As Christmas 2020 promises to be a different one for most people, I’m flashing back to the time I traveled with my family to Rovaniemi, Finland, the “official hometown of Santa Claus.” After snagging an airfare deal we couldn’t refuse with Scandinavian Airlines’ Kids Fly Free (remember those days of just flying wherever you wanted because the price was right and the world was waiting?), I jetted from Miami to Helsinki with four adults and six kids, then north again to where the line delineating the Arctic Circle runs through Finnish Lapland, and where Santa Claus holds his official office hours.
We spent a glorious two weeks chasing the northern lights, dog sledding and snuggling husky pups at Bearhill Husky Tours, racing behind reindeer atop sleds at a reindeer farm, and hunkering down at the most amazing Airbnb in the Arctic (with a sauna, indoor swimming pool, and a host who cooked us smoked salmon on a blazing fire outside). A Finnish friend and his wife took us snowmobiling across a frozen lake—then warmed us up later with hot fish soup served fireside within the coziest Finnish cabin of my dreams. And at the local ski hill, Ounasvaara, my Florida kids and their cousins learned from the heartier Finnish children how to build a bonfire to roast the sausages they’d brought along in their backpacks (along with thermoses of hot cocoa).
But what my kids might remember most from that trip was arriving at the Santa Claus Village —according to the lore, this is just Santa’s office (where exactly he lives in Finnish Lapland remains a secret). On a snowmobiling tour with Safartica, we headed out to meet him during his office hours and found that the big man with the beard already knew the kids’ names when it was their turn to sit with him and tell him their gift requests. I watched the eyes of even the older, more skeptical kids widen in wonder. And if there is such a thing as Christmas magic, that was surely it.
This year, the Santa Claus Village is open—just with Santa behind a wall of plexiglass and his elves decked out in personal protective equipment (PPE), in keeping with the times. I decided to Zoom with the Bearded One to ask the pressing questions we’re all wondering this year—from how he plans to avoid a super-spreader event while shimmying down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve to whether or not his mischievous elves are behind the mysterious metal monoliths that cropped up in Utah, Romania, and California earlier this month.
Santa, how has your day-to-day changed during the pandemic?
Well, actually, the idea of Christmas is the same as usual. We have to have goodwill in our hearts and share it. We have been making toys and so on, as usual.
But these kinds of connections—this technical stuff we’re doing right now, talking over the internet—has made it possible for me to meet people in a virtual way, and on Instagram and Twitter. So that’s become a bigger part of my connections to all the kids around the world this year. My elves give me instructions and help me understand better how to use social media. They know all about that stuff.
What protocols are you using with the pandemic—going down chimneys and into houses around the world—to avoid a super-spreader event?
I have many ways of dealing with that. For Santa, Christmas Eve is very special. And in the morning when I wake up, I have this box. I take a special key from my pocket and I get access to the box with all the magical secrets of Christmas. I’m like a little boy with this key—I have the only key in the world, and I don’t dare touch it before Christmas Eve. There’s magic dust and some other things in the box that help me to go around the world in a sort of other dimension of life and living. So even with the sad things happening, like the pandemic, I can go around the world without borders to see places. Of course, I can’t see kids like I used to, but there will still be presents.
What comfort or advice do you give people who can’t see their families this year?
It’s been a very tough situation for many. But remember that Christmas is a celebration of love. And even if we can’t see our friends and family members, we have to make sure we can be in contact with them in some way—just like you and I are talking now, over the internet. By calling, sending messages. You could even send an actual postcard or letter. Make sure you let your loved ones know how much you love and take care of them. Thoughts and smiles are the best way to share our caring for each other.
What messages are you hearing right now from people around the world? What are the most common refrains?
Thousands of letters arrive here throughout the year at my office. I don’t know of any country that I haven’t received a letter from. I admire the postage stamps and think wow, this has come from thousands of kilometers away. I even got a letter from the Fijian islands. I’m hearing that presents are only one way to show your love and caring for other people. In this year particularly, people—both kids and adults—have been talking about how they want to send their love and show their love to each other. To feel the warmth in their hearts. These things are very strong in their minds this year. That is good. That makes me very happy.
Of course for children, the toys are still important. And that’s OK. Santa’s work is not only one day of the year. In the summertime, we have to prepare for the next Christmas. We have different kinds of elves for making cars, for making video games, and so on. They’re all around the world listening to see if children have been kind and to see what they want for Christmas. And toys are certainly a part of Christmas this year, too.
Have you seen the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland already?
The Aurora has been quite active this year. It’s especially nice to see it on Christmas Day. When my journey around the world is done, I put away all my compasses and other equipment and tell Rudolph just to let me have a little nap. I lay down and open my eyes to the sky and see those beautiful Auroras.
Sometimes you can even hear the Aurora make a sound—like crackles and sharp crunches. Many times, you hear a constant sigh or a hum. It feels very nice. It’s a very strong [natural] feeling when that happens.
How’s the snacking around the world on Christmas Eve?
It differs a lot from country to country. In Japan, we get sushi bites. In China, there are special cookies. But my favorite[s] are always gingerbread cookies.
What’s your biggest wish for the world’s children in 2021?
That we have goodwill in our heart and share it. That’s the idea of Christmas. That’s the way to spread happiness and joy and peace all around the world. Show that you care, smile, think positive. Let’s take care of each other and show our love to each other. In the near future, I think things will get better. We have to believe it. Hyvää joulua! That’s Merry Christmas in Finnish.
By the way, were your elves the ones putting up those metal monoliths earlier this month in the Utah desert, Romania, and California?
[*chuckles*] The world is full of magic, and our area is the magic of Christmas. So, let it remain a kind of secret which everyone can solve according to their own beliefs.