Rovaniemi. Santa Claus, as every Finnish child knows, actually lives on or in the mountain Korvatunturi. This is in the far north of Finland on the border with Russia. That’s how "Uncle Markus" told it on Finnish radio decades ago, and that’s how Mauri Kunnas painted it in his famous children’s book "Where Santa Claus Lives".
Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi
But because it’s so impassable there, and also because it’s supposed to be secret, Santa Claus set up a more accessible branch near Rovaniemi in 1985, the 63.000-inhabitant capital of Finnish Lapland. At least that’s what Visit Rovaniemi claims on its website. Fact: You can meet Santa Claus, Joulupukki in Finnish, there and even take photos with him.
Danes and Greenlanders may now protest: Ever since Danish television filmed the Christmas series "Nissebanden i Grønland" in 1989, they have been convinced that Santa lives under the prominent rock in Uummannaq. Of course, everyone is free to believe one thing, another, or none of the above. But it’s also a fact that about half a million people visit Santa Claus Village every year, eight kilometers north of Rovaniemi’s city center.
Santa Claus: In the office every day since 1992
Since 1992, they say, Santa Claus has been there every day in his office. Now one would like to know nevertheless gladly: How many different heads are actually under this red cap? But that will not be revealed. "We all believe in Santa Claus here," explains Sanna Karkkainen, head of Visit Rovaniemi.
Santa Claus and reindeer belong together. Photo Visit Rovaniemi
The Joulupukki of Rovaniemi likes to receive international visitors, no matter what age or religion, and is nice to everyone. He sees himself universally as an ambassador for love and peace. And in his village everyone is allowed to stroll around for free. But somehow the money has to come in. So professional pictures with him cost, and you are also welcome to buy your own presents in the adjacent stores, have something to eat or take part in the activities offered in the surrounding area. Sanna Karkkainen calculates with 1800 full time jobs in the year by the Santa Claus tourism.
The best time of year to visit there is, of course, winter, when the lights really come into their own in the darkness and a blanket of snow enchants everything. Tour operators sell Northern Finland as a package of Winter Wonderland with Christmas. The man with the reindeer sleigh fits in naturally in a region where reindeer herding is still a dominant industry. If sledding is too romantic for you, you can also go skiing or try snowmobiling. But it’s open all year round, even in summer, when it’s light around the clock in Rovaniemi and all the snow has melted away. Santa Claus never takes a break.
Unbeatable combination: Santa Claus and the Arctic Circle
The first hut in today’s Santa Claus Village was not for Santa Claus, but for the Arctic Circle.
Napapiiri – the Arctic Circle, marked with illuminated pillars and a blue beam of light.
American president’s wife Eleanor Roosevelt came to Rovaniemi in 1950 to see the reconstruction after World War II. The place was almost completely destroyed at that time. She also wanted to go to the Arctic Circle, so they built this first hut there in no time at all, which still stands today and now looks quite modest. The Arctic Circle is now crossed between atmospherically illuminated columns, which harmoniously blend into the architecture of the Christmas village. One can also have the crossing confirmed with a certificate. That Santa Claus has an office in the Arctic Circle: Where else? The fact that the Arctic Circle moves a bit every year because the Earth wobbles on its orbit around the sun is a given. After all, the polar circle really exists.
December is high season
Rovaniemi is now called "The official Hometown of Santa Claus", and the airport is Santa’s official airport. 2018 were 664.000 overnight stays were counted, of which 66.9 percent were foreigners. High season is in December, when Rovaniemi regularly becomes Finland’s second-largest tourist destination after Helsinki.
Santa’s village has outgrown the Roosevelt cabin, but it’s still very manageable. The people are relaxed, the buildings low, in between you can still feel the fresh arctic air. The light decoration displaces the wintry darkness only selectively.
But there’s a plan to take the Santa village idea to a new level a few miles down the road: the Santa Claus Republic, "Republic of Santa Claus". The initiators have signed a preliminary contract with the Finnish Forestry Agency for a huge site, 7.750 hectares.
The vision: Republic of Santa Claus. Source: Republic of Santa Claus
The ideas seem like the realization of a childhood dream: live in a snow glass sphere for once. Or in a gingerbread house. Or in a hotel shaped like a giant lighted Christmas tree. The whole combined with wellness ideas, arctic super food (berries) and of course love and peace, at least within the borders of the republic. An investment, which must refinance itself also somehow: 10 million visitors should be able to be served there annually. How realistic the plans are is questionable: funders are still being sought for it. And there are also voices that find the project completely oversized.
No danger to the original
Sanna Karkkainen doesn’t see this as a threat to today’s Santa Claus village: "I’m sure travelers will visit both." If the project comes, the region will be enhanced with this theme park destination. "But Santa’s Village remains the heart of Santa’s living history!"
What one would have liked to have known also still: How is this popular personality then so in daily dealings? Sanna Karkkainen reveals: "It is good to work with him. I have him on speed dial 1 – I call him more often than I call my mother!"