Namaste Santa Claus A Couple's Adventures in Finland

Hugh and Colleen Gantzer have the adventure of a lifetime in Finland, just in time for Christmas
Santa Claus' village
Santa Claus' village

So you don&rsquot believe in Santa Claus. We do - and we are not children. We believe in him because we have shaken his hand and heard him say, &ldquoNamaste. I have been to India.&rdquo

This is how that wonderful meeting happened.

Finland had invited us to tour their beautiful country. It is one of the Scandinavian nations which hug the Arctic Circle Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland. In spite of Finland&rsquos chilly climate - or perhaps because of it - its roads are superb. We drove down a beautiful, arrow-straight expressway. Dark, towering, conifer forests massed on either side.

Antlered herds of reindeer wandered like heraldic wraiths, sometimes scraping the frost and snow from the forest floor to reveal their much sought-after lichen, a symbiotic life form of two different species of plant life that can no longer survive without each other. Great forests - along with their berry rich wetlands and marshes, and crystal-blue ice-melt lakes - are collectively called the taiga. Beyond that, closer to the Arctic Circle, lies the great, glaring, white snowfields of the tundra.

We drove off the road and into a village that could have been taken out of a Hans Anderson tale - quaint wooden houses, warm and brightly lit, dominated by one large log mansion with a turret. This was The Village of Santa Claus and the mansion was that of the Great Man himself.

We crunched across a line in the snow and we were in the Arctic Circle.

&ldquoThis is Santa&rsquos Clock,&rdquo a red capped pixie said, leading us up a flight of wooden stairs in the castle.

&ldquoWhy does he have a clock&rdquo

&ldquoTo stop time so that he can give every child a gift on Christmas.&rdquo Then he said &ldquoSanta wants to meet you. Come.&rdquo

Suddenly legend became reality - the fine line between disbelief and belief blurred and became one. That six-foot-plus, white-bearded, man with the friendly voice was the reality we wanted to believe in, even though the setting was too close to a Christmas card to be real.
We bought a video of our conversation and shopped for Christmas gifts in stores which celebrate Christmas 25x7. Then we posted letters to our family back in India which carried the Santa&rsquos Village stamp and postmark every letter written to Santa is replied to by the Great Gift Giver personally.

Santa and his lore have been carefully interwoven into the folkways of Finland. Dancer, Donner, Blitzen and the red-nosed Rudolph have their real-life equivalents in the huge herds of semi-wild reindeer wandering freely across the Finnish wilderness. Every animal, however, belongs to a family and there is a great annual herding at which the deer are ear-notched to confirm ownership. The S&aacutemi deer herders seem to know which animal belongs to whom even though many have been born in the wilderness. No one was able to tell us how exactly this is done or how the S&aacutemi people find their way home. We asked a pretty S&aacutemi woman how this happens. She said that every wife knits woollen caps for their husbands, and &ldquothe horns on such headgear brought the men home.&rdquo Yes, they also believe in spirit doctors - and though we seemingly went through an &lsquoinitiation ceremony&rsquo, we felt no different.

We also trudged into the taiga with a man officially designated as a gold prospector. But after panning and panning, and shaking and rolling and washing, we picked up enough gold to be blown away in a tiny kitten&rsquos sneeze. At least we do know how to pan for gold - yes, indeed we do.

Then there is the ultimate Finnish experience the sauna. After steam-cooling, they whip themselves with green branches and then plunge in to an ice-cold outdoor stream.

Finally, when you have proven to yourself that you are as close to the finish line as possible, lie back in an observatory and watch the unfolding curtains of towering light which indicate that the magnetic shield of earth is as brilliantly alive as possible. This is the aurora borealis. It is in every way as unusual, beautiful and natural as the people of Finland and Santa Claus.

Happy Christmas 

Outlook Traveller