Rovaniemi, Finland

From the Finnish Lapland to the Arctic. A Visit to the Land of Santa

Correspondence verification
Tiina Takala filters incoming mail from around the world.
Keeping an eye on Gaia
Santa Claus holds a huge book about the Earth.
Winter Lapland
Icy landscape around Rovaniemi and over the Arctic Circle.
elf suomi
Riitta Mattila, one of the elf workers at the Santa Claus Village post office.
Santa's entrance
Signs on the door that gives access to Santa Claus' rooms.
Santa Claus awaits the opening of the doors of Santa Claus Village and the entrance of visitors.
snowy conifers
Twilight settles in a snow-laden forest on a slope of Ounasvaara.
Elfa Tiina Takala talks to a group of South Koreans who have won a contest and are starting to work at the post office.
Christmas statistics
Asian Visitor analyzes a chart that displays the number of letters received by country.
elf under the eyes of elvis
Konstatin Trautwein, a German of Kazakh origin, works by entering addresses into a database among gifts sent to Santa Claus.
Lusophone Christmas
Box where letters received by Portugal and Brazil are kept.
elf conference
Three of the elves employed at the Santa Claus Village post office.
letter file
Little Santa Claus perched in a closet full of letters from the post office.
asian elves
Group of newly recruited South Koreans to collaborate at the village post office.
Fed up with waiting for the bearded old man to descend down the chimney, we reverse the story. We took advantage of a trip to Finnish Lapland and passed through its furtive home.

The illusion lasts what it lasts. In our case, it didn't last long. Santa Claus, Santa Claus, Santa Claus… let's call it what you like, from a certain age the best we expect from him is the victimized family member, possibly already half inebriated, handing out the overheated gifts, almost buried in wrapping paper.

It never crossed our minds to give a new opportunity to the controversial mythological figure, but because we wandered around the Earth so much, that's how it came to be.

The Ends in Time of Santa Claus and the Arctic Residency in Lapland

Historically, Santa Claus aged over centuries-old traditions around several figures and characters: St. Nicolas of Myra (today, Demre, Anatolia), a fourth-century Greek bishop and its derivatives like the Dutch Sinterklaas; the Father Christmas created in the British Victorian period; the Germanic Christkind and several others that branched out and became specific from region to region.

From all and no more, the plump old man with a long white beard and red suits emerged and superimposed itself in the world's imagination. This kind of pagan god is supposed to have come from the icy top of the Earth, said to be from the farthest reaches of Lapland.

Icy landscape around Rovaniemi and over the Arctic Circle.

There, with the help of a team of elves and a small herd of reindeer, he dedicates himself to rewarding well-behaved children with the gifts they yearn for.

With the exception of younger kids, whoever wants to believe. The authorities in Rovaniemi, in the Finnish heartland of that same Lapland, did not hesitate. They made official Father Christmas's royal residence, a few kilometers from the city centre.

The Controversial but Rewarding Visit to Santa's House

I was already coming from Lisbon but the dispute continued in those frozen lands. We disagreed on the relevance of your celebration. We debated and returned to debate the need and opportunity to get to know him and his alleged village.

As in almost all marital disputes, ideas are exchanged to the point of exhaustion and the mistakenly called weak sex ends up taking your will forward.

So, at eight in the morning the next day, we traveled 8 km to the northeast to arrive at the latitude of Napapiri (Arctic Polar Circle).

We pass under the portal that marks the parallel and look for someone. We met two young employees outside the Christmas complex: “Oh, are they the press? Well, Santa Claus is now with a Taiwanese TV crew and the audience is just about to arrive. You won't have much time but see if we can still get you ten minutes!"

Signs on the door that gives access to Santa Claus' rooms

The huge doors open for us and we leave our coats in a cloakroom. We enter the boss's office when the Taiwanese leave him still ecstatic about the encounter.

Inside beech wood, we are confronted with the expected appearance of the unexplained good-natured parent, under a red bonnet, with thick striped socks and slippers with folded toe, made of reindeer skin.

The figure – more of a great-grandfather than a father – appears to us in a chair placed on a shag rug.

Santa Claus awaits the opening of the doors of Santa Claus Village and the entrance of visitors.

He makes a point of finding out where we are from and prolongs some welcome dialogue. But, from the outside, they tell him that other people are already waiting. We estimate the likely anxiety of these visitors and agree to cut short the visit.

We still photograph the host in his favorite poses.

The Unexpected Commercial Weight of Santa's House

Finally, since we were there, we asked one of his assistants to photograph us with him. The favor is refused. They tell us that they can only do it with the cameras in the house, something that we don't like but that we have access to.

On the way out, we asked about the images. We are asked for 25 euros, already with a special discount for journalists. In a flash, we lost much of the faith we were struggling to retain in the sanity of Rovaniemi's Christmas spirit.

The return taxi was booked for an hour from now. With time to spare, we decided to take a look at the village post office, not least because we needed stamps.

The International Bustle of the Santa Claus Post Office

Inside, a fireplace creates a welcoming atmosphere. I sit by the fire, lethargic and, above all, doubtful of the experience. I limit myself to observing the frenetic activity of the station and, in particular, of its employees who are in dialogue with a group of Asian outsiders.

Sara decides to ignore me and explore on her own.

Now, as is known, the workers of the Santa Claus Village are elves. One of them approaches her and asks if we need help. Conversation starts, Sara discovers much more about the mysterious creature and its congeners, all told in the first person and in Portuguese.

Correspondence verification

Tiina Takala filters incoming mail from around the world.

Encouraged by the magnetism of the approach, she took a short break in the dialogue to rescue me from the pout. Do it successfully. Moments later, the two of us were chattering away with the elf and… who knew… in Portuguese.

An Elf Lapão, Who Speaks to Us in Portuguese

Tiina Takala, the goblin's human entity, is Finnish, from Rovaniemi. But he always had a passion for our language and signed up for an exchange program with a Brazilian educational institution.

"That's right. Look, I ended up in Mato Grosso. I spent a year there, from 2003 to 2004. That's why I have a Brazilian accent. I made a lot of friends and come back from time to time. I haven't been to Portugal yet. I really liked it. I'll go any day.”

Tiina makes a point of showing us the special post office where she worked and explaining how it works. It starts by taking us to the distribution tower, where letters and gifts sent by people, in the opposite direction, to Santa Claus are processed and stored.

Little Santa Claus perched in a closet full of letters from the post office.

And the Rest Elves of Santa Claus

At the top of the stairs we meet Konstatin Trautwein, a half-Kazakh half-German fellow elf who had been working there for eight months. Konstatin speaks Kazakh, Russian, German and English and is learning Finnish.

Like Tiina, he is considered an ideal employee as he masters several languages.

At that moment, he was entering the information of the people who had written to Santa Claus into a database, among crates of letters and the countless gifts sent to Santa Claus, which featured a gaudy painting of Elvis Presley in his most glamorous years.

Konstatin Trautwein, a German of Kazakh origin, works by entering addresses into a database among gifts sent to Santa Claus.

We return to the ground floor. Tiina introduces us to Riitta Mattila. In addition to Finnish, this other Suomi elf speaks German, French and Italian.

He was about to complete a master's degree in Finnish literature with a thesis on how Finnish adults saw Santa Claus.

We are in your care. Riita adds that the Asian teenagers she was previously meeting with had won a South Korean “Dream Work” style contest. They were supposed to help out at the station for five days and devote another five to exploring Lapland, all paid.

Elfa Tiina Takala talks to a group of South Koreans who have won a contest and are starting to work at the post office.

The young Koreans reported to the service that very morning and she explained the procedures to them. Even so, he found time to tell us a series of curiosities: “Well, for me, the most interesting and fascinating thing is that every year we receive one hundred to two hundred letters from adults to Santa Claus.

I analyze them and draw conclusions. I always find moving messages. Some of these people are lonely or ask you to help them find the love of their life. Others make promises.

Lusophone Christmas

Box where letters received by Portugal and Brazil are kept.

The Assorted Gift Wishes Elves Face

Still others are pragmatic: they ask for houses or cars without any ceremony. We receive mail from every country in the world except eight. One of them is North Korea. I believe the rest are African.”

The last of the elves that we live with is Catalan and has its own story, much more tragic-comical than those of our colleagues. As the account goes on, in Castilian, we see in it a character from some new Almodovar film.

The early days were tough. I went to ruin paying for the expensive stays and buses. At that time, I mostly ate potatoes. It took a while but I got my first job there, as a Spanish guide at artikum museum. But they only paid me for the service and Spanish visitors never wanted a guide.

Later, I remembered to ask Santa for work. I delivered the CV here at the station. After six months they called me. I've been working here since then.”

Meanwhile the taxi appears. We say goodbye to all the elves and cross the Arctic Circle towards the center again. That night, the sky was clear. We resume the program of Northern Lights sighting.

Snowy conifers, Ounasvaara, Rovaniemi, Finland

Twilight settles over a snow-laden forest on a slope of Ounasvaara

Today, Tiina Takala is our friend and not just from Facebook. With the evolution of digital communications, our mailbox is of less and less use. One of the exceptions is the postcards she sends us whenever she travels.

We complement them by appreciating the photos you post on social media. Some are as surprising as they are hilarious. Tiina takes her role very seriously. Take it with you everywhere. A few days ago he delighted us with a really charming post.

She appears dressed as an elf taking notes with a red feather, half hidden under coconut trees and among the famous granite rocks of the Seychelles.

In English, the post dictated: "only left 30 days to christmas".

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