A flying visit to Santa’s Command Centre in Lapland

‘He’s definitely the real Santa. He knew our names and he speaks Finglish’

Santa may need more than just nine reindeer to pull his sleigh this year, as researchers find the iconic Arctic animals are shrinking in size. Video: REUTERS

 

The five Cox children from Killarney, Co Kerry, like quite a few of the ecstatic children on board this Aer Lingus flight to Lapland, only discovered their destination when they arrived at Dublin Airport. Parents Caroline and Keith stood them under the departures board, gave them the flight number, and told them to look for their destination.

“I saw it first,” says Evan (9). “It said the North Pole! ”

Whether you call it the North Pole or Lapland, the only thing that really matters about Rovaniemi in northern Finland is that this is where the real Santa Claus lives. At this time of the year, it’s thick with elves on official Santa business. The elf assigned to our group from Ireland was called Christmas Star. “I’m from everywhere,” she said matter-of-factly when quizzed on her country of origin.

Like a bear crawling out of a cave, the sun comes up slowly in Lapland in December when there are less than three hours of pale daylight. First on the agenda is a trip to a warehouse to collect Arctic weather gear – it was a toe-tingling minus 25 degrees here recently so we are grateful the thermometer shows a comparatively balmy minus 6. The two-night adventure includes reindeer and husky sleigh rides, a snowmobile trip across a frozen lake and much raucous sliding down every available snowy slope on ‘bum boards’. But it’s at Santa’s Command Centre in Joulukka, hidden deep in a snowy fairytale forest, where the magic dial gets turned up to 11.

Here you are led along flame-lit paths by charmingly dressed elves to a snow- covered hobbit-style dwelling. There’s a fire pit outside for toasting marshmallows and a constant supply of elf-favourite hot berry juice. A female security elf at the wooden door explains that cute pointed noses sported by Joulukka elves are an indicator of age: “I am only 150 years of age, so mine is smaller.”

Inside Santa’s Command Centre, as well as a satellite reindeer tracker and giant radio with overseas elves reporting on behaviour of children globally, there is a Kindometer. My two seven-year-old daughters are asked to close their eyes and think of acts of kindness, upon which the Kindometer’s light shoots up.

When the children are prompted to sing Jingle Bells by our elf guide, a secret door slides open to reveal Santa Claus looking cosy and alarmingly real in his study. “He’s definitely the real one,” my awestruck children whisper afterwards. “He knew our names and he speaks ‘Finglish’,” one declared.

It was a very special visit to Lapland for the Tracey family from Tallaght in Dublin. Parents Brian and Carmel spent all last Christmas and many other days, weeks, and months, at the bedside of their now four-year-old son, Michael, at Crumlin Children’s Hospital. Earlier this year, Michael received successful treatment for a soft-tissue tumour in Amsterdam.

“You don’t wish for anything except the health of your child, when they are ill,” says Carmel, who is thankful to the Make a Wish Foundation, for making their magical trip to Lapland possible.

Róisín Ingle travelled to Lapland with Sunway Travel. For details of Lapland trips for 2017 visit www.sunway.ie/lapland or call 01-2311800