As Santa Claus’ official North Pole residence, Rovaniemi delightfully fêtes Christmas everyday throughout the year.
When I was a kid growing up in Taipei, our house was most likely the only one on the hill with a giant white Christmas tree. Despite its plastic essence, the tree and glittery streamers were symbolic of my parents’ Western influence as international entrepreneurs who instilled in us the mystics of Asian fable heroes as well as the occidental belief in Santa Claus.
Little did I know that 30+ years later, I would find myself in the North Pole skipping over a line which marked the entrance of the Arctic Circle, right after posing for a photo with Santa. He was unlike the other Santas posing for photos in American malls, this one was a proper Finn who spoke a few words in Mandarin. Ni-hao (hello) and xin-nian-kuai-le (happy new year) were his strong suits. I deeply appreciated the tourist-friendly effort.
In January of 2020, my family and I found ourselves in the Finnish province of Lapland. This was during pre-COVID days, when we could travel to far ends of the Earth in order to explore landscapes and traditions that were foreign to our own customs. There was no shortage of Nordic postcard activities to partake in: husky sledding, visiting reindeer farms, and dining in ice castles. One of the most iconic activities, however, might very well be a visit to the city of Rovaniemi – the capital of Lapland, or Finland’s northernmost region. Home to 53,000+ citizens, Rovaniemi is known for one highly emblematic fun fact: it is “Santa’s official North Pole residence.”
Without the existence of Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi is the urban home to 63,000 unilingual Finns who grind through 200-day winters every year. Opened in 1965, the Santa Claus Village has given Rovaniemi an energetic boost by welcoming more than half a million visitors a year, amped up for the magic of Christmas even when it’s not December.
There are three things one must do in Rovaniemi that can’t be done anywhere else:
1. Cross the Arctic Circle.
Interestingly, the Arctic Circle cuts through Santa Clause Village via a line which has been in existence since 1865. The polar circle signifies the most northern point, thus this area experiences 24 hours of day light at least once a year. Arctic, in Greek, means “near the bear.” Despite zero wild animals in sight, crossing over the Arctic Circle line remains as one of the most momentous marks for any traveler. Look, how far we’ve come.
2. Snap a photo with Santa.
The line will be long, but meeting Santa in the North Pole is certainly incomparable to our childhood photos with Santas at the mall. Granted, this particular Santa probably makes babies cry too, but the queue leading up to the photo booth resembles the elves’ workshop with decorative walls that depict the world’s most famous faces alongside a man dressed up as Saint Nicholas: Spice Girls, YouTuber Casey Neistat, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping … just to name a few.
3. Mail a postcard from the Santa Claus Post Office.
Among a plethora of cozy wooden lodges inside the Santa Claus Village, one may take a long pause at the Santa Claus Post Office which acts as the ultimate Christmas souvenir shop. Not only can you learn more about Finnish Christmas traditions, the shop includes a post office where mailing a postcard from the North Pole marks a once in a lifetime experience.
Santa Claus Village also offers other Nordic activities, including: riding on snowmobiles, husky sledding, and viewing the Northern Lights. These three must-do’s listed above though, are memories that can only be created in Rovaniemi – the one place in the world where Christmas is unapologetically celebrated everyday throughout the year.