Secret Santas in Belarus, Poland, Russia, Finland and Latvia
In this Santa Survey, we’re going to skip the towns of North Pole, Alaska, and Santa Claus, Indiana, as well as any of the flourishing Santa-themed parks in the U.S. Instead, we’re heading straight overseas to investigate some foreign Santa habitats:
- Belarus – Grandfather Frost’s summer home
- Poland – a monument to Santa Claus
- Russia – the big log castle home of Father Frost and his granddaughter
- Finland – Santa Claus Village
- Latvia – 5,680 ways to meet Santa
BelarusThe Belovezhskaya Pushcha Nature Reserve is the real deal. A vast and beautiful forest near the Polish border, it was the first site in Belarus to be inscribed onto UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Home to thousands of animal and plant species, including the endangered wisent (European Bison), reintroduced after being hunted to extinction in the area, the reserve contains another rare creature – Grandfather Frost.
Hidden away in the middle of the forest is the wooden summer home of Grandfather Frost, Belarus’ version of Santa Claus. His compound sports log carvings of fairy tale figures, woven twig fences, tame reindeer and moose – and the great man himself. Come for the wisent, leave with a photo of you and Grandfather Frost, together.
PolandIn the foothills of the Tatra Mountains the little alpine town of Rabka is filled with timber buildings from the 19th century. You won’t find a live Santa here, but at the train station, you will find a bronze Santa Claus monument, which in the winter you can toast with a cup of hot mulled wine.
Winter market at the foot of Poland’s Tatra Mountains
Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Board
RussiaIn Velikiy Ustyug, one of Russia’s oldest towns, you can enter the big log castle home of Ded Moroz, Father Frost, and his granddaughter Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden. The Slavic cousin of Santa Claus has been living here in Velikiy Ustyug since 1998, when the mayor of Moscow decreed that the little town would henceforth be his home. Ded Moroz and Snegurochka have been part of Russian folklore since before the Revolution, bringing presents to children on January 7, Russian Christmas. Today, Ded Moroz is more likely to arrive on New Year’s Day, hauling gifts on his three-horse sleigh, or troika.
Russian Christmas with Father Frost and the Snow Maiden
Photo credit: Katya Boyarskaya
FinlandSanta feels right at home in Lapland. It’s the northernmost region of Finland, and part of it lies above the Arctic Circle. Around here, snow stays on the ground an average of 175 days a year, but you can also see the Midnight Sun for a month in the summer. Near Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi, you can find Santa Claus Village, where they can take a photo of you straddling the Arctic Circle, and you can send a timely card with a Santa’s Village postmark, visit the Elves’ Toy Factory, and buy Christmas kitsch.
The village began as a small house built of local logs in honor of a visit by Eleanor Roosevelt in June of 1950. Situated on top of what workers assumed was the Arctic Circle itself, the “Polar Circle Cabin” was constructed in a week; the former First Lady’s plane was landing in Rovaniemi as the crew hung the outer door. Tourism history was made that day, and Santa’s Village grew slowly around the cabin (though the original latitude calculations had to be corrected.)
Latvia Santa ConspiracyAccording to Latvia’s 2010 Population Register, there were 5,680 people in the country at the time whose only given name was Santa. What to make of that?
Your Visit with SantaMake the most of the holiday season with travel to any of MIR’s destinations on a custom, private trip.
You can also opt to celebrate the holiday traditions of Poland on MIR’s small group tour, Christmas Traditions of Poland. Browse Krakow’s brilliant Christmas Market and join a Polish family in their Warsaw home for the intimate Christmas Eve feast called Wigilia, where you can sample 12 different traditional dishes. This wintry journey brings you close to the warm heart of Poland’s long-standing customs.
(click on photo to see larger version)
(Top photo credit: Hotel Snegurochka in Kostroma, Russia)
PUBLISHED: December 10, 2014