Santa’s Village – Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland

The Real Winter Wonderland

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and this is where he lives. Rovaniemi is considered the gateway to Lapland – known for its indigenous, formerly nomadic Sami (once commonly known as Lapp) people – and to Finland’s Arctic Circle, Santa’s home turf.

You can have your photo taken with one foot planted on either side of the Arctic Circle. Santa’s Village is how every child always imagined it to be, a snowy winter wonderland with a wonderfully jovial Santa in attendence every day. His busy workshop and helpers show how he keeps up, while the post office displays some of the 600,000 letters received every year from all over the world, about a third of which get answered.

An irresistible gift shop provides myriad Yuletide presents that can be shipped back home with a Santa’s Village postmark, or, for a nominal fee, add your child’s name to a list to receive a post­card from Santa. A nearby reindeer farm provides the chance for a Magic Sleighride (though one that never leaves the ground) drawn by Rudolph, Dancer, and Prancer lookalikes (a snowmobile alternative is also available).

Rovaniemi was nearly razed by the Germans in 1944 and largely rebuilt following plans that the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto laid out in the shape of reindeer antlers.

Although there are only 6,500 Sami living in northern Finland now, and their nomadic days of herding roaming reindeer are dimin­ishing, their cultural identity and customs are proudly kept alive at the fascinating, award­-winning Arktikum Science Center, depicting life above the Arctic Circle.

The lovely Res­taurant Oppipoika promotes Lappish cuisine: the standard salmon and fresh fish are ever present, but sample the unusual reindeer pepper steak and elk stew, with a dessert made of local cloudberries. Who knew you could eat so well in the Arctic Circle?

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