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The omnipresence of Santa Claus knows no bounds. Not only is he a recognized figure in cultures around the world — going by names such as Sinter Klaas, Kris Kringle, Père Noël, Babbo Natale, and Father Christmas, just to name a few — but he’s also an integral part of many Christmas traditions. And since Santa can travel around the world in a single night, it makes sense that he has more than one home. From Scandinavia to central Michigan, here are a few destinations where you can visit St. Nick.
Located on a fjord in northern Iceland, the Akureyri Christmas House doubles as Santa's workshop and a holiday gift shop. Santa Claus is often there to greet guests, even during summer. Inside, the Scandinavian-style workshop features decorations from around the world and sells handmade, Christmas-themed gifts from Icelandic artists. Outside, the Christmas Garden contains a miniature replica of an Icelandic church and the Wishing Well of Unborn Children, where guests are asked to make wishes for future generations.
The Akureyri Christmas House also pays homage to several Icelandic holiday traditions, such as the Yule Lads — 13 mischievous Santa Clauses who take turns visiting Icelandic children on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas Day. The Christmas House is also home to a cave that houses Grýla, a character from Icelandic folklore who gave birth to the Yule Lads, as well as an oversized advent calendar painted with scenery from fairy-tales.
In the Finnish Lapland, the Santa Claus Village in the city of Rovaniemi celebrates Christmas 365 days a year. Entry to the massive complex is free of charge, with plenty of Christmas and winter-themed attractions to choose from, including the official post office of Santa Claus and Santa’s Workshop, where visitors can send letters to friends and family around the world. (If you can’t visit, you can send Santa a letter — he receives 500,000 letters annually at this P.O. address.) Visitors can also see Santa in person at his personal office before meeting Mrs. Claus at her Christmas cottage.
In addition to Santa’s residences, the village offers ample snow-themed activities during winter, such as dog sledding, snowmobiling, and reindeer sleigh rides. Kids will love Snowman World, a frosty playground featuring ice slides, snow tubing runs, and an ice skating rink.
North Pole, Alaska
Although North Pole, Alaska, is not the actual North Pole, Santa still uses it as a residence. The town’s Santa Claus House is open year-round, and since it’s only 20 minutes from Fairbanks, it’s an easy day trip any time of the year. In fact, many summertime visitors to Alaska make special trips to North Pole to buy Christmas decorations, ornaments, artisan-made gifts, and children’s toys from the available 9,000 square feet of retail space.
In addition to sending Santa letters from North Pole, visitors can purchase a deed to one square inch of North Pole property. The town’s 50-foot-tall statue of Santa Claus allows people to take photos with Santa year-round, and there are even opportunities to meet his reindeer at the nearby Antler Academy. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the Santa Claus House also features an ice sculpture contest with artists from around the world, making it a popular destination for families in December.
A mere 20 miles from Oslo, the town of Drøbak, Norway, is home to Tregaarden’s Christmas House, or “Julehus” in Norwegian. Open year-round, Tregaarden is the place to shop for anything Christmas-related, including napkins, tablecloths, candles, ornaments, and “Nisse” figurines — an elf-like mythological creature associated with Nordic Christmas.
During winter, Santa Claus’ cousin (Uncle Tom) often lives at Tregaarden, monitoring the mail and posing for photos. (Obviously, the real Santa Claus is way too busy in December to be lounging around taking photos.) Interestingly, the town of Drøbak is the only place in the world with government-designated traffic signs warning people to watch out for Santa’s sleigh.
Just outside Mora, Sweden, Tomteland is a 45-acre interactive theme park dedicated to Christmas fairy-tales. An interactive experience for children and adults, Tomteland produces musicals and outdoor plays, made even more magical by the presence of fairytale-like creatures who mingle with guests. Much of Tomteland revolves around Santa, whose workshop also doubles as a restaurant that serves Swedish fare to hungry patrons.
In addition to Santa and his reindeer, Tomteland is dedicated to Swedish folklore, which includes the likes of gnomes, trolls, witches, and snow monsters. Guests to Tomteland are able to choose from a wide variety of themed activities, including strolling through the elf forest, making crafts in the gnome village, or learning how to speak troll.
The small city of Midland, Michigan, is home to one of the most prestigious Christmas schools in the world — the CWH Santa Claus School. Founded in 1937 by Charles W. Howard, the school was created to combat the onslaught of mediocre Santas that often pop up around the holidays. Since then, the Santa School has offered a competitive program for aspiring Santas and Mrs. Clauses.
As the longest continuously operated Santa Claus school in the world, Midland’s Santa Claus School provides annual education for over 200 Santas to learn the tricks of the trade. Offering workshops on singing, dancing, and child psychology, the school teaches aspiring Santas what they need to be successful, from basic sign language to how to curl beards (synthetic and otherwise). Alumni of the CWH Santa School are the real deal.
Minnedosa, Manitoba, Canada
Canada has a robust Santa letter program, and it all began in Minnedosa, Manitoba. During the 1970s, a local shopkeeper had a small mailbox for Santa letters in his store. In an effort to emulate the generosity of Santa Claus, the shopkeeper’s wife, Verna Green, began replying to each letter. Word eventually spread that Santa was answering letters in Manitoba, and Green began receiving — and replying to — hundreds of Santa letters every year.
In the 1980s, the tradition was handed over to Canada Post, becoming the official Santa letter program of Canada. To send a letter to Santa, children can use the following address: “North Pole, H0H H0H, Canada.” In order to receive a reply, domestic letters must be sent by December 10, 2021, while international letters have varied deadlines.
Before he was called Santa Claus, Father Christmas was simply known as St. Nicholas. Born thousands of years ago in modern-day Turkey, St. Nicholas was buried in a tomb near the ancient town of Myra. Over time, his posthumous popularity spread throughout Europe, and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. Eventually, the name Santa Claus was derived from the Dutch translation of St. Nick (Sinter Klaas) — and the rest is Christmas history.
To visit the tomb of the original St. Nick, travelers can make the journey to St. Nicholas Church in Myra. Although the church where St. Nicholas presided as bishop is no longer standing, the existing St. Nicholas Church was built at the same site in 520 CE and then restored by Tsar Nicholas I in the 1800s.