Once a year, we should all go someplace we have never been before, suggests the Dalai Lama, so at the end of that weird Year we called 2018, I decided to go beyond the norm, and deliver to my 9 and 12-Year-Old an experience that they would never forget, something that I could reference as ‘that holiday’ if I am ever faced with a challenge to my Fun Parent status.
I cast the net wide, and after a few dozen swift clicks of my google machine, my eyes locked on an advertisement that read ‘Why pay for Therapy when you can go to Lapland?’
Lapland? I thought Lapland was one of those made up places like Camelot, Hogsmeade or The Emerald City – but I was wrong, Lapland is very real and describes the northernmost region of Finland.
The capital of Lapland is the town of Rovaniemi in the Arctic Circle, with the two main attractions being the "official" home town of Santa Claus (seriously), and the best place on earth for viewing the Northern Lights.
Travelling with children is a wonderful privilege, not only because their enthusiasm is contagious, but also for their unique outlook on things that have become dulled down by the pressures of being an adult.
That moment of ‘truth’ is a package deal: Santa isn’t real - Adults lie – Fairies (both tooth and other varieties) are Fake – Angels too…where does it end? All we know is where it starts…it’s when Santa is Not Real…
Except, in Lapland, Santa is not only real, but you are also invited to visit him at his home.
Day Two we set it up, a short shuttle from the town centre to Santa’s Village in the snowy forest. We arrived 3 hours before our Santa meeting to give ourselves a chance to visit the reindeer and husky camps, walk through the variety of igloo hotels and gift shops, and also a stop at the all-important North Pole Post Office.
The Minus 11 Degrees temperature added an adventurous dimension to our explorations, forcing us into the various food and beverage options for a warm fruit drink called GLOGG, which is basically Gluhwein for children (evidently the Elves can’t handle their booze).
The hours flew by, and it was time for our meeting at Santa’s Workshop.
We were met by Santa’s helpers, and directed onto a staircase that would lead to Santa’s Office. It was a place of pure fantasy, and we all grinned constantly as if our GLOGG has been spiked with an Arctic version of Amarula Fruit.
And then we were The Main Elf welcomed us into Santa’s office - I cannot explain what happened during those 25 minutes, and all the things we discussed, but it is recommended.
The following days were filled with snowsuits and sleighs, a very interesting educational visit to the Arctic Museum (Arktikum), snow forest walks that are the most peaceful thing I have ever done, great food, trying to keep warm, building snowmen, more GLOGG…and such.
Everything that five minutes on www.visitrovaniemi.fi will explain.
The missing elephant on the safari was The Northern Lights, which I learned is very much like the preamble to any African game drive – there are no guarantees.
Aurora Borealis for Dummies:
Guaranteed darkness is the single most important factor in seeing the Northern Lights, in daylight the Auroras are invisible. Even a full moon can make viewing pointless. Weather is a major factor and the second most important one. To see the Northern Lights the skies need to be clear, preferably very clear of clouds (and pollution).
We met at 8 pm, donned protective gear (which literally keeps you alive) and our small group headed out to Find, See and Photograph one of the world most bucket-Listed experiences.
We arrived at a frozen lake, which was well located for us to look uninterrupted towards the North, across the ice. We lit a fire in a small hut which would be our base, received a final briefing, and started walking toward the lake.
It was minus 26 Degrees when we left the vehicle, and it was getting colder by the moment.
It is difficult to describe the otherworldly nature of being this far out of our Comfort Zone, mammals bred for Arniston, not The Arctic.
We were buzzing. And then it began.
It is not easy to describe The Northern lights, it is weirdly personal and surprisingly emotive. It could be explained as ‘seeing a rainbow in the night sky’ or ‘natures dancing light show’ but this doesn’t really do any of it justice at all. It’s more than visual, and something that is truly understood only in the moment.
I asked Santa if he could say one thing to all the adults in the world, one thing that they needed most to hear, and he smiled through his massive white beard, and said ‘it’s simple, treat others as you wish to be treated, and all of your problems will magically disappear’.
In 2019, that’s probably a very good idea, for us all.
Visit Ravimieni Finland if you have the opportunity. Say hello to Santa at his village, have a snowball fight, try to witness the Northern Lights…and let the kids around and inside you set the pace.