As our coach reaches its destination, rosy-cheeked elves appear out of nowhere. Their playful mood soon means snowballs are flying and laughter is echoing between the sugary birches and firs. To add to our joy, the skies have cleared and the sun has finally risen just above the horizon, casting a divine glow across our wooded setting.
After a traditional Sami (Lapp) welcome at a teepee camp, we're then invited to putour reindeer driving skills to the test over a frozen lake. Checks are made to see if any of these docile creatures sports a ruby red nose. Rudolph isn't present, but the atmosphere is just as magical as our sleigh glides over the ice. When the cold begins to numb our faces and toes, we seek refuge inside a warm log hut, happy to thaw out with a steaming cup of soup and rice pudding. Tinsel and baubles are then brought out, an axe is found and a small tree is chopped down for all the children to decorate.
Back at our hotel there are more trees and gingerbread cookies to adorn, a traditional Finnish-style Christmas Eve feast to indulge in, byt hands down, the highlight of the evening is an appearance from Santa himself with gifts to give. Judging by the kids' expressions, no shopping centre visit will ever be the same.
THE ELVES' SECRETS
Christmas Day finally arrives and the temeperature has pluemmeted to -28 degrees catching even the locals off-goard. The snow is powdery and deep and we our best to keep warm at the Snowfun Park, tobogganing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling in between sips of hot-berry juice, soups and sausages fried over a campfire. Eventually some of us have to retreat to the heated bus.
For four days, the Northern Lights that regularly dance above these Arctic skies elude us. On our final day we get to experience the next best light show in the Arktikum Museum and Science Centre's Northern Lights theatre. Everything you want to know about the local culture, nature, climate and people of the Arctic and Lapland is on show here.
While our itinerary also includes a visit to Santa Claus Village, home to Santa's own post office, restaurants and a range of shops, we detour to Santa Park.
If you've ever wanted to know the secrets of Santa's helpers, this is the place to come. Deep inside a heated cavern, Santa Park boasts a workshop, magic train, ice gallery (with frozen throne), an ice bar and an Angry Birds activity park. Winter (or summer) Santa himself often pops up by his office to meet fans. But the ultimate last-minute souvenir has to be a graduation certificate from Elf School.
At Elf School, eager students can gain a crash course in elf espionage. Sporting those now familiar pixie features, our Elf professors took turns demonstrating how they sneak a peek in your windows throughout the year, to check on who is being naughty or nice. Before we could say ‘presents’ they’d been and gone.
So they show us again, this time in S-L-O-W M-O-T-I-O-N.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” the bemused audience chuckles with appropriate Christmas spirit.
Lessons include the art of creeping quietly and all the insider tips to get your name permanently in Santa’s good books. I just hope my girls listened.
Well, we’ll soon see, won’t we?