We were in need of a serious dose of Christmas cheer. My eldest daughter is now 12 years old - that most sceptical of ages, where any mention of the Big Guy and his helpers results in excessive eye-rolling. Her younger sister, who at the age of six still officially believes in Santa, has nonetheless picked up on her older sibling and cousin’s cues and was downplaying her own festive mojo.


Deciding to take matters into my own hands, I signed us up for some Christmas spirit with a family trip to Enontekio in northern Finland; a winter wonderland of guaranteed fluffy snow, exciting sleigh rides through the Artic Circle landscape and a meet and greet with Kris Kringle himself. Remarkably, all of this festive fun would be squeezed into a single day, with our yuletide escape bookended by an early morning and evening flight from and to London Gatwick (departures from other UK airports are also available).

The Christmas countdown officially began a fortnight before our Lapland visit, with the thud of two sacks landing on the doormat. Inside were welcome packs for the children from Canterbury Travel, a tour company who have been organising Lapland holidays for families since 1970. Alongside a personalised letter from Santa there was a gold-embossed invitation, rucksack with branded merchandise inside, plus a copy of the Evening Elf newspaper filled with activities.


As the big day approached, we booked into a local airport hotel for the night before take-off, to take the sting out of the 7.45am departure time. Despite the bleary-eyed start, from the moment we arrived at the check-in desk, to be greeted my cabin crew in antler headbands handing out chocolates, the Christmas cheer barometer had already cranked up. The Jet2 flight, which took three and a half hours, was made up entirely of families visiting Lapland. It was a particularly jolly journey, with the pilot reading cracker jokes over the speaker. At one point, children were even invited up to the front of the plane to sing carols.

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But it was touching down in Enontekio - an airport that’s little more than a large cabin by the side of an airstrip covered in a blanket of snow – that things started to feel like stepping onto the set of a James Bond movie. Having been kitted out in head-to-toe thermal clothing, including ski suits, boots, balaclavas and waterproof gloves (the loan of which is included in the tour price, but bring an extra hat and scarf) we were whisked through the frozen Narnia landscape in a snowmobile powered sleigh; a 20-minute journey cuddled up under thick woollen blankets. We all decided that this was the most thrilling of airport transfers imaginable.


Arriving at the Christmas Village, to the warm welcome of waving elves and orange glow of burning campfires, we were whizzed straight to Santa’s cosy cabin, hidden deep in the woods. Looking every inch the traditional Saint Nick, or Joulupukki as he’s known in Finnish, the children had their wish lists ready for an unhurried chat with Santa, before being presented with wrapped gifts from under the tree. Venturing back out into the snowscape, my youngest confirmed that she had finally met the real-deal Father Christmas. Any previous encounters with the Big Guy, mostly occurring in shopping centres, had merely been his entourage of helpers, she said cheerfully.

We then had around five hours to explore the village hideaway and its activities at our leisure, which included toboggans, an exhilarating sledging hill and a carved ice igloo that looked like it had fallen from the pages of a fairy tale book. As the village wasn’t particularly crowded and everything is within a snowball’s throw, there’s very little waiting around. If a queue should form, a chirpy elf soon miraculously materialised to entertain the kids with games.

Highlights included riding over a frozen lake in a sled pulled by a pack of beautiful howling Siberian huskies, the sky illuminated by the otherworldly Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, and a reindeer safari through the glistening pine forest, silent aside from the jingle of the reindeer’s bells, led by an indigenous Sámi guide. There was also a track for adults to test their skills by revving up on snowmobiles (bring your driving licence) and even a mini version where kids aged four and upwards can ride on smaller, tethered mobiles. The snow mobiles were the only activity with an age limit and during our visit we saw plenty of pre-schoolers toddling around. If little ones are fine in cold weather and well wrapped up, Finnish Lapland works well for children of all ages.


Taking shelter from the chill of the -15°C temperatures, we defrosted in the restaurant cabin, where hot food is served buffet style throughout the day, allowing families to eat at times that suit them. Festive tunes filled the air as we tucked into hearty vegetable soup, spaghetti bolognaise and roast potatoes. Pancakes slathered in jam and lashings of whipped cream, a Finnish favourite, were washed down with steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Then, having picked up a few tree trinkets in the tiny log hut shop, the kids freestyled and spent the remaining time building snowmen, throwing snowballs and zooming around on sledges, gleefully falling off into the surrounding cushions of snow.


It was these traditional, outdoorsy pursuits and the pristine wonderland setting that made our visit to Finnish Lapland feel like stepping back into Christmases of old; the kind that I’d previously thought only existed on festive cards hung with string in living rooms. As my daughters piled onto the coach heading back to the dinky airport, they sleepily declared our Artic Circle adventure to be their favourite festive experience yet. In the space of just one epic day, we had somehow managed to recapture the magic of a very merry Christmas. We’re already plotting a return visit for next year.


How to do it

Canterbury Travel runs daytrip and short breaks to Finnish Lapland throughout the festive season, with flights departing from a range of UK airports, costing from £699 per person including flights, meals and all activities

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