Christmas Village Rovaniemi
Near the Arctic Circle, on Mount Korvatunturi, that’s where Santa Claus lives. This mountain somewhat resembles the ear of a hare, so it is called Ear Mountain.
Since Santa Claus lives on the so strangely shaped mountain, it is said that he has especially good ears and can hear if the children are sweet and above all he hears what the children all over the world want for Christmas.
Although Santa lives on Korvatunturi, during the day he is in the Arctic Circle, near Rovaniemi in Finland. There he writes letters, there he has his workshop and many elves who help him make the gifts for the children; from there he sends gifts and Christmas greetings and there children and adults can meet him in person.
It is cold and clammy, about minus five degrees, when we arrive at the Christmas village a few kilometers outside Rovaniemi. We expected buses and lines of cars, but on this Friday afternoon in December, the crowds are manageable.
As we walk through the small village admiring the electric snow drops falling from a fir tree, it starts to snow. We listen to soft Christmas music. Perfect, everything fits. The small stores where you can buy plush reindeer, warm socks, furs and leather clothes, Santa Claus DVDs and souvenirs of all kinds, wraps itself in a white veil. Families with children can be pulled by reindeer sleds or race down the steep snow curves on an inflatable rubber ring. We don’t linger that long, because our destination is Santa Park, a few kilometers away.
It is two o’clock in the afternoon, it is slowly getting dark and the small colorful light sculptures in front of the entrance of the park show us the way. Here there is more activity, buses from Estonia and Russia are in the parking lot, we see cars from Germany, still with canoes on the roof; we hear Spanish and English, here are the tourists and want to meet Santa Claus.
The dark tunnel, almost two hundred meters long, leads us on the right path. Something shimmers down there, that’s where he must be, Santa Claus. But first we pass a reindeer with a sled.
We are greeted by an ice princess who serves hot and even cold drinks at the ice bar and never seems to freeze. In the ice gallery we marvel at the graceful ice sculptures, in the elves’ workshop we get to make our most beautiful Christmas decorations and on the stage, by the small restaurant whose lamps are decorated with reindeer horn, we see a show in which trolls and elves fight over a glittering ball.
It still takes a little while – we first have a look at Santa’s post office and get a Santa Park stamp and then finally we see him: Santa Claus.
He sits in his office. A man with a huge white ruffled beard. Behind him shelves full of books. Rumor has it that he can read up to ten books at a time, but only in the summer when he has time.
He nods, we may join him….
With his friendly deep voice he asks us where we come from, what our names are and we feel transported to the time of our childhood, when Santa Claus asked us if we have been good. We get a postcard with his greetings and are photographed with him.
We and Santa Claus – in one photo.
A troll hands it to us and we are proud and happy, because we have met the real Santa Claus in Finland, at the Arctic Circle!
After our visit, we still ride a small train through the different seasons in Finland. We see talking flowers and animals and finally get to the inner sanctum, the Secret Santa workshop.
There they paint and hammer, sing and play music. The elves have their hands full, because Christmas is coming soon and the children live all over the world. The gifts need to be wrapped and shipped. Secret Santa must be very skilled with their hands, but they must also be good at geography. After all, the gifts go not only to Germany, but to Poland and Italy, France and England …
When we come back out through the dark tunnel, it is pitch black. Only the small pyramids of lights show us the way to the parking lot and to the car.
We drive to the city, to Rovaniemi. Now it is Friday evening and we encounter the many buses that go from the airport to the city. Tomorrow, Santa Park and the Christmas Village are sure to be more crowded.
If the weather is right, then nothing can go wrong. It is most beautiful when it snows lightly, it is minus five to minus ten degrees and dry. Then you can stroll outside for a few hours through the market stalls without freezing and be seduced by all the wonderful offers.
We walk through the Christmas market, which is set up in the pedestrian zone. It is a small market with few but beautiful items: There are baby shoes made of leather, a nativity scene made of bark and wood with small reindeer or colorful birdhouses. We are offered “glög”, the Finnish mulled wine without alcohol, but with raisins. We eat a grilled sausage, which is served without bread, and let the icy wind whistle around our noses. The snow has bathed the city in a white light. It’s cold in Rovaniemi, but it has to be, because you should only visit Santa Claus when it’s below zero.
We meet a young couple from Italy; they are freezing just like us. “We fled Italy,” they say. “Tomorrow we’re going to rent a car and see the area, and then we’re going to take a scooter tour.” Yes, you shouldn’t just plan for one day if you want to visit Santa. Rovaniemi has much more to offer: Scooter and reindeer sled rides, ice fishing, dog sledding, a visit to Arktikum, Rovaniemi’s museum, shopping at Marimekko or a delicious reindeer steak with lingonberries, that has something.
We end the day in the café. Around us only Finnish is spoken, how soothing when you don’t understand anything. It is relaxing in Rovaniemi, despite Christmas time you don’t feel any stress here. People are friendly, they speak to you in English, we talk when we feel like it and listen to the foreign Finnish sound when we want to be silent.
During the market days, you can hear a wide variety of languages on the street: Sami and Swedish, of course, but also Norwegian, German, Dutch, French or English. Tourists come from all over the world, because this market is a very special one.
Text: Hiltrud Baier, Copyright of the pictures: Rainer Ripper