|www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english||print | close window|
A new home for Santa Claus goes up near Saariselkä in Finnish Lapland
Gold nuggets are flying into the air and turning into Christmas gifts
By Tapio Mainio in Saariselkä
In addition to the Christmas Land located on the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, another "Santa Claus Land" has been opened near Saariselkä, the European Union’s northernmost holiday resort in Finnish Lapland .
In a village near the municipality of Kakslauttanen, where a log building of 1,150 square metres and 16 other buildings have gone up, Santa Claus - alias Father Christmas - will receive mainly foreign tourist groups and children.
The hand-hewn building is one of the largest log houses in Finland.
The cost estimate of the Santa's Resort project, involving several properties, is about EUR 10 million.
”This does not compete with the Christmas Land on the Arctic Circle, as international tourism could benefit still more from Santa Claus”, says Jussi Eiramo, a tourism entrepreneur who moved from Kuopio to Lapland 38 years ago.
Unlike the other Christmas Land on the Arctic Circle, the children’s amusement park built around Santa Claus and Christmas in Saariselkä's Kakslauttanen was intentionally designed so that it cannot be seen from Highway 4.
The complex formed from several wood and log buildings is located by Kultaoja (”Gold Ditch”), a tributary of the Tolosjoki River.
”Before the wars, the residents of the Purnumukka village used to pan for gold in Kultaoja to make wedding rings. Even today, gold-panning claims exist in the area”, Eiramo reports.
In the summer, the Santa's Resort complex serves as Santa Claus’s gold prospecting area with all its services, and it is subject to a charge.
In the winter, all visitors have access to the area on request on Tuesdays and Fridays. Groups of more than ten persons are admitted any time.
According to Jussi Eiramo’s elaborated Christmas story, Joulupukki has two helpers, Gold Elf and Smith Elf, who make Christmas presents from the gold nuggets panned from the Kultaoja ditch.
Christmas presents are made in Smith Elf’s workshop, built partly underground.
Occasionally one can see sparkling gold nuggets rising from the chimney of the workshop and flying through the darkening sky. The first international tourists have already come to marvel at the flying gold nuggets.
”Around 200,000 nuggets can come through the chimney at one time. They spread across the world just like SMS messages, turning into real gifts during the flight, according to Santa Claus’s secret recipe”, Eiramo relates.
If you solemnly promise not to tell children, I can relate that what really happens is that a large fire blazes in the grate of the workshop, and golden sparks up the chimney are created by a chemical substance that is thrown on the embers.
”The officials at Lapland’s Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment did not regard this as a sufficiently innovative activity, which is why we did not get the full national and EU subsidies for the project”, Eiramo regrets.
The zoning for the property took the municipality of Sodankylä as much as 16 years to work through.
The plot of land has been leased from Metsähallitus, the state enterprise whose task is to manage most of the protected areas of Finland and to supply wood to the country's forest industry.
The large log building provides space for a restaurant with conference premises.
An interesting detail in the restaurant is an area of floor measuring 5.8 m by 2.4 m, which acts as a lift, not unlike those found on a theatre stage.
”The tables and chairs of the restaurant hall can be transferred downstairs very quickly, which leaves a large open space in the restaurant. In the winter months, a large number of car and tyre testers visit Ivalo. A demonstration car can be driven inside the log house and lifted to a height of up to two metres, so that everyone can get a good look at it”, Eiramo says.
Naturally, there is also Santa Claus’s home in the area, and it is possible to go there along a wooden arch bridge, which is 50 metres long and 10 metres off the ground.
By the bridge there is a cone-shaped tower, which is the home of another of Santa’s helpers, the Bridge Elf.
Nearby there is also an enclosure for Santa’s reindeer. In addition, a total of 33 glass igloos are under construction in the area, which will be used to accommodate tourists.
Santa Claus's operations in Rovaniemi have declined a little in popularity, after peaking in 2006 and 2007, when about half a million people came to meet and greet the elderly gent.
The largest tourist groups came from Great Britain.
Hundreds of charter flights carried tourists to Rovaniemi just before Christmas.
The number of visitors has dropped from the top figures to some 350,000 people annually, says Sanna Kortelainen, Managing Director of Rovaniemi Tourism and Marketing.
Nevertheless, several global publications have ranked Rovaniemi and the Arctic Circle among the world’s best tourist Christmas destinations.
The general interest family magazine Reader’s Digest, Forbes magazine, known for its lists of the richest people, and the Asian Tatler magazine focusing on tourism and fashion have all ranked the home town of Santa Claus among the ten best destinations.
Reader’s Digest lists Rovaniemi fourth, while first place is held by New York. On the Forbes list, Rovaniemi is sixth, while Tatler ranks it third.
Alongside the many Britons who fly their kids up here, Russian tourists have also found their way to Rovaniemi.
Rovaniemi’s Santa Claus Village on the Arctic Circle has approximately 50 enterprises currently trading.
In addition to Santa Claus, his wife and assorted elves, a total of about 1,700 people are working in the village.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 15.12.2011
TAPIO MAINIO / Helsingin Sanomat