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
Fairy Tale Path
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
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
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
Command Centre Door