You might assume, as I did, that there could be nothing more thrilling for a four-year-old boy than meeting Father Christmas in his natural habitat. Turns out I was wrong. Meeting Santa is still pretty high up on Finn's list, but being pulled on a reindeer-drawn sleigh through a dark, snow-covered forest, tobogganing down a 1km long run and driving a mini snow scooter all trump the big man. Sorry Santa.
Visiting Finnish Lapland in the depths of winter is an otherworldly experience. The sun barely rises before it has set again and temperatures of -50°C are not unheard of. Luckily, when we visited, they didn't drop below a relatively mild -15°C, but we were still extremely grateful for the thermal suits, boots and underpinnings provided by the hotel.
Suitably kitted out, we were free to enjoy the winter wonderland that is the little Arctic town of Saariselkä. Sledges are stacked up outside the cosy Snowflake Hotel (pictured above), free to use for transporting small people around town or tobogganing down nearby slopes and runs.
Optional activities include snow scooter, reindeer and husky safaris. These don't come cheap, but are truly hands-on, once-in-a-lifetime adventures. Arriving at the husky farm for our dog-sled experience was an incredible, if rather spooky, experience. Hundreds of dogs barking in the snowy twilight, chained to their outdoor kennels (brr!) and eager to run free.
It took some persuading to convince Finn that the dogs weren't actually wolves, but once we were on our reindeer-skin covered sleds hurtling through the trees, slightly terrified mother at the helm, he was so busy holding on and staring wide eyed at his surroundings that he forgot to worry about the exact genus of the animals transporting him.
Just as popular (but a lot less noisy) was the reindeer sleigh-ride. Being pulled, at a much more sedate pace, through a silent, white forest, snowflakes falling and cuddled up to your small child, is a truly magical experience. While we waited for the second group to complete their trip, we warmed up back in the log cabin with hot berry juice and cookies and listened to some fascinating facts about reindeers and the Sami way of life.
All these activities can also be done 'in miniature' at the Santa Resort Kakslauttanen, which is a short bus ride from Saariselkä. We spent a half-day there and, far from the over-commercialised, tacky Santa-rama I was slightly dreading, the resort was low-key, sensitive to its natural surroundings, well-organised – but still lots of fun. Little wooden cabins are spread out over the area, including a large dining hall, a few shops and workshops, and there are different areas where you can have a go at riding a reindeer-drawn sled, dog-sledding, snow-scootering and tobogganing.
Of course the main event is meeting the man himself and, for this, children and parents are taken on a skidoo-pulled sleigh (by perky and extremely well-dressed elves) to a remote cabin in the trees where they each get a turn to chat to Santa and tell him what they wish for for Christmas. I was relieved to hear Finn's only wish was for a bouncy ball and he was extremely chuffed with the pressie he was given – a cuddly reindeer soft toy which still has pride of place on his pillow.
We packed an incredible amount into three days and this, together with the very early start on the first morning and a great deal of larking about with the other children in the hotel in the evenings, made for one extremely tired four year old. But Christmas comes but once a year and for Finn, a Finnish Christmas complete with reindeer, Santa, elves and huskies, comes only once in a lifetime. It's an experience neither of us will ever forget.
Want to go?
Thomson offers three night holidays to Lapland staying at the 4T Snowflake Hotel in Saariselka on a half board basis from £759 per adult and £565 per child. Price is based on two adults and two children sharing and includes flights from London Gatwick airport on the 9th December 2012. To find out more about this holiday or to book visit your local Thomson travel shop, thomson.co.uk or call 0871 230 2555.
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