Legend tells of a hollow mountain, shrouded in snow, in the far distant north of Lapland. Inside the mountain is a secret workshop – a treasure trove of Christmas delights. Over the centuries, Lapland has become synonymous with Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Each year thousands of parents from around the globe delight their children with a pre-Christmas pilgrimage of sorts to this magical place, made up of the northern parts of, Norway, Finland and Russia. Remote it may be, but it has become a major tourist destination. To get there, it’s not so much planes, trains and automobiles as planes and huskie-drawn sledges through the snow. But like most holidays, people’s starting point will be to compare flight prices to get to the town of Rovaniemi in the Arctic circle.
The origins of Santa Claus
The original Finnish Christmas figure was known as Joulupukki, which translates as Yule goat. Rather than the friendly old gent in a red suit, Joulupikki was a sinister figure – a man with a goat like appearance who demanded respect from children. Over time this mystical evil creature transformed into a compassionate gift giver. As time continued it merged with Santa Claus.
The legendary hollow mountain is said to be Korvatunturi, a high fell nearly 500ft above sea level situated near Rovaniemi. But the legend of Santa Claus living in Lapland originated from Markus Rautio, a radio presenter of a children’s show called Markus-Sedan Lastentunti.
Lapland’s climate changes dramatically with the seasons. Winter lasts for about half the year and begins in October. The twilight period can last for 51 days in the north. This is where the sun stays below the horizon and there is no real daylight. The snowfall varies each year. It can be anything from 50 centimetres and can even reach a metre in the far north. Lapland has plenty to offer during the winter months. One of the most spectacular sightings can be the Aurora Borealis which can be seen between November and February. In the spring the weather tends to be sunny and mild. The lakes will stay frozen right through till April with the snow gradually starting to melt. The summer months are short but relatively warm. During June and July they experience a dim pinkish light which is known as the midnight sun. These two months are where the sun never sets and it makes it ideal for midnight forest hikes.
As Lapland covers such a vast area the culture varies from place to place. The main theme running through the culture of Lapland is the way in which it is interwoven with nature. The indigenous people of Lapland are known as Sami. Their traditional livelihoods are breeding reindeer, which provide milk, meat, hides and use as a mode of transport. Reindeer is one of the staple foods along with fish and berries. Throughout the year there is a lot of employment surrounding the preparation for the Christmas tourist season. Christmas tourism is based on the wide variety of activities offered by local companies around the town of Rovaniemi. Apart from the Santa Claus attractions, hotels, restaurants and snow activities generate regular employment for the locals.
There is a mixture of culture from many directions in Lapland. Influences have come from Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia. Along with the myth of Santa Claus Lapland has a very rich history and diverse culture.