Lapland is the only place where you can get your own reindeer driver’s licence and go sleigh riding over snow-covered tracks.
Located in Finland’s northernmost region and bordered by Sweden, Norway, Russia and the Baltic Sea, Lapland is also known as the homeland of Santa Claus.
Set amid a vast subarctic wilderness, with scattered ski resorts, it is home to the natural phenomena the midnight sun and the famous Northern Lights.
The capital city, Rovaniemi is the gateway to the region and in the lead up to Christmas families from around the world head there to enjoy the festive spirit.
Spending the Christmas in Lapland among the glistening white snow is a unique experience and is becoming a popular holiday destination for Australians.
There is definitely magic in the air during the days and nights leading up to Christmas Eve in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Laplanders take great pride in making and displaying colourful traditional Christmas decorations which reflect their love of art and craft and the many hours they have during the winter months to devote to them.
You won’t find kitsch plastic Christmas trinkets here.
Winter in Finland begins in November and can last up to five months, with temperatures ranging from a balmy zero to a freezing minus 35.
Windows are lit with Christmas candles and stars and every meeting place and farmyard has a real Christmas tree which is lit up during the winter darkness.
There are also more than 220,000 reindeer in Lapland and they can be seen roaming freely through the countryside.
Although winter lasts about seven months and it’s freezing, Laplanders say visitors soon get used to it and they have very good central heating, plus warm clothing.
You will find that robust gentleman Santa Claus living in Santa Claus Village at the Arctic Circle and Santa Park, which is located 8 km north of the Rovaniemi.
Opened in 1985, Santa Park is deep inside Syvasenvaara Fell and packed with special experiences – you can sign in to Elf school, enjoy a husky sled ride, visit a reindeer farm and Santa’s house.
For those who like something a little faster, snow mobiles are the way to go and if you are after a genuine arctic igloo experience, spend a night in the Igloo Hotel in Santa Claus Village.
Temperatures range from a constant just below zero degrees celsius inside the igloo, while outside it may reach minus 30 degrees Celsius. But snuggle up in a sleeping bag, designed for extreme conditions and reindeer hides, and you will feel toasty. Guests also receive an Arctic Night Survival certificate.
Wondering where to dine? The Ice Restaurant offers great Christmas treats.
The New Year also provides the perfect excuse to celebrate and see the mystical blue polar night and the Northern Lights which takes place in the sky in the Arctic on clear dark nights.
Travellers will also enjoy the Christmas celebrations in Finland’s oldest city, Turku that dates back to the 11th century.
The Old Great Square is home to old-time Christmas markets where merchants sell authentic goods including fur hats, silver ornaments, wreaths made of woven oat stalks and boiled woollen slippers.
Many traditional Christmas delicacies such as marzipan animals, gingerbread cookies, Christmas fruit cake and the flakiest prune-filled Christmas tarts imaginable, are enjoyed while listening to Christmas carols.
Turku Castle, founded in the late 13th century, is the most notable historic building in Finland and is one of the oldest places still in use today.
One thing to get used to in Finland is the popularity of saunas and many homes have their own.
Helsinki, Finland’s capital has about 3.3 million saunas and the new public Loyly, occupying a stretch of beautiful city waterfront offers steam cleaning at its best.
Our guide says it brings families and friends together and is all about feeling happy and taking time out of a busy schedule.
Here’s the deal – strip off (a swimsuit can be worn), take a shower, then sit and let the warmth evoke a feeling of happiness. You can also hit yourself with birch leaves every so often to assist circulation, then you run out and roll in soft snow or take a dip in sea water and repeat as often as you like.
Food plays a central part in Christmas celebrations, with roast pork the main dish in most households plus a variety of fish, casseroles and salads that are served with it.
The most authentic Christmas Eve breakfast is delicious rice pudding.
But one of the most enjoyable Christmas highlights is definitely Glogi, a type of mulled wine, made from red wine or red juice mixed with spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, then served with raisins and almonds but be warned – it’s a little addictive.
Published under license from Well Travelled