The Learning Curve: Crafting of a Tourism Legend Santa’s Success Story

He was born in Turkey in AD 280, so we couldn’t, possibly, have met him. But we did.

We met Santa Claus, shook his hand, spoke to him and we have a video recording of our conversation. And thereby hangs an incredible tale of how legends are created, moulded by image makers, and evolve into a very successful globe-spanning, fantasy. .

The Learning Curve: Crafting of a Tourism Legend Santa’s Success StoryTo start with no Christian is required to believe in Father Christmas, though Santa is customarily associated with Christmas. Similarly, crackers are social customs associated with Diwali but they are not an essential part of a holy ritual. . Both fireworks and Father Christmas were free to evolve as societies changed. The Turkish-born Saint Nicholas, who became Santa Claus, was a gaunt and grim judge of good and evil. His image make-over, as the jolly, rotund, white-bearded gift giver we know, was done by a political cartoonist in 1881. It stuck because it’s easy to relate to a portly, grandfatherly figure, Ho! Ho! Hoing! his jovial way Into our hearts!

Finding out what people want and then designing your product to meet their needs is the secret of good marketing! This is what Finland did, creating one of the greatest tourism success stories of today. In an increasingly mechanised and digitised world, people hunger for the balm of fantasies regardless of how unreal they might be. They’re prepared to spend money to escape into the imagined worlds of Harry Potter, Hobbits and Star Trek. These, however, are only two-dimensional encounters. What we experienced in Finland transported us to a whole new wrap-around level of reality

To start with, Finland itself is a beautifully unreal experience,

The Learning Curve: Crafting of a Tourism Legend Santa’s Success StoryThe dark forests of the taiga spread on both sides of the road, rising out of shimmering fields of snow. , A Reindeer stag with superb antlers stepped out followed by a female. We slowed, stopped. Majestically, taking their time, they clip-clopped across the road.

Our guide said: “This is Lapland!”

Lapland! Tales out of the lantern-glow of our childhood welled up in our minds . Evocative legends of elves and trolls and a white bearded man flying through the sky on a Reindeer-pulled sledge.

*We’ve arrived.!”

Beyond gateposts with conical tops, like wizard’s hats, the village spread: brightly-lit log houses and a particularly large one with Santa Claus painted on its ice-cream cone tower. Most of the houses were single storeyed with wooden-tile, shingle, roofs; a few with those curious towers. Under the platinum sky, against the dark green wall of the conifer forest, it looked like the set of a wild-west movie with elves, reindeer and wands, not cowboys, horses and guns. A signboard painted like an illustration from a children’s bed-time story said

Santa Claus Village
Arctic Circle

Carried on the crisp, chill, air was the sound of Christmas Carols and the mouth watering aromas of every Christmas party we’ve ever attended: flaky pastries and hot fudge, plum cakes, sizzling roast, crumbed ham and warm, crusty, bread fresh out of the oven.

We crossed a square, crunching fresh snow underfoot, stepped over a line marked Arctic Circle and into the porch of the large wooden building. This was the mansion of the wondrous man we had come to meet. We trudged up a flight of steps, past a board, painted like an antique manuscript. It described The Earth’s Rotational Speed Regulator with a huge pendulum that, apparently, stopped exactly at midnight on Christmas Eve. It held back time so that Santa could deliver all his gifts around the world before Christmas day. We were living in a fairy tale where all logic ceased to exist and the impossible was wonderfully believable, We sat on a bench while the great pendulum tick!-tocked! tick-tocked tick-tocked! bringing the world closer to that great night. “Santa is a busy man”, we were told, “but he still likes to meet one visiting family at a time”. We wondered how he converses with people from around the world. Does he really know so many languages or does he have a team of interpreters? Our thoughts were cut short when the door opened and a tall, ginger-bearded, elf beckoned us in.

There, sitting on a throne on a platform, was that great, lovable, living, legend: Father Christmas, as large as life. In fact, very much larger! His silky white curly beard flowed down to his waist. His eyes twinkled on his spectacled cheeks. He raised his right hand in welcome and then, to our delight, he put his palms together and said, in a deep voice

“Namaste! We’ve been expecting you!” We were enchanted.

He asked us to step up and sit beside him. He told us that he had visited India: naturally, naturally, we’ve all received presents from him at Christmas! And all the while, the elfin man photographed us, projected our pictures on a screen, and recorded our audience with the world’s best known gift giver. Santa towered over us but he was so warm and benign that we were completely at ease in that comfortably untidy and cosy room. There were large, register-like, books on shelves, a fat-bellied little bottle that probably contained a potion to bring good cheer when he rode across frosty winter sky, an antique globe and a half-filled sack. We forgot to ask him how such a giant of a man managed to slip down the narrow chimneys of many houses. But if one can stop time and the rotation of the globe, floating down chimneys should be easy; even teleporting through locked windows like Star Trekkers did!

The Learning Curve: Crafting of a Tourism Legend Santa’s Success StoryIt’s always thrilling to encounter a legend and we were bubbling over with excitement when we left Santa, allowing another family to meet him. From the shop below his audience chamber we bought photographs and the CD of our close encounter with Father Christmas and then wandered around the village. Here, every day is Christmas. Shops with wreaths of fir, and decked out for the festive season sold everything anyone could want for Christmas, and much more besides. There was even a crib showing the greatly loved nativity scene.

We visited Santa’s Post Office. There, in the mass of fan mail, was one from a child in India. “Yes. Santa wrote to him” said one of the elfin postmistresses. “The only mail he does not acknowledge are those with illegible addresses.”

A little boy, gripping the hand of his large father, asked, “Where are Santa’s reindeer?”

The postmistress smiled at him : “They’re out grazing in the forests.” She turned to us “Do you have reindeer in India?”

“No we don’t. But we do have elephants”

She clapped her hands in delight. “Ah! Elephants. How magical!”

We also have the greatest treasure trove of myths and legends, and professional illusionists of the world’s biggest film industry. We need to bring them together to create magical year-round living experiences based on tradition, not religion. We saw no sign that Father Christmas was once a Christian Bishop born in Turkey: that would have made it slightly divisive, excluding people of other lands and faiths.

Here, they marketed the warm, universal, spirit of human festivity. That is the real secret of this superb tourism project.

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