Saturday, 17 July 2010

162 days to christmas

Written 15th July

But why wait, when you can have christmas everyday at Santa's village! So unbearably over excited... (and so, so sad :) )

Epic drive north yesterday, according to the map, the road passed through countless towns or villages but they must have been pretty well camouflaged and hidden in the trees as we didn't see them. And we got much further than we ever expected - all the way to Santa's village on the Arctic Circle!

Yep, 66°32'35''N, the invisible line above which the sun doesn't set for at least one day a year, and doesn't rise for at least one day a year.

And, in this particular spot, where Santa has his office!

Arriving late and unsure what to expect, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Santa offers free overnight motorhome parking - indeed a colony was already in situ, they tend to multiply very quickly! - and even free wifi. What a very jolly old fellow he is!

So we settled in for a spot of dinner - Will has been more indoctrinated into hippie living than I thought, tonight's delicious fare, cooked by him, was some approximation of home made sunflower seed, nut, raisin, apple and onion chappatti(sp?)/pasty. Yummy but somewhat unexpected, I mean, seeds?? What is the difference vbetween a nut and a seed anyway?? - and then a wander out in the midnight sun to find the actual line. V exciting!

And for those of you who are wondering, its not that cold! A balmy 18 degrees during the day - a welcome change from the 36 degrees of the other day, yes we managed to be sitting in a field on the hottest day for five years in that particular region - it was so nice to be able to snuggle properly into my duvet last night :)

This place takes the biscuit as the most brilliantly cheesey place ever established. Not only do you get 24h daylight (at this time of year anyway), you also get 24h christmas carols played over the loud speakers in the square

and, when it all opens, shopping malls of endless santa/christmas/reindeer/arctic/lapland related tat. It is simply fabulous in its own very special way.

We wandered round the shops first - building the anticipation to an almost unbearable level. like actual christmas, the lead up to the big moment is almost as good as the actual thing - fluffy reindeers, fluffy huskies, knitted christmas jumpers, finnish hunting knives, fluffy ear-flap hats, snow domes, santas, christmas wishlist pads with a space for the elves to grade your good behaviour during the year, you name it, they had it, often with bells on.

And, reindeer meat products, reindeer leather goods, reindeer skin rugs (much nicer and softer than the sheepskin ones and surprisingly whiter than I expected) and actual reindeer antlers - all in rather poor taste, IMHO, I mean think of the children, "mummy, mummy, what happens to Rudolph when he is too old to fly round the earth once a year pulling santa's sleigh?" "well darling, he is turned into a reindeer burger, some smoked sausage, a rug, a nice pair of gloves

and you can buy his antlers as a novelty present for your friends" - no reindeer rest and retirement home for poor Rudolph!

What was worse though was the illustrated treatise about christmas-elf life which meticulously documented their work and living conditions in the village. Only porridge for breakfast followed by extremely long days of hard and dangerous work in the factories and at night, three to a wooden bunk (well they're only small so you can pack 'em in), stacked two high in a wooden shack in arctic conditions with only a small wood stove in the corner for warmth all directed by a seemingly benign, self-appointed and unelected, bearded leader smiling his encouragement whilst setting ridiculous production targets - toys for all the children in the world?? - which he claims are for the good of all humanity... Where have we seen pictures like that before...? And yet they're all smiling in the pictures and there's no international media outcry at this terrible species-specific treatment - just goes to show how clever the propaganda machine is... ;)

And then the big moment came - trough the door to the ante chamber of Santa's Office. No photos allowed - don't want to spoil the magic (or their chances of selling you the pictures at the end...). You are led first into the Corridor of Secrets, an imaginarium-like place where you learn, by way of an esoteric, da Vinci-esque diagram, the mechanism by which santa slows down the earth's rotation on christmas eve so as to give him enough time to get to all the children all over the world* which you then round the corner to see in operation** and then up the stairs where you are met by an elf outside his actual door - so excited by this point I can barely contain myself in a jigging up and down, cheshire cat grin kind of way... No really, honestly, I am that sad! - who makes sure you have understood how the earth slowing mechanism works and other santa related small talk until finally it is your moment and you are ushered into the inner sanctum......

Where the jolly old fellow himself welcomes you with a smile, shakes your hand, asks you where you are from, invites you to sit on the stool next to him - gutted there was no knee-sitting action - for the photographer elf takes your picture, and then wishes you merrily on your way with a sincere wish that he will see you again soon - 'well definitely at christmas' I replied!

And it's over.

You then get your chance to buy one of the two photos of your big moment (€25 or €25 + €15 for the pair), 6 postcards with your picture on (€30) or, best value of all, both pictures on a memory stick so you can print them as many times as you like or even email them PLUS the video of your meeting with Santa AND a video tour of the Corridor of Secrets. Bargain or what! Especially as it is free to see santa. (no, we didn't, you will be surprised to hear)

What did surprise me - apart from the fact that even on a random Thursday in July, there was a steady stream of people, apparently their busiest period is new year which is russian orthodox christmas when they get 4,000 - FOUR THOUSAND!!! Russians EVERY DAY! - was the number of children in the various example photos who looked miserable, or at best extremely underwhelmed by the whole experience - I looked more excited than they did! Apparently, according to the inner sanctum door-elf, some kids do get scared and even recently one adult who spent 45 minutes at the door psyching himself up to go in - FORTY FIVE MINUTES!! Surely that's a symptom of some sort of childhood abuse...

And then out to see the line

and on to Santa's main post office where you can send your letters

or read some of those which have been sent to Santa - some of which read more like letters to an agony aunt than a mythical seasonal storybook character. But mostly very cute.


n total, Santa has apparently received 14 million letters from 197 countries since records began. Last christmas he received 600,000, of which 190,000 were from the UK, considerably more than double the number from the next most prolific country (Romania) - simply astonishing. And they all get replies - from some elf sweat shop back office operation no doubt and a massive mail merge.

You can even contribute to Unicef by buying a small bundle of old envelopes, presumably to add to your stamp collection.

It's all rather lovely - if more than a little bit cheesey :)

Oh, and I have a new christmas plan! A red spare tyre cover and some antlers to attach to the wing mirrors - Julesolph the red nose rein-bus!

Onwards and northwards then - next stop: North Pole!***

*in case you are wondering, a big pendulum which drives a big cog which turns a big spindle which goes down right to the centre of the earth and in turn drives another big cog right in the middle which turns in the opposite direction to the rotation of the globe, thus slowing it down... Very clever science stuff

** well, cog and pendulum in moti

on but spindle (which also supported the stairs) not actually engaged and rotating - well it's July! you can't just go round slowing time willy nilly, where would we all be if he did that just on a whim for the tourists...

***for the sake of reporting integrity, I am obliged to point out that of course we are not actually going to the north pole at all, merely the northernmost point of mainland europe. Everything else in this post is entirely factually accurate and true :)

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations to you both as your epic tour heads North = just a hop skip and a jump to go.

    Quite suprised at temperatures up there.

    All the best