A tete-a-tete with Santa

Travel Tales

Rovaniemi, the capital of and gateway to Lapland, lying in the region north of the Arctic Circle, was not even a name to us until we set out on a tour of Sweden, Finland and Norway in July-August of 2013!

Its proximity to both the Arctic Circle (the official marker is just 8 km) and the Santa Claus Village instantly enveloped it with a certain mysteriousness. To add to it here was a city reborn from its own ashes after the Second World War.

The famous architect Alvar Aalto designed it in such a way that even the aerial view of Rovaniemi is said to be like that of a reindeer, a central symbol in the lives of the Samis, the original inhabitants of Finland who still have a living culture and heritage of their own, something that we personally experienced.

Visiting the nearby Sami Village by ferry was virtually a journey back in time! We were not merely able to interact with some of the present descendants of the Samis, clad in all their colourful, traditional attire but also spend some exhilarating moments in the company of the long-horned reindeer, feeding, photographing and even trying to catch them! The village, which has authentically recreated an indigenous way of life, offered us intimate glimpses of a rich, hoary past.

Sitting on stone or wooden benches in thatched huts around a fire and listening to stories, myths and superstitions by a remarkably gifted tribesman-cum-guide proved to be most memorable.

Later, we were taken around a mini-museum where primitive tools, implements, animal skins and other artefacts are displayed; treated to coffee and biscuits and even presented with certificates for having crossed the
Arctic Circle!

However, the highlight of this trip was our meeting with the iconic Santa Claus in person in his own quarters! It is said Santa moved to Finland about 100 years ago and Rovaniemi some 50 years back to be away from visitors. But has he really succeeded in keeping them off, we wondered, for he is still an extremely busy person, meeting people, interacting with children, answering queries, replying to letters, sending gifts and messages and still retaining his mystique all the while!

After few minutes of waiting, we were called in. It was with much expectation and excitement we went in to see a radiant Santa Claus seated in his customary red and white robes, sporting his all-too-familiar flowing, snow-white beard and a pair of glasses perched at the tip of his nose!

He greeted us kindly and invited us to sit by his side. While his Little Helpers (elves?!) were busy clicking pictures, we were engaged in a chat.  

We found Santa Claus to be a very warm  person as he made kind enquiries about us, our country, our occupation and our families.

When we asked him for a message that we could take back home for children, he graciously responded expressing his hope for a better world inhabited by love and peace.

Our meeting concluded with a warm farewell and an invitation to him to visit our country upon which he surprised us pleasantly with an affirmative “why not?”!

We bought the photographs taken in his office to carry back home as souvenirs. For Christmas, we sent one or two of these to our close friends who teased us with: “What gift did Santa give you?” and so on!

Yet another exciting thing we did was to stand on the very spot officially marked the Arctic Circle (66o31’N)! Stepping on it filled us with a sense of having achieved something! Being so close to the North Pole was incredible!

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