Finland, the real home of Santa Claus

Promoting itself as the “real home of Santa Claus,” Finland celebrates Christmas with markets, festivities and traditions, all culminating on Christmas Eve with a taking of the sauna, enjoyment of Christmas treats and gatherings with friends and family, and a visit by Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, or Joulupukki in Finnish, is known to reside in northeastern Lapland, on the Korvatunturi Fell. Legend states that the Korvatunturi Fell is shaped like an ear, allowing Santa to hear the wishes of children from around the world. Korvatunturi is “home base” for Santa’s travels above the Arctic Circle.

Santa Claus’ Office is in Santa Claus’ Village on the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. The nearest town, Rovaniemi, is 8 km away. (Highway 4 north of Rovaniemi).

Santa Claus Village, open throughout the year with free admission, is home to Santa Claus’s Office where visitors can meet Santa, visit his Main Post Office and observe the flurry of the festive season. Cards, letters and parcels sent from Santa Claus’ Main Post Office are stamped with a unique Arctic Circle postmark. Through the years Finland’s Santa Claus has received more than 18 million letters. Each year he receives more than 600,000 letters from more than 150 countries. More info at >  www.santaclausvillage.info

Santa’s Park is a fantasy world inside an underground cave where “elves” work all year in preparation for Christmas. Guests can bake and decorate gingerbread in the Gingerbread Kitchen, learn elf skills in Elf School, or make Christmas decorations in the Elf Workshop. Santa Park’s Sleigh Ride takes guests through four seasons of Finland to the elves’ toy factory where presents for Christmas are made. Entrance is 20 euro for children and 25 euro for adults through January 10. More info at >  www.santapark.com

According to the Finnish tradition, Christmas is brought to the homes by St. Thomas on December 21 (St. Thomas Day) and is taken away by St. Knut on January 13. St. Thomas markets prepare for the December 21 celebration, selling handmade Christmas decorations, ornaments, handicrafts, gifts, and treats such as gingerbread and hot mulled wine, Glögi, a warming combination of wine, spices and fruit. The St. Thomas Market in Helsinki, in Esplanade Park, is the largest Christmas market in Finland with approximately 150 vendors. On weekends, entertainment includes a Finnish Christmas pageant and a visit by Santa Claus. The market is open daily from December 7 to 20. In Turku the Christmas Fair is open on weekends through December 25. More info at > www.visitfinland.com

Christmas and winter activities in Finland

The Finnish Tourist Board is promoting Lapland as a Christmas Wonderland with a series of five to eight-day packages.

The packages include Continental Journeys’ six-day air-inclusive “Christmas in Lapland-Rovaniemi” departing New York on December 22. The package includes plenty of activities such as a snowmobile safari, a magical forest walk with Santa’s helpers, visit to a reindeer farm, Santa’s Workshop and Santa’s Park, a snow carnival and ice fishing. Included are tourist-class hotels, upgradeable to superior and first class hotels, most meals, daily sauna, hotel taxes and service charges. Add-on gateways and additional nights are available. Info at > www.continentaljourneys.com

Five Stars of Scandinavia’s five-day Rovaniemi land-only package, has three departures December 16, 23 and 30. Participants earn a reindeer driving license, learn about reindeer herding, take a husky safari and a snowmobile safari, and visit Santa Claus Village to meet Santa Claus. Included are four nights’ hotel accommodations, four dinners and breakfast daily, daily sauna use, all equipment and special winter gear, and hotel taxes and service charges. Info at > www.5stars-of-scandinavia.com

A fully escorted, eight-day upscale tour from Maupintour spends two nights exploring Helsinki and four in Rovaniemi, all in deluxe hotels. In Lapland, an icebreaker cruise kicks off the stay in Kemi, followed by a visit to Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi and a reindeer farm, activities such as a snowmobile safari, a toboggan run, snow-shoeing and ice fishing. The December 20 departure includes all excursions, six nights accommodations, most meals, daily sauna use, and escort. Info at > www.maupintour.com.

The Finnish Tourist Board at > www.finlandkingsroad.com

Helsinki’s Ylläs-Halli Center for Winter Activities offers a year-round locale where visitors can train or try out various winter sports such as biathlon, curling, ice skating, sledging, ice wall climbing or snow-tubing. To create a Ylläs Lapland feeling, the arena provides a “snowy” environment with walls covered with huge images of Lapland, ice bears and winter imagery, plus real trees. Included are a 1.2-kilometer cross-country ski track, with terrain options for beginners to advanced skiers, plus a supervised area where young visitors can practice sports. To minimize environmental impact, the arena produces its own energy in an environmentally friendly way. The arena utilizes geothermal heat, solar energy and wind power according to its own strict energy and environmental program. Info at > www.yllas-halli.fi

The Kannisto Domestic Animal Farm offers an unusual experience for families or anyone who would like to spend Christmas on a genuine farm. The holiday program starts Christmas Eve with a stables tour to meet the farm animals. Guests will hear stories about the life in the countryside followed by a traditional smoke sauna. The evening continues with a Christmas Feast and a visit by Santa Claus. On Christmas Day, the program includes cart or sledge riding, horseback riding or a walk to rocky Leikkilinna Mountain, and caroling. Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, gives guests traditional holiday pastry and time to experience outdoor activities and take care of the farm animals. Prices for the Christmas Holiday package are 280 euros per adult, 140 euros per child 7 to 14 years old, 70 euros per child 2 to 6 years old, and children under 2 years old are free. Included are accommodations for three nights with all meals, saunas, nature excursions, cart or sledge riding and Santa Claus’s visit. Info at > www.kannistontila.fi

Usually, Finland’s legendary Moomin trolls hibernate during the coldest months, but this year the magic of the season awakens the Moomin family from their winter’s sleep. Moomin Valley features skating and sledding, guests can meet the Moomin family and have lunch at Moomin Mama’s Kitchen, enjoy snacks in a Finnish cabin, and visit the Moominhouse. Moominworld, a theme park for children and families based on the books of Finnish artist and storyteller Tove Jansson, is open February 20 to 28. The park is located on the southwest coast of Finland on a small island facing the old town of Naantali, just 10 miles from Turku and a couple hours’ drive from Helsinki, Tampere or Pori. Sokos Hotels offers a package which includes accommodation for one night at Sokos Hotel Seurahuone in a double room with two junior cots (children under 2 years old are free), buffet breakfast and entrance to Moominworld for two adults and two children. Info at > www.muumimaailma.fi  or www.sokoshotels.fi

The Wild Taiga offers a variety of small hotels and tours in the wilderness just next to the Russian border. Tours here feature action-packed activities such as snowmobiling, husky safaris and cross-country skiing. Visitors can also horseback ride, go on a reindeer sleigh, fish, snowshoe or watch a wide variety of animals in their natural habitats. Kuhmo and Suomussalmi, two cities in the Wild Taiga, are a textbook example of the mixture of rich tradition and strong local culture. The region’s settlement history is among the oldest in Finland. For those looking for cultural fulfillment the area offers a rich rural history, chamber music, rune singing, memorials of the Winter War and a variety of concerts. Info at > www.wildtaiga.fi

Light a Hanukkah candle website is online > Updated

Posted On December 14, 2009

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Festive food for Hanukkah celebrations > Updated

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Cook for Hanukkah > Updated

Please Note > this post has been moved to our Festive Spirit blog, and you can access it along with many other related posts at >

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Christmas shopping in Europe

There are many shopping possibilities around Europe to get travellers in the Christmas Spirit.

Many European cities are attracting guests with the lowest hotel rates of the year allowing travellers to get in some cheap last minute shopping before Christmas. In Milan, 110 euro, travellers save 14 percent in comparison to the previous month, in Venice, 115 euro, twelve percent. Prices have also decreased in Nice, 85 euro, eight percent less and Barcelona, 96 euro, nine percent less.

To prolong the festive season into 2010, travellers can visit the Three King’s celebration on the 6th January in Barcelona.

In comparison to the previous month, hotel prices have risen in European cities that offer Christmas markets throughout December. In the German city of Nuremberg travellers pay 108 euro for a standard double room over the Christmas period, twelve percent more than in November. The same can be seen in other German cities, such as Dresden, 86 euro, an increase of ten percent and Stuttgart, 108 euro, an increase of six percent.

The same trend can also be seen in popular cities in Austria and Switzerland. A standard double room in Vienna is 109 euro in December, five percent more than the previous month, while in Zurich prices have increased due to the Christmas market by three percent to 183 euro.

Although Christmas markets in Europe are mostly associated with Germany and Austria, many others can also be found in England, Estonia, Finland, France and other countries around Europe. However, my favorite one is in Berlin, Germany and that is not due to hot mulled wine only!

Take a look at the following links >

http://www.germany-tourism.de/ENG/culture_and_events/christmas_markets.htm

http://www.aboutaustria.org/veranstaltungen/veranstaltungen5.htm

http://www.enjoyengland.com/attractions/events/calendar/december/christmas-markets.aspx

http://www.tallinn-life.com/tallinn/christmas-market

http://www.helsinki.fi/en/index/tapahtumat/4643390f17ab2f7905aed556678f0fde.html

http://gofrance.about.com/cs/festivals/a/christmasmarket.htm