is open every day: June, July, August and December 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., other months 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tel. + 358-0204523120, fax +358-16 3481 418. Santa Park is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm Tel: +358 16 333 0000, email:[email protected] For more information contact Santa Claus Village at tel/fax. +358 (0) 16 356 2096, E-mail: [email protected]
How to contact Santa
Contact Santa through snail mail, email, internet television or videophone.
One good way of seeing Santa in person is through Internet TV live from his office. Get online and watch Santa in the Arctic Circle (from the end of November to the beginning of January).