Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas, the Roman Catholic legendary figure for Christmas gift-giving, is said to have his hometown in Finland, at Rovaniemi. Hence, those who love to feel his presence, have a real place to visit – a town in Lapland, a Finnish province.
Santa Claus, the fat and jolly guy who laughs, “Ho, ho, ho,” while driving his sleigh of reindeers, which can fly in the air, is said to deliver gifts to homes through chimneys. He got his name from Catholic bishop Saint Nicholas, the children’s patron saint known for his generosity, according to Dr. Foster Eich, who studied the life of St. Nicholas and wrote a book about him. Episcopal priest Eich said what people should tell their children about Santa Claus is he was born in 280 A.D., who became a bishop in Myra in Eastern Turkey.
St. Nicholas’ was later called “Santa Claus,” a corruption of his name which children had trouble pronouncing. The Dutch celebrate St. Nicholas feast day on December 6, a gift-giving day where St. Nick would fill the shoes, put out by kids with goodies. As years passed, St. Nick became a white-bearded mystical giver. Calvinist Protestants in northern Germany dressed him in fur, in lieu of bishop robes and changed the date of gift-giving to Christmas Day, though Holland still keeps December 6.
Ad Cartoonist Haddon Sundblom of Coca Cola in the 1930s illustrated him as an oversized jolly elf with a kind face. Eventually, Santa Claus’ religious image became a secular icon.
As to why Santa Claus’ hometown is in Finland’s Rovaniemi, started in 1927 when a broadcaster in the Finnish country, Markus Rautio or Uncle Marcus, reportedly said Santa’s workshop was found in Korvatunturi, Lapland. It then became a part of Finnish public awareness, and moving it from Korvatunturi to Rovaniemi as Santa’s official hometown developed in decades.
Rovaniemi was terribly destroyed by World War II as it had witnessed fierce battles, was hit by Russian bombs, captured by Nazis and devastated by German troops. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration funded Alvar Aalto, a Finnish architect for the restoration of the place, with a plan that looked like the side of a reindeer’s head, complete with antler.
Tourism also played a big role in Finland’s economic reconstruction that even the travel section of the New York Times promoted Finnish Lapland, Rovaniemi during the 1957 summer solstice, when the sun never goes beneath the horizon. In 1984, the Finnish tourism board wanted to boost visitors and declared Lapland as a “Santa Claus Land,” under Governor Asko Oinas.
They then opened Santa Claus Village near Rovaniemi in 1985, and made “Arctic Circle” post office stamps. Postal workers in elf dresses receive about 500,000 mails a year for Santa, which they reply, if with €7.90. They also stamp millions of outgoing letters with the Arctic Circle postmark.
Santa Claus’ hometown is in Finland – in Rovaniemi, where the Santa Claus Village is flocked with about half a million visitors yearly, from around the globe, including China. All the happenings in the place are captured by Santa’s official webcam.
By Judith Aparri
Photo courtesy of Frozenreindeer – Flickr License