Story and photos by Diane Slawych
Santa Claus gets to see the inside of many people’s homes on his travels around the globe while distributing gifts during the Christmas season, but rarely does anyone get a peak inside his abode. That’s partly because of its remote location near the Arctic Circle.
But if you make the effort, you’re certainly welcome, as I discovered on a trip to Rovaniemi, Finland, which is billed as the official hometown of Santa Claus. From the centre of town, we drove a further 20 minutes to a secluded forested area in Joulukka, where a kindly elf with long curly locks, an upturned nose and a high pitched voice, appeared seemingly out of nowhere to greet us.
Following a dirt path, we were lead to a peculiar cavern – a large sod and rock covered earthen mound. It was mid-autumn and the snow had not yet fallen. This is command central for Christmas preparations and every year thousands of visitors from around the world come to see Santa on his home turf. On this brisk morning, however, we seemed to be the only ones here. Our elf guide ushered us through a large roughly hewn timber door.
Inside the dimly lit, cosy hideaway, we received a behind the scenes tour of what is essentially Santa’s home office. A map on the wall pinpointed the locations of elves around the world (including in Canada). There was the radar screen that is checked before reindeers are cleared for take-off, the elf meter (every person has a bit of elf in their heart) and a kindness meter (to increase the amount in the world, we’re asked to close our eyes and think about something “extremely good”). In the mail room, meanwhile, a green light flashed whenever a new letter arrived for Santa, and on a nearby desk were several letters awaiting a reply.
Scanning the shelves I noticed a few books that could only belong to someone like Santa. Alongside two volumes of The Christmas Encyclopedia and The Art of Being Kind were some practical tomes: Christmas Management: So Many Projects, Not Enough Time, and 1001 Ways to Solve Logistical Problems on Christmas Night! (And I thought it was all magic).
Somewhere in this cavern there was a secret door and to open it, the elf tells us, requires “10 nice people (we are a group of 10), an elf and a Christmas song.” At that prompt, we launched into an off-key rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, when some creaky sounds began to emanate from a wall, and a hidden door opened into a secret room.
“Welcome to Lapland and to my place,” Santa chimed with open arms. “You came by train?” We nod. Without access to reindeer we had few other choices.
“How do you manage to be in so many places on one night?,” someone asked Santa. “Look at the diploma on the wall,” he motioned. The document, purportedly issued by Guinness World Records, reads: “World record for the fastest time around the world: Santa Claus.”
Santa has many other degrees and citations on display here including one from The Arctic Circle University Schools of Wishes “conferred on Santa Claus the degree of Doctor of Wishes.” Then there’s his certificate in reindeer handling and the art of flying, from the faculty of the college of Christmas and Holiday Elves Committee and the Parliament of Reindeers.
Before we left Santa gave us each a gift – a little wooden cup with a leather strap, called a kuksa. Traditionally, these Finnish drinking cups were hand carved from birch by the Sami of Northern Scandinavia. Now similar looking versions are often sold as souvenirs for tourists. “To make the wood last long,” our elf advises, “the very first drink out of a kuksa has to be very, very strong.”
Santa’s modest home is not nearly big enough to store all the letters and cards that arrive each day (in one year alone he received 700,000 items from 184 countries), so they are sent instead to the Santa Claus Village at the Arctic Circle. You can see some of these letters and also send a Christmas card or gift from Santa Claus’ Main Post Office. The letter or package is stamped with a special Arctic Circle postmark and can be held back and sent just before Christmas if you so choose.