Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
The city of Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, houses Santa Claus’ office. We were lucky enough to get an interview with the oldest and most famous man of the North. Here are a few fun facts…
1. Santa is Lappish…
Santa Claus has lived in Finnish Lapland for as long as he can remember. His real home is in Korvatunturi, or Ear Mountain. This is very practical because from there, he can hear everything to find out if kids were behaving well or not. However, Santa is so popular that he has been keeping his home’s location a secret. Instead, to not disappoint his fans, he established his office 8 kilometers north from the centre of Rovaniemi in 1985. There, every day of the year, Santa welcomes travellers from all over the world at the Santa Claus’ Village.
2. … with Dutch origins…
The name Santa Claus is based on the Dutch name Sinterklaas, which is a contracted form of Saint Nicholas. In the 17th century, the Dutch brought the name with them to America where it got anglicized from Sinterklaas to Santa Claus.
3. … and Greek blood?
Saint Nicholas was a real person who lived during the fourth century in Patara, then Greece, today’s Turkey. Nicholas of Myra was a Catholic bishop, known for his generosity, helping the poor. Anonymously, he offered dowries to the three daughters of a pious man so that they would not have to become prostitutes by lack of mean, and he would regularly drop coins where needed. Canonised after his death, on December 6, his name day, he was designated the saint patron of children (amongst others). He was often honored on this day, and the tradition evolved in the 16th century reformed Netherlands: with the ban on worshiping Catholic saints, he became Sinterklaas, a pagan figure who delivered gifts in the night of December 5. He emigrated with the Dutch to America in the 17th and 18th century.
4. Santa has not been wearing red only.
It has only been since 1931 and the Coca-Cola company using Santa for promotion that he has been wearing only his red-and-white costume. Before then, he had had a wide range of colorful outfits: green, brown, blue… Santa remains essential to the Coca Cola Christmas holiday advertising campaign, and the brand has greatly contributed to his worldwide reputation.
5. The visit of Eleanor Roosevelt marked the location of Santa’s office, where he can be visited year-round.
Wanting to witness the reconstruction of Finland after WWII, the widow of Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Rovaniemi in 1950. The city had been entirely destroyed and she triggered help from the predecessor of the UNICEF for Rovaniemi and Lapland.
Eleanor Roosevelt visited the point where the Arctic Circle passes slightly north of Rovaniemi. A log-cabin, known today as Roosevelt Cottage, was built there specifically for her visit, and has marked the location of Santa Claus’ Village ever since. Her visit gave a big boost to the city and started the Arctic Circle tourism. Initially isolated, today, the cabin is hard to spot amidst Santa’s Village with its post office, Santa Claus’ office and the many restaurants, hotels, shops and attractions.
6. Since 1985, Santa Claus has received 18 million letters from 199 countries!
All letters addressed to Santa in the USA go to Santa Claus, Indiana. To make sure Santa really receives your letter, make sure to send your mail to Santa’s official address:
Santa Claus’ Main Post office
Santa Claus Village Rovaniemi
96930 Arctic Circle
In Santa Claus’ Village, a specific post office is operated by Posti, Finland’s national postal service. There, postal elves stamp every letter sent from it with a special Arctic Circle postmark.
7. There is plenty of room for Santa’s reindeer to graze in Rovaniemi.
Rovaniemi is the largest town in Europe, spanning 8,017 square kilometers for only 63,000 inhabitants, so grazing lands are not a problem!
Actually, the urban planning of the town itself is shaped as a reindeer head! During WWII, the Finnish who first supported Nazi Germany to rid the country of the Soviets changed sides before the end of the war. Feeling betrayed, in 1944, the German troops left a path of destruction while retracting, burning everything down in Lapland and destroying Rovaniemi. The local architect Alvar Aalto, one of the most famous Finnish architects, redesigned the town in 1945 according to the “Reindeer Antler Plan”.
8. Santa’s reindeer are all female!
Curious to know why? Check out this article!
9. Santa is a polyglot
Santa is really good at avoiding direct answers! It is kind of difficult to know exactly how many languages he speaks. For sure, Greek (where he is from), Sami and Finnish (where he lives), English (as after all, his collaboration with Coca-Cola has been long-running) and Dutch (he passed by on his way to the USA). He is a widely-travelled man, so he definitely picked up other languages such as French and Spanish. He also gets a lot of help from his elves, who themselves speak many different languages too, so when you visit, you can expect Santa to chit-chat in your mother tongue.
10. Santa is very, very popular!…
Tourists come from all over the world to visit Santa: the UK, France, Germany, and also China. The winter is one of the most popular seasons, and the line can be several hours long to see him and have a photo taken. Do not expect a long chat then!
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- The Nova Skyland Hotel is the most comfortable choice to visit Santa, and it is quite stylish!
- For an original and tasty experience, check out the Santa’s Salmon Place for lunch, where fresh Norwegian salmon is grilled at the center of a traditional lavvu on an open birch fire.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area (short tutorial)!