During my stay in Lapland, I made also a very, very special visit. They took us – me and an Australian family with a small boy – to this nice house.
Shortly after the door started to open…
Santa Claus – Father Christmas – or Joulupukki – as they call him here in Finland – came out and invited us to his residence. Ho ho ho!
You may argue that Santa lives somewhere else in Finland. I do not deny that. Actually, every Nordic country claims Santa’s residence to be within their territory. But there are so many children in the world and so many presents to be delivered, so why can’t there be more Santas? After all, according to the Guinness Book of Records in 2014, almost 20 thousand Santa Clauses were gathered in India.
Our Santa was also a white-bearded man with a moustache and long white hair wearing red trousers and a red coat with a white collar and cuffs and a broad leather belt. He had a red hat on his head, brown leather boots on his feet and thick fur gloves on his hands.
It looked very homely inside the house. Santa was sitting in his chair next to the lighted Christmas tree. Under the tree, there were some traditional toys: a baby carriage with a doll, a rocking horse, a sledge, a lorry and a racing car, and also several not yet opened parcels.
There were tidy stacks of children letters with drawings and wishes on the desk and shelves. People mostly think that the real home of Santa must be somewhere in Lapland – that is why throughout the years they have sent over eight million letters like these to Finland, every year over 600 thousand from almost 200 countries. This Santa also receives thousands of wish letters every year.
On the shelves, there was a collection of baby’s pacifiers next to the letters. Most of them came to Santa from America. Because the best way to give up a pacifier for an American baby is to send it to Santa. Ho ho ho!
What a pity that we did not reach Mrs Santa Claus. Yes, you read correctly this Lappish Santa has a wife. Ho ho ho! But at least we were allowed to have a look at their kitchen and bedroom. On a wall, there was a painting of Santa’s parents – also Santas but in the traditional Lappish cloths. I think in Lapland they inherit this “job”, but did you know that there are special schools in America which offer instruction on how to act as Santa Claus? The oldest one is Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, established in downtown Midland, Michigan in 1937. Students attending the school learn about the life of Saint Nicholaus and Santa Claus, how to dress properly, how to do radio and television interviews, Santa’s sign language, reindeer habits, newest toys trends etc.
It was good that there was a child with us. Children and Santa Claus simply belong together. The small Australian boy, who normally spoke a lot, was at a loss for words at the moment the house door opened. But at least he said his name. Santa praised him, put his hand in his big sack and took out a present for the boy – a small plush reindeer. The boy was too shy to thank him and when he finally gave thanks to Santa, the old man said: “In your country, you say Thank you but do you know what do we say here?” None of us knew. Santa laughed: “We say: Can I have more?” Ho ho ho!
A true Santa has his helpers – elves. But I was a little bit surprised and confused that the elf who was our guide during the visit comes from far Thailand. Of course, there were some elves on the fireplace as well. By the way, in Lapland instead of sneaking in through the chimney, Joulupukki knocks on the front door during Christmas Eve celebrations and traditionally greets the household with the question: “Are there any well-behaved children here?” However, it does not matter how Santa comes to us, as the founder of that oldest school Charles W. Howard said: “He errs who thinks Santa enters through the chimney. Santa enters through the heart.”
We also wanted to see the reindeer of Santa. In traditional lore, Santa’s sleigh is led by eight reindeer. They have also their names: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Are you missing Rudolph? Well, this ninth animal was added to the yoke later, in 1939. First, the reindeer did not want to accept him because of his glowing red nose. One year, Santa Claus’ worldwide flight was imperilled by severe fog. Visiting Rudolph’s house to deliver his presents, Santa observed Rudolph’s glowing red nose in the darkened bedroom and decided to use him as a makeshift lamp to guide his sleigh in the fog.
When we went to visit Santa the weather was pretty pleasing. After saying goodbye we left the house. Even then the late afternoon sun was shining through the clouds. We stopped at the tower where the elves live who are watching Santa’s bridge. But nobody seemed to be home. We came to the bridge…
According to the instruction of our elf guide, we formed a snowball, made a wish and threw the ball from the bridge. I was wondering what could I wish for if Santa could really fulfil my wishes? A white rabbit who would take me to Wonderland? No. I like Christmas and Christmas trees. I would have wished to forget about all the Christmas hustle and bustle and commercialism and I would have wished at least once more to be able to see the Christmas tree through children’s eyes…
There were some moments I really felt like being in a winter fairy tale…
We could see only parts of the river. Here, too, people come in the summer to pan for gold. And Santa’s elves as well. They convert the gold into toys for children.
Suddenly it started snowing. Big pieces like feathers from an eiderdown. April…
We peeped through the glass into the Christmas crib. The wooden figures looked very Lappish, even a husky was among the animals in the stable. We also noticed nice carved columns on the near building, each one was different.
And then we came to the fence with reindeer. Cupping some lichen we were waiting there with our cameras and at the same time, we tried to cover them against the falling snow. The reindeer did not want to come closer.
Our guide-elf was very kind. She wanted to show us how she will manage to persuade the reindeer to come closer, she jumped over the fence and ran after them. I thought I am watching an absurd film: a blizzard and I and three people from Australia – from the other side of the Earth – with some lichen in our hands standing in front of the fence while a Thai elf in a red cloak, her feet sinking into deep snow, was spreading her arms and waving them like a huge red butterfly trying to prod a herd of Lappish reindeer of Santa into coming closer to our cameras. One time she was successful but the runaway animals flew over at a frantic pace so we did not manage to take any picture. We even did not have time to see if one of the reindeer had a red nose. All the other tries were without success. The reindeer watched the red butterfly in surprise and thought their own…
I had to come to see the reindeer the next day when the sun was shining again. They were still without antlers (there will be new lamps again!). Reindeer use their antlers to clear away snow so they can eat the vegetation underneath. This is one possible reason why females grow antlers too. Sami people have a lot of words for reindeer and everything which is connected to them. There are special words for white reindeer, dark ones, those who were born in the summer, those with newborn hair etc. This animal has the most important place in the life of the Sami people. In the beginning, they had just used to hunt reindeer but since the 16th century, they have started to domesticate them. Reindeer’s antlers are used not only for creating new lamps but Sami people still bring them as a sacrifice if they want to win favour from their elves and gnomes.
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