TRAVEL: Lapland, Finland

I cannot think of Christmas without reminiscing on the time we went to the Arctic Circle in Santa’s hometown of Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland. As soon as you step off the plane you can tell that you are somewhere magical. The whole town is in character from the shop owners to the bus drivers, ensuring you feel the Christmas spirit. I hadn’t even left the airport when I made my first purchase of a gorgeous reindeer coat with a fox hood. You must be fashionable when we go to see Mrs. Claus, of course. Also, I needed to be sure I would stay warm during our stay at the ice hotel!

We stayed in Santa’s Village in a cute little house right on the property.

The illuminated blue line on the light posts marks the beginning of the Arctic Circle.

I know what you are thinking, we have all seen Santa sitting in his big chair in the middle of the mall with lines of children waiting to sit on his knee. That is not the experience here. When he calls you by name you enter into his living room and you get to spend some time with him, chatting and asking any questions that you’d like. He even told us that his favorite cookie is not a cookie at all but that he prefers porridge!

As with all my travels, I like to plan a little extra adventure while we’re there. I had never been on a snowmobile so I decided this was the perfect time. It was so much fun and the scenery was beautiful. We did this in the middle of the afternoon but as you can see in the picture, it looks like dusk. This was the most light we saw all day and it didn’t last long. Winters on the Arctic Circle are spent mostly in the dark. If you are wondering if it is cold the answer is YES! I was wearing snow gear from head to toe with another outer layer of coveralls provided by the tour guide.

The reindeer in Finland are highly respected and are raised in the wild. They are only hunted when the people need food and clothing. Our guide let us know that it is customary in Finland to use boots made of reindeer pelts because it keeps your feet warmed than any shoe we use today. I had hoped we would see the Aurora Borealis on our sleigh ride, and although we didn’t, we saw more stars that I knew the sky could even hold. They seemed close enough to touch! Our night came to a perfect end with a warm fire and hot cocoa.

Next, we left Santa’s village for a night in the snow hotel! This is a once in a lifetime experience. We ate dinner on an ice table, drank from an ice cup, danced on an ice floor and slept on an ice bed. I was expecting it to be uncomfortable but it was the best night of sleep I had all week. The walls of each room are made of packed snow three feet thick. It was a quiet that I had never experienced before; I mean TOTAL silence. The sleeping bags kept us warm and toasty.

If all this wasn’t enough, I had just one more item on my bucket list, dog sledding! This was more adventurous than I was expecting. These dogs mean business and they take their jobs very seriously. Driving the sleighs takes focus and courage. These dogs can really move and they must stay equal distance from the sleigh in front of them or you get slack in the line and the dogs get all tangled up. It was amazing to witness!

After all this rugged outdoor adventure I was ready for the flight back to Helsinki to stay in a five-star hotel with crisp white sheets and a stocked bar. It was the perfect winter wonderland experience.

Author: Jana Erwin