December 23, 2005

Where does Santa live?

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) - Father Christmas may live in Iceland -- at
least if the efficiency of his helpers is a guide -- in what
may help the island's drive to win hearts and tourism from
Arctic rivals claiming Santa and his reindeer.

Only Reykjavik got a reply when Reuters bureaux in all
eight nations with Arctic territory wrote to Father Christmas
or local gift bringers -- ranging from Ded Moroz (Grandfather
Frost) in Russia to Julenissen in Norway -- asking: 'Where do
you live?'

"Let's all be good and kind to each other," he replied in
Icelandic, with a link to "" which says "from
time immemorial Santa Claus has lived at Dimmuborgir," a remote
area of northern Iceland.

The reply, aided by the efficiency of a Nordic postal
service and Santa's helpers, might aid Iceland in a battle for
hearts and tourist dollars with rival nations claiming Santa.

Father Christmas' home is a source of seasonal tension,
especially in the Nordic region where Finland attracts about
500,000 visitors a year to Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle to
visit a jovial white-bearded, red-clad Santa.

Finland's winter success means other Santas feel left out
in the cold -- at least economically.

From Rovaniemi, Santa Claus said the Reuters letter must be
among a deluge of 30,000 he received every day. The letters --
from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Canada, the
United States and Russia -- were all mailed in mid-November.

"I live here in Lapland and anybody who doesn't believe, I
wish a warm welcome to come and meet me and see how it is
here," he told Reuters in English, with a faint Finnish accent.

"Of course this is the homeland of reindeer, and everyone
knows I travel with reindeer," he said by telephone.

In a rare grumble, he said children never doubted that
Lapland was his home. "It's always the media that brings this
question up. I have never met a five-year-old who comes here
and asks: 'Am I in the right place?'," he said.


Seasonal cynics might suggest that Iceland, with just
250,000 people, has better chances of replying to letters than
other countries around the Arctic.

"Santa Claus is no longer Norwegian. He's Finnish,"
Norway's independent TV2 concluded glumly in a recent report.
It said the "hordes of tourists" flying in charter planes to
Rovaniemi sometimes disrupted air traffic over neighboring

Copenhagen, where many believe Santa lives in the Danish
territory of Greenland, has won an extra argument that Father
Christmas is Danish by saying last year that it plans to claim
the North Pole as part of Danish territory.

Many Americans reckon Santa lives at the pole.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja raised few laughs
among his counterparts from the Nordic region and Russia last
month when he invited them to a meeting in northern Finland
with a joke that it was "close to where Father Christmas

Tuomioja's joke, at a dinner in the Norwegian Arctic port
of Harstad, rubbed in how far Finland has gone in cornering the
lucrative Santa market.

Santa Claus is derived from St. Nicholas, the patron saint
of children who lived in what is now Turkey in the third
century A.D. Reuters did not write to him there, reckoning that
Santa is too closely associated with reindeer and snow.

(Additional reporting by Gunnlaugur Arnason in Reykjavik,
Rex Merrifield in Helsinki, Patrick Lannin in Stockholm, Per
Thomsen in Copenhagen, Oliver Bullough in Moscow, David
Ljunggren in Ottawa and Jeff Coelho in New York)