The chance to meet Father Christmas in his Lapland home was a magical dream come true for James Whitburn and his family...
I have to admit, I had to look on a map to find out where we were going. I always thought Lapland (otherwise known as Santa’s home) was mythical, but there it is on the map, stretching across northern Finland and Russia. We were bound for Kuusamo, situated in the province of Oulu, 800km north of Helsinki. The area is known for its natural beauty with vast snow-covered pine forests, frozen lakes and rivers.
We were a family (my wife Louise, Will, 8, Hattie, 6, and three-month-old Charles) on a mission. It’s always a good idea to have an objective on a family holiday, and ours was to locate and liaise with the real Santa Claus (not his various tribute acts who appear at UK department stores) and hopefully spend a few days hanging out with him on his home turf.
When we arrived, one of Santa’s many elves, completely in character, welcomed us and explained the timetable. We had a packed schedule, culminating in meeting FC at his cabin in the woods. There were a number of amazing winter activities laid on to warm us up, and we were all equipped with special winter clothing to keep us protected from the elements.
First we were entertained with a reindeer sleigh-ride through the snow, with Hattie wrapped up in furs like the Queen of Narnia she aspires to be. We had a ‘chance encounter’ with the Man In Red who was dropping in to see his reindeer dealer – perfectly setting the scene for our afternoon with him later in the week. Mr Claus greeted the reindeer guy and then mysteriously disappeared. Hattie and I were most excited at this taster of what was to come.
Next day, we were running a sledge with Huskies. It was probably my favourite non-Santa-related escapade, driving well-trained packs of dogs around tracks of lightly dusted snow in the muffled silence of pine forests, and experiencing the thrill of the incredible acceleration of the Huskies harnessed under the sledge.
We also got to learn how to ‘snow shoe’ through pine forests. It’s difficult to get our kids to walk anywhere, but put large plastic feet on them and it’s hilarious fun floating across 6ft snowdrifts. We went sledging, too – ‘kick’ sledging to be precise – which is how Finnish kids get to school and involves a scootering motion that our children perfected, with Will enjoying taxi-ing Hattie up hill and down dale. Each night the exhausted children – well fed and full of fresh air and adventure – collapsed into bed.
All these activities brilliantly built up to the climax of the trip: meeting Father Christmas himself. And on the last day, we finally did.
I have to admit there was a wobble in my voice as I thanked him for his 38 regular visits so far. I imagine it’s like meeting the head of the UN or The Queen; you just get caught up in the moment, and that is where the off from almost everything, it all seems slightly unreal. So that’s why you suddenly find yourself sitting on Santa’s knee and solemnly and genuinely thanking him for all his work. Well, that’s my defence anyway.
We spent the rest of the day asking Father Christmas questions, which he answered convincingly, and baking gingerbread men with Mrs Christmas, who Hattie seemed to gel with. A buffet lunch was laid on by elves and we completely lost an afternoon to the magic of Finnish hospitality. We went sledging on the side of the hill by Santa’s house and across a frozen lake. There were more helpful elves and more hot chocolates. We sent Christmas cards back to the grandparents and sang Finnish versions of Christmas songs.
It was simple, enchanting, special: a magical afternoon in the middle of Lapland.
Activities Abroad offers an active four-night A Magical Search for Father Christmas in Lapland from £1,645 per adult (based on a family of four) and from £1,275 per child (4 -12 years) including flights, transfers, accommodation, meals, cold-weather clothing, guides and all activities.
Lots of chunky salmon soup and hearty stew (we suspected reindeer, but kept that to ourselves – the notion of eating Rudolf, I think, would have been unpalatable to the little people in our party).
Hotel Kuusamon Tropiikki is comfortable and hospitable. Its tropical spa complex is great for families who love water, slides and jets –perfect after a day in the snow.