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Joulukka Christmas Experiences

Explore Finland during Christmas to discover the real Santa

In search of Christmas magic in Finland, Shayla Strapps discovers that nobody does it quite like Santa Claus himself.

Is Santa Claus up here?” asks my ever-inquisitive nine-year-old. The elf stops, turns around and gives him his full attention. “He might be,” he answers, “but we have some work to do first.”

We are in Rovaniemi, Finland, at the place generally accepted as the home of Santa Claus. Here, in Santa Claus Village, postal workers dressed as elves receive about half a million letters each year from children around the world and reply with the Arctic Circle postmark.

It felt like our last chance to do this as a family while I still had two believers. My nine-year-old must surely be on his last year of believing. (Although I have been saying this for the past three years.) We wanted a white Christmas and one of the only places in the world where we would be guaranteed this was in Lapland, Finland.

A Christmas Secret
The tour company, Joulukka, meaning Christmas secret in Finnish, provides a ‘Dream of Joulukka’ excursion to meet the man himself, deep inside the Finnish forest. Although rated 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor, the experience doesn’t come cheap. For two adults and two children it works out to be around $880. Yes, I know. I ignore my inner accountant and don’t calculate how much this three-hour excursion is costing per minute.

Santa Claus in the reindeer sleigh

Santa's little helpers
We are picked up and taken by ‘elf mobile’ through winding, snowy streets into the depths of the forest to a small village made up of two or three round wooden huts. The dull glow of the moonlight and the flickers from the odd candle reflect and dance off the snow providing a mysterious and magical atmosphere.

Our first task is to wake the sleeping troll, who, after some singing on our part, emerges sleepily from his slightly crooked snow-drenched hut. “Your nose is HUGE!” shrieks my five-year-old, as the fully made up and costumed troll rubs his tummy and sleepy eyes.

Turning to the elf, my nine-year-old asks, “Why isn’t your nose pointy?” Then, more suspiciously, “Real elves have pointy noses.” Quick as a flash the elf replies, “Oh, it fell off last night. It falls off regularly like reindeer antlers but grows back quickly. It will be back by tomorrow.”

Fairy Tale Path


Travel Tips

Getting there: Finnair, Qantas and a number of airlines have codeshare agreements that make it easy for Australians to get to Helsinki. From Helsinki you can reach Rovaniemi (825km away) via daily internal flights with Finnair or Norwegian airlines, or via a VR train which offer several services in both directions daily.

In the next wooden hut, we studied at elf school and learned how to decorate Christmas cookies like Mrs Claus. Another short walk through the forest and we’re soon sitting next to an open fire enjoying hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows.

A further wander takes us to a large mound, almost completely hidden in the forest. Its only concession to visibility is a large wooden door with an oversized key. Of course, the kids quickly realise that we have arrived at Santa’s Secret Command Centre. I won’t spoil every detail for you but in the end we had to conjure up special elf magic to open the door.

Santa Claus himself
Inside is where the real magic begins. The kids’ senses are overwhelmed by Santa’s satellite showing the reindeers flying overhead, the mail sorting system and, if you listen carefully, the elves working downstairs in the toy workshop. The highlight is meeting the man himself, who is eventually revealed relaxing by a fire after the opening of a magic door.

We enjoy a good 15 minutes with him, taking a million pictures and allowing my nine-year-old to ask all sorts of questions to satisfy his inquisitiveness and (now almost completely evaporated) doubts. Aside from some gentle Christmas carols, the ride home in the elf mobile is quiet. Gradually, the Finnish forest makes way for the town of Rovaniemi and as we pull in I hear a whisper in my ear.

“Mum,” says my nine-year-old, “That was the real Santa. All the others we’ve seen weren’t real, but he was the real thing.”

I think I just bought myself another year of believing.

Command Centre Door

Joulukka Kota

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