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Pole to Pole

Day 21: Ivalo to Rovaniemi

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThere is a bus stop on the Arctic Circle and a sign halfway down a ditch marking it in several languages, but these are completely overshadowed by the bizarre presence of Santa Claus Village. This roadside complex, which resembles a small airport, contains, among other things, a shopping mall, a café, and Santa's Post Office. With brisk opportunism the Finns have managed to ensure that half a million letters a year, many of them vaguely addressed to Santa somewhere in the north, are directed to this particular spot. Presiding over the enterprise is a crew-cut ex-DJ and journalist who is so big that when he says he's Father Christmas you don't argue.

He doesn't seem particularly at ease with us, torn between being avuncular and jolly and protecting this considerable investment from smart-arsed snoopers and cynics. He talks evangelically about combining the 'commercial' and 'ideological' aspects of Christmas, but it's hard to keep a straight face when you can see behind him a line of oddly shaped women in red capes and tasselled hats emerging from a Portakabin. He catches my eye and turns.

'Ah, those are the elves coming on for the afternoon shift.'

The elves sit at desks, with red and white computers, dealing with the world's largest concentration of begging letters.

'Everyone receives a personal reply from Santa,' the Big Man tells me with fierce pride.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 21
  • Country/sea: Finland
  • Place: Ivalo
  • Book page no: 42

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