A Very Merry Christmas from Rovaniemi, Finland!

Standing in line to officially meet Santa Claus I couldn’t help but feel joyful. My five year old self was smiling within, flooded with memories of when I used to believe that reindeer had indeed landed on my rooftop and that the jolly bearded Santa Claus would shoot down my chimney. I was in need of some extra magic and had a few important wishes to tell the old man, so I booked a flight up north and hoped we could have a chat.

Covered in sparking white snow, christmas lights shining brightly, and people smiling from ear to ear make this small village quite a special place. I dove in head first and signed up for a husky tour, ice fishing, northern lights hunting, a reindeer sleigh ride, and a visit to the famous ice hotel. I mean…..when the hell else would I have an opportunity to do or see these things?! The husky tour was an experience of a lifetime! Arriving at the husky farm you can hear the dogs barking from a mile away. They’re rearing to go and can’t wait to take off with their sleighs. I was paired up with a man named Pako, from China, who made me laugh most of the way. We took turns driving the sleigh and quite honestly, I felt like Wonder Woman zipping around these snowy bends commanding   these huskies to obey my wishes. If ever asked what was one of my most baddass moments in life, this would have to be a top contender!

Husky ridingThere are six huskies to every one sleigh. The two dogs closest to the sleigh are typically male and are the strongest. The middle dogs help keep the pace and the front two dogs are typically always female and are the smartest of the bunch, listening to the drivers commands and leading the pack. Huskies will be put to work from the age of two and will typically retire around twelve, helping to train the little pups. After the ride we were able to spend some time with the huskies and I bonded with one that would keep putting his paw on me every time I would stop petting him. I wanted to bring him home with me so badly!

Ice fishing was the next adventure on the bucket list as we snowmobiled to a frozen lake a couple miles within the forest. I was paired up with a German man to ride there with and we began talking about where we were from. I mentioned San Francisco and his eyes lit up. He told me that he had lived on the corner of Guerrero and 21st Street in San Francisco for years. I could not believe the coincidence since I literally live one block away! We swapped stories of our favorite local coffee shops, our hatred for hipsters, and how much the mission has changed. It was super comforting to meet someone half way around the world sharing pieces of our home. It makes the world seem a lot smaller and connected in some way. me and teepee

I lasted approximately five minutes ice fishing. I drilled the hole through the ice, baited my hook with a worm, and then dropped my hook into the hole and waited for something to happen. My butt became really cold sitting on the ice, and not being able to see the water or where the fishes were coming from made it beyond dull. Thankfully the tour guides had made a beautiful fire in a teepee nearby where they offered us hot berry juice and sausages. I was super thankful that it happened to be warm that day (0 degrees) instead of the usual -20 F that it typically is this time of year!  I was beyond thankful for this “heat wave.”

That evening I went hunting for the northern lights. Because of the clouds we were unfortunately not able to view them. There’s a lot of science behind what makes the colors appear in the sky. Anytime math or science is mentioned my mind wanders to unicorns and fairy dust, so basically all I gathered is it’s something to do with radiation in the atmosphere reacting with the oxygen. I asked our guide how people in Lapland deal with it being dark and snowy for nine months out of the year. He mentioned that all locals take Vitamin D supplements and that many of them had sun lights in their homes. In fact, people have special alarm clocks that will give off sunlight as they wake up. I honestly could not fathom living in a place like this…the “city center” consisting of tourist shops, no sunlight, freezing temperatures, extremely expensive, and basically nothing to eat besides Reindeer meat, Salmon, and cloudberry jam. So the saying goes…”different strokes for different folks.”

The next day was winter solstice and it was incredible to experience it here in Lapland. The entire day was spent in darkness. I knew that the lack of sunlight would be a very prominent component to this trip, but I embraced it from the get go. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own light and dark attributes and realizing that I need to accept all aspects of myself. As Carl Jung once said “it’s better to be whole than good.” To be whole is to accept the good and the bad/the dark and the light. The truth is you cannot have one without the other. You cannot appreciate the light without the dark. A big part of this trip is learning to accept the dark parts and lean into having self compassion not only for others, but most importantly myself.

You have a ton of time to reflect and listen to your thoughts on solo trips. During my time with Rudolph, I had plenty of time to daydream. Riding in a reindeer sleigh looks pretty me and sleighadventuresome, but in reality you’re going about one mile per hour and the reindeer’s don’t seem all that thrilled to be in your company. I did find it interesting to learn that the reindeer are marked by each individual farm and left out to go into the wilderness for most of the year. In the months between November and February they come back to their farms to be fed. In this sense they kind of have the life! There are more reindeer than people in Lapland. The government takes a very strong stance on how many reindeer can be bred in the region, since it could very quickly get out of control and overtake the population. Another thing that I learned on my reindeer safari was that the government does not regulate the land in Lapland. Hence, you need to pay for the land that your house is built on, but there is no such thing as a yard. Anyone can fish in all of the lakes, bask on the beaches, or hang out in anyone’s back yard. It’s completely free and open and something that would never be able to exist in many places around the world.

Besides my James Bond/Wonder Woman husky adventure, the Ice Hotel had to be a top experience here in the Artic Circle! Every year they begin to build the structure in November, making the snow and ice from nearby lakes. It only takes eight men to build and every year they construct it differently. Depending on how many reservations are on the books is how large they decide to make it. Each room is individual and customized. Inside the hotel it is negative 5 degrees at all times. While it’s incredibly magical to visit, I would have absolutely no interest in staying overnight here. First of all it’s basically a million dollars and people are coming in and out of your room viewing the structure throughout the day. You only go into your room to sleep and they must give you a special snowsuit and sleeping bag to sleep in. Doesn’t sound too comfy to me, but by all means a wonder to visit!

Ice HotelI saved the best till last and made my way to Santa Claus Village today. I waited in line for about an hour to officially meet Mr. Claus. I made small talk with the elves and smiled at the little kids who’s dreams were about to unfold. I sat down with the man himself and shook his hand. Even hime and santas hands seemed so soft and Santa like. He asked me where I was from and where I would be spending Christmas this year. I told him I would be staying in Copenhagan and he smiled and said that he would be seeing me there in a couple of days then. I smiled right back at him and promised him that I would leave some delicious cookies and milk for him. I left Santa’s workshop and really did feel the spirit of the holidays….no matter what your age if you allow yourself to feel it, it’s pure magic.