The Lapland Experience, they call it. But it’s only now, as the flight attendant serves up my venison pie, I’ve realised what these festive trips are really about.
At first I thought nothing of the aircraft being half empty compared with the packed journey over. Then I noticed it was the children who were missing, and started piecing things together.
Earlier, as our sleighs headed through the dense spruce forest towards Santa’s Grot, I saw hundreds of kids climbing into the trees, helped by teams of tour guides and forestry officials. When we returned, they were hanging from the branches in slings, giggling as they swivelled and swayed, and I assumed it was all part of the Experience for young children.
But it seems the Lapland Experience is no more than a trade deal between the Lapp Government and my tour company Lapp-It-Up Ltd. Believe it or not, Rufus, the children are handed over to the Lapps for decorating conifers along the tourist trail – which at seventy or eighty feet are too big for conventional decorations – and in return, under the stewardship of Mrs Claws, the Lapps supply catering for the return trip. Simple bartering – children for reindeer meat.
Quite clever, I thought. The kids are delighted, messing about in trees rather than being hustled around gift shops or Santa’s Grot, and thousands of tourists get to see live and original decorations! And to the Lapps, with vast supplies of reindeer, it makes sense to trade their delicious, slow-roasted venison pies, though I’ve heard German visitors prefer polar bear or wolf. The pie means the Experience lasts through the return journey, with the added benefit that parents can enjoy it in relative peace. I assume they collect the children at the end of the season.
The day trip was good value, I thought, for five thousand pounds, although there wasn’t a lot happening at Santa’s Grot. Santa was missing, and I found out later he takes it easy during the day, partly because he’s busy at night stocking up wholesale depots for Christmas Eve, but also because the sherry has got a hold of him over the years. I did see him leaning unsteadily on his door as we were about to head back, but something told me, ‘take care’. He had that white, long-haired look about him, and I didn’t feel at all comfortable when he winked and asked, ‘Want to see in my Grot, son?’
And Rudolph the reindeer was a bit quiet; with a nose that colour, he and Santa clearly had some kind of sherry-sharing arrangement. Not that the rest of the herd showed much interest. Donner was helping out down his grandad’s kebab shop; his best mate Dasher was more intent on wooing Vixen than pleasing tourists, not a nice experience for Vixen since Dasher was out of sorts after a stag do the night before; Comet was away dealing with supply problems for electrical gifts; the two gay reindeer, Prancer and Dancer, were having a particularly bitchy rut; Cupid was also away, working the on/off switch for the aurora borealis; and Blitzen, the most objectionable one, was strutting back and forth, quietly sledging other reindeer with comments like, ‘You’ve got no effing chance of getting picked tonight!’
As for the elves, frankly Rufus they were more like Santa’s Little Hoodies than the Helpers we’d been led to expect. And I’m sure they’re part of a Santa scam; I heard several people reporting lost mobiles and wallets, and wouldn’t mind betting the resourceful Hoodies had pinched them for recycling to the boss’s gift store.
Since this is a night flight I’ve seen the occasional sleigh zooming past, now they’re all back at work. I even saw The Snowman heading somewhere – very moving.
Happy 2013! And can you say hello to Uncle Ian if you see him. Sad, isn’t it? His first Christmas without Auntie Fifi.
Cheers – Paul
Paul Costello © December 2012
Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. Comical Bed and Breakfast memoir.
Out spring 2013. Publisher: Fineleaf Editions. www.fineleaf.co.uk