At first glance, Rovaniemi looks like any other small Finnish town in December. When you look closer, there is a hint of magic in the air.
The main street in the centre of Rovaniemi is full of Christmas trees and Christmas lights. Children are sliding down the piles of snow at street corners, laughing. An igloo restaurant serves hot beverages next to an ice-skating rink at the entrance of a shopping centre.
Rovaniemi is a Christmas town. Naturally, as it is the hometown of Santa Claus.
“The Arctic Circle is where I live, and the Arctic nature is what I love”, says the Santa over the phone, busy packing the sledges for a work trip that defies logic. He and his reindeer will take off from the Santa Claus Village on Saturday 23 December at 19:00 hours EET. Thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, they have some 60 hours to ride around the globe and to distribute presents to all good children.
Fortunately, Santa Claus does not need to visit every single house, as thousands of people from all the corners of the world flock to Rovaniemi for the holidays to meet the Santa where he lives. The number of inhabitants of the town increases by half during the holidays. This December 230 charter flights have landed at the Rovaniemi airport, and the scheduled flights are fully booked.
“This year we have a record number of tourists during the Christmas period”, notes Sanna Kärkkäinen, CEO of Visit Rovaniemi. The season began already in mid-November and will continue until spring. The Christmas theme carries throughout the year, even if the calendar tells differently. You can meet Santa in his Office every day of the year.
“Our visitors are a very international group – today China is especially visible, but we also have lots of tourists from Australia and the U.S. During the Christmas season, there are many charter flights from Britain, and people come here from all over Europe. And of course Finnish people want to meet the Santa, too.”
“The local businesses have joined in the Christmas fun and we are all making an effort together to bring the joy of Christmas to Rovaniemi”, Sanna Kärkkäinen declares.
Santa is pleased that his hometown appreciates his magic. For Father Christmas, children are number one. This year, UNICEF granted the municipality of Rovaniemi the Child Friendly City award for the second time.
“Every child has the right to a happy childhood. When children visit the Santa Claus Village, they also get to experience the Arctic environment. Many see snow for the first time, and it is always a delight for me to see children playing and tripping in the snow”, Santa chuckles.
“I hope we are able to preserve the nature so that there will be snow also in the future, for the people and for the animals to enjoy.”
Rovaniemi photos (c) Risto Viitanen/Arctic Centre, photo of Santa Claus (c) Visit Rovaniemi