48: Beyond the Arctic Circle

48: Beyond the Arctic Circle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

Beyond the Arctic Circle

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.

~Jawaharlal Nehru

The snow was like a white blanket covering the fields as far as the eye could see. Now and then it glistened in the low winter sun, while the fir trees shimmered in their white coats. Occasionally, the icy arctic wind shook the trees, briefly freeing them of their burden, before the snow started to fall again.

Standing alone in this wintry scene was a house. Smoke curled out of the chimney, making it seem homey and welcoming. I watched as the smoke turned into different shapes and silhouettes.

I was whisked back to my childhood as I entered the house. I couldn’t believe that I was here at last and I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. It was an enchanted world filled with sweets and toys, and as I turned to walk to the fire, I finally saw him — smiling, rosy-cheeked and wearing his familiar red suit.

For many years I had imagined visiting Lapland to meet Father Christmas. I had seen vacations advertised on television, and looked at holiday brochures. The more I read, the more magical the trip sounded.

By the way, did I mention that I was in my forties, had no children, and absolutely hated the cold? But did I care? Not one bit! I decided that for once I wouldn’t moan about the cold. Of course I could cope with temperatures way below freezing. I would also ignore my fellow travelers if they looked in disdain at this soon-to-be middle-aged woman traveling such a long way just to see Santa.

I was a seasoned traveler and had journeyed to many countries alone. However, I wanted to share this experience with someone, not because I thought I would stick out like a sore thumb, but because the Christmas season is a time to be with friends. My husband couldn’t come, as we have a menagerie of animals and nobody in their right mind would want to look after our wonderful, but mostly hyperactive, brood. I mentioned the trip to my friend Clare, expecting a barrage of excuses, but surprisingly she agreed to go with me.

And so, a few months later, I sat excitedly on a plane as it descended toward Rovaniemi in Finland. Looking out of the window, I saw a snow-covered winter wonderland waiting for us, just like I’d imagined. Living in Greece, I don’t often get to see much snow, apart from glancing at the mountains from a distance. The scene from the plane’s window was spectacular. There was mile upon mile of snow and the fir trees… well, I’ve never seen so many Christmas trees in my life!

However, as we got off the plane, the bitter wind hit us. Luckily, our first stop on the three-hour ride to the hotel was to be kitted out in a full body suit, with hood and big boots. I felt ready to get out there and find Santa, but we still had a two-hour coach trip further north.

We arrived at our hotel mid-afternoon and it was already getting dark. We had crossed the Arctic Circle. I looked around. There weren’t many buildings there apart from the hotel and log cabins and I felt as if I had come to one of the farthest and most deserted places in the world. There is something eerie about it getting dark so early in the afternoon.

We went to see Santa that same day. Our group met in the hotel lobby and I was astonished to see that there were quite a few couples without children. Our instructions were to go and find Santa ourselves, which seemed a daunting task. However, there was help at hand.

As we went outside, we were hit by a blast of freezing air, but this was soon forgotten when an elf suddenly appeared and pointed us in the direction of Santa’s home. We trudged through the snow, and with the help of signposts and a few more elves we finally got closer to our destination. By this time, the children in the group were very excited and I must admit they weren’t the only ones.

Santa’s house looked as welcoming as I had imagined, and it was great to see a couple of reindeer waiting patiently outside for the man himself.

We went in, and within minutes were warm and cozy. There was a log fire burning cheerfully in one corner and sitting close by was Father Christmas, dressed in red, with a long white beard. He was the jolliest man I had ever seen. The kids ran to him while the adults stood near the back, not wanting to spoil the fun. When the elves had calmed the kids down, Santa brought out a pile of letters. Imagine the surprise on the faces of the children when they saw that Santa had the letters they had written to him.

We still had another three days in Lapland after we met Santa. I had always wanted to ride in a sleigh pulled by a team of Huskies and I was excited to get the chance to do it. The dogs were strong and fast, and I was amazed how they managed to pull Clare and me at such speed.

We were also introduced to more reindeer and had a leisurely sleigh ride with them. Then we had a go on a snowmobile, which I must admit I didn’t quite get the hang of. Having ridden motorbikes, I went on full of confidence, but unfortunately came off feeling quite shamefaced by my efforts.

We were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights one evening. It was spectacular. What a mixture of colors lighting up the clear night sky.

My trip to Lapland turned out to be everything I had expected it to be. It was a great experience and a fantastic start to the Christmas season.

~Irena Nieslony

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