Rovaniemi, Finland: From dark ruins to the home of Christmas

(CNN) — It can be an Arctic destination that, when snow transforms it into a winter season wonderland, appeals to guests from all about the earth with its stunning scenery, ski resorts and — especially in December — Xmas magic.

Mainly because as properly as getting the capital of Lapland, Finland, Rovaniemi is also the official dwelling of Santa Claus.

But whilst the months top up to Christmas bathe Rovaniemi in a festive glow, this is a area that has regarded serious darkness. Not just in the lengthy winter season months when the solar scarcely creeps around the horizon, but also in the brutality of Globe War II and its aftermath.

A woman dressed in Gákti -- traditional Sami clothing -- leads a reindeer in Lapland.

A lady dressed in Gákti — regular Sami clothing — prospects a reindeer in Lapland.

Arto Liiti/Take a look at Finland

The story of Rovaniemi’s emergence from the rubble of conflict into the cheerful desired destination it is currently demonstrates both the extraordinary spirit of a city that survives on the pretty edge of civilization, but also a quite special bond concerning humans and animals.

And supplied that individuals animals are reindeer — it can be a extremely excellent story to explain to at Christmas.

A reindeer-shaped metropolis

Rovaniemi was after just a cluster of villages on the cusp of the Arctic Circle exactly where the nearby indigenous Sami people today depended on farming, foraging and logging to preserve their families alive by severe winters.

Reindeer were being their only companions. The Sami have herded the creatures throughout Scandinavia and Russia for hundreds of years, relying on them for foods, warm clothing and transportation, in a at times lethal landscape. Numerous of their traditions endure nowadays.

“We know how numerous reindeer character can handle and feed,” states present day Rovaniemi herder Sami Ruismäki.

The herders of Lapland deal with the normal entire world with good regard, generating certain their reindeer do not spoil the land, he claims.

Ruismäki’s household has tended to reindeer for generations on the snowy plains surrounding the town.

But by the time of Entire world War II, a gold mining rush experienced turned Rovaniemi into a bustling town. It was also a transportation hub, connecting Europe to Russia and the Barents Sea.

This was why, when German troops attacked Finland, they destroyed as substantially of Rovaniemi as doable. Picket properties, educational facilities and churches were being burned to the ground. Only 10% of the town remained standing.

After the war ended, Alvar Aalto — just one of Finland’s most well known architects — was provided the work of coming up with a new Rovaniemi.

Encouraged by Finland’s landscape and wildlife, Aalto seemed to Finland’s most beloved animal.

Witnessed from the sky, the present day metropolis displays the define of a reindeer. Its antlers stretch together with the public parks, although a ring street marks its extensive face. The city’s stadium is the animal’s eye.

The incredibly streets of Rovaniemi rejoice the animal that permitted people to endure in this lonely aspect of the environment.

Lappish hospitality

In 1950, as Rovaniemi was becoming rebuilt from the ashes, it obtained an unanticipated visit from US First Girl Eleanor Roosevelt, who came to show her assistance for the city’s submit-war recovery.

With only a week’s discover, officers rushed to establish a log cabin exactly where she could keep and get guests.

Roosevelt’s highly publicized visit was a triumph for Rovaniemi. The humble Roosevelt cabin grew to become the coronary heart of Santa Claus Village, a concept park loaded with each individual Christmassy working experience conceivable. Conferences with Santa, northern lights sightings and reindeer rides had been paired with warm Lapland hospitality.

Santa Claus’ Write-up Office environment (at 96930 Napapiiri, Finland) opened up, and now gets hundreds of thousands of letters every calendar year.

Rovaniemi experienced achieved the seemingly unattainable. It was attracting tourists to the Arctic Circle in the depths of winter.

Irene Kangasniemi, an artist, is among the local persons who currently make a living from the all over the world fame of the Lapland Xmas. She fashions reindeer antlers into jewelry and functions of artwork. “Reindeer are survivors,” she states. “Reindeer are the cause why men and women arrived listed here right after the ice age.”

Kangasniemi also follows a regular Lappish life-style. She forages for berries and mushrooms, and makes regular dishes like joulutorttu, a Christmas tart.

These food items are component of Lappish high-quality eating. In perhaps a a lot less festive vein, sautéed reindeer meat — poronkäristys — is a well-liked delicacy in Finland all calendar year spherical. Other regular Lapland meals appreciated by holidaymakers involve salmon, flatbread and mulled wine.

‘You can truly feel like you’re flying’

Lapland’s wintertime enchantment is not confined to Christmas. Travelers can also delight in a myriad of substantial-adrenaline sporting activities.

Skiing vacations are immensely common, with 32 resorts and 340 kilometers of slopes to pick from. Finland by itself is house to all over a person million active skiiers — more than a sixth of the country’s inhabitants. Ice climbing and snow-kiting supply extra unconventional encounters in Lapland’s festive landscape.

Jyri Keskiaho is the only professional freestyle snowmobiler in Finland. “I feel it comes from my childhood,” he suggests. “My father and mom did cross region snowboarding, and we drove behind them on sleds.”

Daredevil stunts and top speeds apart, snowmobiling is a likelihood to soak up the abundant wilderness of Lapland. “I enjoy touring by snowmobile via character — via the forest, the ramps, the track, the trails, everywhere,” he states. “I’ve accomplished this for 6 a long time now. You definitely can feel like you’re traveling.”

For the hardier, a dip in Rovaniemi’s rivers presents a bracing start to the working day. At only a few levels earlier mentioned freezing, these waters entertain guests and locals alike during the ice swimming period, from November until April. This sport could strengthen coronary heart purpose and blood circulation — but it is really not for the faint-hearted.

From spouse and children adventures in the terrific outside, to tranquil nights beside a crackling fireplace, this metropolis fuses jointly the greatest of present day and conventional Christmas.

CNN’s Holly Brown contributed to this tale

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