Where does Santa live? Somewhere up North for sure, but where exactly…It´s this crucial question that the Arctic countries have been waging war against each other over for the last couple decades, a most tragic war, the Arctic Santa War!
Any kid who’s asked where Santa Claus lives would likely answer “The North Pole” and immediately start to visualize images of a cold yet welcoming toy factory lost somewhere on a snowy landscape, surrounded by pug-faced reindeers and diminutive elves, but where does it all come from? Where is Santa hiding actually? Most people know that Santa Claus originates from a popular interpretation of Saint Nicholas, mixed with elements from earlier Pagan religion and folklore. The popular image of Santa Claus developed progressively in the United States in the XIXth and early XXth century. The famous poem “The Night Before Christmas“, written in 1823 by Clement C. Moore became very popular in the years after its publication and spread the image of “Father Christmas” far and wide. Some decades later, the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast illustrated this tale and on this occasion, he became the first person to associate Santa with the North Pole and the Arctic regions. Santa was later redrawn by Nast and ultimately by Haddon Sundblom, the American son of Swedish-speaking immigrants, and took the form we all know and love.
In the 1930s, at about the same time than Sundblom started to paint his iconic jolly red Santa, it began common in Finland to associate Joulupukki, the Finnish version of Santa Claus, with the Finnish side of Lapland, especially a locale named Korvatunturi, near the Russian border. The link between this rocky and isolated mountain (Korvatunturi is Finnish for “Ear Fell” because the fell does look a little bit like an ear) was made through a popular Finnish children’s radio show presented by the broadcaster Markus Rautio and became popular throughout Finland. Still, for the longest time, the association between Santa Claus remained tenuous at best, with most kids still placing good old Santa on a rather mythical North Pole, far from any real-life and accessible place. Following the end of World War II, this would came to an end.
In 1947, the municipal authorities of Oslo started what would later come to be one of the most beloved Norwegian traditions worldwide: the sending of Christmas trees abroad. That year, Oslo sent its first tree to London, as an expression of gratitude on behalf of the Norwegian people to England for support during the war. Shortly thereafter, British kids started to address their Christmas letters to Santa-Claus, now believed to live in the Northern town of Oslo, Norway! For some time, Santa was thus thought by some, internationally, to be a citizen of Norway, but this started to change just a few decades later in the 1980s when Finland decided to prove that the burly old man really was living in Finnish Lapland. In this period, the now famous Santa’s Village was established North of the city of Rovaniemi just where the Arctic Circle crosses the land. The village, explained the Finnish Touristic Bureau, was the place where Santa and his elves reside near Christmas and build the countless gifts that well-behaving children all over the world receive once a year. The news of the opening of Santa’s workshop made headlines everywhere and soon tourists from all over the world started to flood to Finnish Lapland in order to get in touch with the magic of Christmas in a more concrete way than ever! But the other Nordics were not exactly pleased by this relocation of Santa that some saw as “forced”.
Norway was the first to counterattack by establishing its own Christmas locale, the Christmas house of Drøbak, west of Oslo. Not long after that, it was the Swedes who entered the fight though the establishment of yet another Christmas house near the town of Mora located in the mountainous district of Dalarna a good distance west of Stockholm. Ultimately, Denmark also started to weigh in on the debate surrounding the exact whereabouts of Mr. Claus and soon the Danish offices of Santa were opened in Nuuk, on the rather very Arctic coast of West-Greenland. To this day, there still hasn’t been any sign of a stop in this (thankfully bloodless) war waged by the Nordic countries over the actual location of the most famous resident of the Arctic. While the Finnish workshop of Saint Nick is today his most famous residence, there is no sign that this disagreement will be resolved anytime soon. Thankfully, this “war” still revolves around Christmas after all and we can be sure that because of this, the Nordic brothers will respect the most cherished truce of all and keep the fighting to a minimum. After all, no one ever wants to be so naughty that Santa wouldn’t want to come for them, right?
- (1) Berg, Knut Anders, Tessem, Liv Berit and Wiedswang, Kjetil (1993). Julen – I Norsk og utenlandsk tradisjon. Oslo: Gylendal Norsk Forlag. 107 – 109.
- (2) Vuolio, Kaisu et al. (1998). Finland – A Winter Fairlyland in Christmas Around the World ed. Maria Hubert (93 – 96). Stroud: Sutton Publishing.
- (I) Picture of Siebert the Bear at the Fram center in Tromsø. Ⓒ Linnea Nordström (2015).
- (II) Nast, Thomas (1879). Boy Mailing Letter to Santa.. 1879.
- (III) Nast, Thomas (1881). Merry Old Santa Claus. 1881.
- (IV) Sundblom, Haddon (1930s – 1950s). Sata and His Coke.
- (V) The Santa-Claus Village offices in Finnish Lapland. Photo by Flickr user 123_456