Travel

#Selfies with Santa

Between afternoon naps and walking with his reindeer, Mr Claus tells MetroPlus how Rovaniemi, his hometown, is gearing up for Christmas

Ten elves sit huddled around a large wooden table sorting out mail. It’s 9 pm but they are still surrounded by walls of letters, almost three feet high. “We can’t function without sleep,” says Katja, one of the elves, as she dozes off. It’s a frenzied scene at Santa Claus Main Post Office in Rovaniemi (Finland). “Santa receives around 5,00,000 letters every year from all around the world. On a busy day in December, the number reaches 30,000,” she says, adding, “Interestingly, senders are as young as three and as old as 90.” Located at the present venue since 1991, this post office — a popular tourist destination — is open seven days a week. Though people write about their daily lives and hobbies, many of them include a wishlist for Christmas. Children get replies from Santa in the form of a requested present, but he also sends thousands of replies every spring, mostly to schools and kindergartens.

#Selfies with Santa

Come and visit

Since 2010, Rovaniemi has been the official hometown of Santa Claus. It is here at Santa Claus Village that you can meet its famous resident through the year. His office is at the Arctic Circle, that passes through the village. This is where he interacts with wide-eyed people from all over the world, some squealing with excitement and some overawed and stunned. “The doors to my office are open every day of the year. I love that people take the time to come and meet me and that’s why I don’t want anybody to miss the opportunity,” says Santa, adding, “Both my home and office are warm and cosy. You should visit me.” Winter, however, is the most magical time to meet the jolly old man, with the ethereal Northern Lights for company and the pristine white snow that aesthetically blankets pine trees, meadows, forests and even Dasher’s nose.

Frozen in time
  • Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland, the northernmost province of Finland.
  • In December, temperature can go down to -30 degree Celsius.
  • Daylight hours are few, but the light is a lovely blue and good for photoshoots.
  • Try out activities such as snowmobiling, ice fishing, Northern Lights tours, sleigh rides...
  • Traditional festive menu includes carrot casserole, rutabaga casserole, sweetened potato casserole, salted salmon, whitefish, Atlantic herring, ham, roast from reindeer, mashed potatoes, Lappish bread made from barley flour, bread with syrup, beer, juice from Lappish berries, gingerbread and mince pie.

“From October end, we have new flights connecting London to Rovaniemi, bringing in travellers to see Santa and experience Christmas-related activities,” says Sanna Karkkainen, CEO, Visit Rovaniemi. Christmas tourism started here in the 1980s. In December 1984, the first Concorde landed from the UK, bringing Christmas visitors for a day. Since then, tourism has been developing, she adds. To cater to the influx of visitors, “there are around 6,500 bedplaces in this city across hotels and special accommodation,” says Sanna. This also includes unusual places to stay, like glass igloos and tree houses. According to statistics and reports from Visiittori.fi, December 2017 saw an increase in overnight stays by 12% (1.71 million overnight stays). In total, the arrivals to Rovaniemi airport have increased this year with 17,100 people flying in. “A majority of the travellers come from the UK, Italy, France, China, Singapore and Japan. December mainly gets families, but in Rovaniemi it always feels like Christmas and we do get visitors until the end of April; these are mainly couples or groups of friends,” says Sanna.

#Selfies with Santa

With Indian travellers evolving, there has been an interest in Finland and Finnish Lapland. “Witnessing a growth of 42% in tourist arrivals and overnights from India in 2017, Visit Finland has re-entered the Indian market this year,” says Sara Sodhi Juneja, country head – India, Visit Finland. “A lot of our travel partners have now developed special Christmas packages for Rovaniemi,” she says. Meeting Santa Claus in his hometown is a fairytale experience. No matter how old you are, you feel like a child when you meet the man with his trademark laugh, grins Sara, who has just returned from Finland.

Have you been naughty or nice?
  • Santa says, “I understand it’s not possible to be nice all the time. But the important thing is what you do when you are feeling cranky and how you handle the situation. The ones who do not take it out on other people are doing extremely well. Best thing to do is to treat others how you want to be treated.”

With the spotlight now on Santa’s hometown, there’s obviously a lot of work involved in preparing for Christmas: decorations using eco-safe materials, receiving guests, keeping the reindeer happy (you do not want Rudolph looking grumpy, do you?) grooming the huskies, checking lists to see who’s been good, sending out presents... “Since my elves help me, I get to fly around the world in my sleigh, delivering gifts. Imeet friends from all over the world, manage afternoon naps and take time to enjoy Nature. It helps me focus on the important tasks ahead,” laughs Santa, looking every bit affable in his red robe and flowy, white beard.

Busy elves

#Selfies with Santa

Meanwhile Vanilla, another cheerful elf, rushes past, guiding a group of guests through a candle-lit path. “I am getting closer to 200 years, but I don’t feel a day older than 100,” she laughs. Her job is to make notes, plan gifts, interact with visitors. She can speak Finnish, English, Spanish, Swedish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Polish, German, Dutch, Russian, French... “I may not be fluent, but I try,” she grins and adds, “Sometimes I find myself in situations where I don’t have a common language, with toddlers or dogs from abroad.” But Vanilla loves what she does. “Santa is an excellent boss. Plus I get to meet so many puppies and babies. It’s the best feeling to see happy faces and witness different miracles every Christmas.”

You can write to him at this address: Santa Claus’ Main Post Office, Tähtikuja 1, 96930 Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi, Finland

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 2:59:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/selfies-with-santa/article25725058.ece

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