Only 100 sleeps until Christmas
It’s not too early to get your list in and give it to Santa personally in Lapland... and be sure to check it twice
STANDING in the middle of a vast wood, everything covered in glistening snow, toasting marshmallows on an open fire as real elves with real pointy noses and real pointy shoes played around us. I had dreamt the scene, albeit not for almost 30 years. Yet here I was and it was all really happening. Little sleds seemed to appear from nowhere and so everyone stopped mid-mallow to push each other up and down the inclines through the trees.
Every so often one of the elves – she seemed more senior than the others, possibly because she had the most hair – would usher a family aside. For there were indeed children there. I wasn’t alone, living out my snow-drenched, decadesold dream. The elf was guiding families one by one to a giant wooden door in the side of a gargantuan mound of snow.
But more about that anon. I’m getting ahead of myself with excitement here.
Lapland holds a magical place in the hearts of every believer.
I had always wanted to go and having a child seemed the perfect excuse (that’s not to say a trip to Lapland was the sole reason for me having my son, Samuel, six years ago – just a contributing factor).
And I would say five to eight are probably the optimum ages to make the trip. And you MUST make the trip!
On Day 1 we were greeted at Dublin airport by the very festive, very sparkly elf, Lolly Bow-Bells (a double-barrelled elf, no less). Lolly accompanied us on our winter
trip and proved a roaring success with all the kiddies, particularly as she handed out goody bags as we queued at the airport. She even took care of entertainment on board the flight. There were Christmas carols, games and a few kids even got up to tell jokes. At one point there was a queue of seven-yearolds along the aisle of the plane practising their party pieces as they progressed closer to the plane’s Tannoy system to be introduced by Lolly. It was like a mid-air Ireland’s Got Talent.
But, of course, the fun was just beginning. We were greeted at Lapland airport by more elves and ferried by coach to collect thermal and snow-proof clothing – I was the only eejit who hadn’t read the itinerary properly and carted ski gear over from home. Temperatures swayed between around -16 to -30 degrees so the thermals were very welcome.
All the Christmas movies in the world can’t prepare you for the snow in Lapland. It’s so far north (we actually stepped into the Arctic Circle) that other ski resorts don’t compare to the relentless, glistening white blanket. The result makes for a land so far removed from home, and reality, that it truly is dreamlike. I couldn’t have predicted how well behaved a gang of children aged three and up would behave on a package holiday. All of the parents on the trip were gobsmacked by the striking lack of tantrums and mischief, such is the enchantment of the place.
After a sleigh ride on a frozen lake, we settled in for a much-needed hot meal at the Sky Hotel. The hotel has classic ski-resort style accommodation, complete with in-room sauna. There are also self-catering options with Sunway, but I was glad to have opted for half-board.
Day 2 was where the real magic happened. We were informed we would get the chance to meet Santa’s reindeer, experience a husky ride and, most excitingly, attend elf school!
And elf school did not disappoint. Our coach arrived at the edge of a forest. The snow is so bright during the three hours of sunlight a day that we barely saw the elves at the edge of the forrest on approach.
They were just as you would imagine, all rosy-cheeked and delightfully Nordic sounding. They invited us to follow them through the white woods to their school, made up of a several large wooden yurts. In we went to the classroom which had a big open fire on the middle and tables all around it. ‘Not at all like the schools at home’, one little chap helpfully pointed out.
The elves then put on a show which mesmerised the little ones, and just when the children thought life couldn’t get better than this, they broke out the gingerbread men for decorating.
WE left elf school with heavy hearts but our trip through the snowy forest was only just beginning. As we ventured farther into the woods a hill appeared, complete with sleds, or ‘Trabolgans’ as I heard one called (you can take the lads out of Dublin…). Up and down, up and down and twenty times later my little lad was still wanting more.
It seems a sled and a hill of snow are the true secret to happiness. The parents stood around taking videos and lamenting the fact that it was ‘far from trips to Lapland’ anyone was reared on and that it was ‘a sleeping bag down the stairs’ that children made do with years ago. And so to relieve the jealousy the elves duly journeyed everyone on further through this winter wonderland to the largest yurt, which turned out to be a dining hall.
After a good lunch (in fact all of the food was good, particularly considering the mass-catering involved), we headed back out to the snow for more sledding, snowballs and stories from the ubiquitous elves. And that is when the open fire appeared, complete with a big basket stuffed with marshmallows and some much-welcome mulled, well, juice.
And so the mysterious routine began of families being escorted into the hidden hill of snow through that monstrous wooden door. Wonderfully, the elves created such a fantastical scene, the children were blissfully unaware that we were in any sort of a queuing scenario. But finally it was our turn!
We were ushered by the head elf to wait with her at the door where she revealed she in fact had a giant key. I won’t go in to too much detail about the majesty behind the giant wooden door because Santa and his elves asked us to keep their secret safe. Suffice to say, Santa’s house and workshop is everything we had ever dreamed of… and of course the children were all blown away too, of course.
And so after the most spectacular visit to Santa’s forest, we were guided back to our coach by the elves who looked suitably devastated to see all the children leave. Needless to say the feelings were reciprocated ten-fold. A chorus of ‘Oh my Gods’ and ‘Can we go back tomorrow? Can we? Can we?’ was accompanied by excitement levels never again reached past the age of ten.
But the day was not over, and neither were the adventures. As the
sun set at 2pm we still had plenty of time to stop off at Santa’s reindeer farm for a ride on a sleigh. Rudolph, we were informed, was busy having a massage in preparation for the Big Night but we were only too happy to be taken around by Donner and Blitzen. My personal favourite part of the trip though came when we stopped at the husky farm to be taken on a husky ride (I’ve become quite the sleigh expert after this trip). The huskies don’t hold back. No taking in the scenery with these guys, it was exhilarating and the children’s screams of delight could be heard all the way to the South Pole.
It sounds like a lot to fit in to a day with small children but it was all so well organised that we didn’t feel stretched or rushed at all. It was truly the most enjoyable experience and I can’t recommend the trip enough.
Our coach brought us back to our hotel in the early evening before bringing us all for dinner and a show at Santa’s larger and cavernous workshop a couple of hours later. I had worried that it might get a bit late for a six-year-old but, on the contrary, all the children were wide awake, buzzing and in phenomenal form; still not a tantrum between them!
The show was a spectacular of (more) elves performing trapeze and it culminated in another visit from the Big Man himself.
Parents enjoyed a complimentary couple of glasses of wine – and at around €10 for a drink in Finland, the complimentary part was very welcome – while everyone enjoyed the various after-dinner activities: Santa train, elf-making workshop, general running around awe-struck.
The flight home the next afternoon was a naturally more subdued affair but Lolly Bow-Bells was still on hand with face-painting and story-telling so the pleasantly exhausted parents remained unfrazzled as we touched down on terra firma – for such was the magic of the trip that it felt like we hadn’t touched the ground in two days.
It’s a trip that everyone should try to take a least once in a lifetime. From our voyage to the North Pole I can honestly say that meeting the ‘real Santa’ made Christmas all the more special in our house.
And, as I said, my son really adored the experience too!
Like snow place on earth: Lapland is a playground for big and small kids alike... and elves, of course
Winter wonderland: Heidee and Samuel
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas: A reindeer in Lapland and Samuel and Santa