December 23, 2005

Where Does Santa Claus Live?

By Alister Doyle

OSLO -- 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 Norway.

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 lives."

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)