A flesh-and-blood, tandoori-chicken-and-naan-loving Santa Claus was in town to spread Nordic pre-Noel cheer. Sunday mid-day met him for tête-à-tête, and was grateful he didn’t ask whether we had been naughty or nice
Santa Claus dashed all the way from his village in Finland to meet children in Mumbai on Thursday. He was here on behalf of the Santa Claus Foundation. Pic/Bipin Kokate
It was his first time in the country. He was down from his village in Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland, to spend some festive cheer. After a two-year pause due to Covid restrictions, Santa Claus is back on his sleigh, with stops planned at Japan, Singapore and India.
The idea behind the real Santa—a permanent position held by a local in rotational shifts of months/years—is to ensure goodwill through the spread of positivity that Santa symbolises across the world. The Santa Claus Foundation (santaclausfinland.fi) is a non-profit body that works with charities across India, Nepal and Africa and other countries to improve mental and physical well-being of children. It becomes a permanent job when the uniform comes on.
This one dashed in on Thursday on his official carrier—Finnair—exchanging high fives, meeting and greeting fellow travellers along the way. He was here on behalf of the Santa Claus Foundation to boost the wellbeing of children across the globe. Even an 11-hour flight, that landed in the wee hours, could not rob him of the twinkle in his eye.
His appeal with children was infectious. They mobbed him, and he was in his element, asking questions, sharing a joke, asking them to sing a song or two, quizzing them about their favourite reindeer, clicking photos and pulling a gift out of his bag for each of them. Jingle bells, no surprise, is his favourite Christmas song and he is quick to croon when requested. “Be nice, gentle, healthy and happy,” he tells the children. “You don’t always have to go after the bigger gifts, being with your loved ones and your family is the biggest gift of all.”
One of the many events on his schedule is a closed-door meeting with the children booked into the cancer ward at KEM Hospital. “It’s tough to see little lives go through so much pain,” he says, uncharacteristically un-jolly for a minute, “but I want to tell them that they should spend time with their parents and siblings and carry hope—it’s a powerful gift because miracles do happen.”
While Santa has trouble pronouncing a few names of Indian foods, he does not falter while telling us how much he loves the country. The weather is too warm for him (snow was piled a meter-high when he left his village the night before), but he is taking it well.
“I love India, its food,” he says, “I enjoy tandoori chicken and naan the most—and the people here are so warm, kind and always smiling. Meeting people is my favourite thing to do,” says Mr Claus who is a local from Finland and being Santa is his full-time job all year round. He travels the world spending up to three weeks in an assigned country, carrying on a long legacy and centuries of goodwill of St Nicholas.
On his wish list are peaceful lives for everyone with beautiful friends and family, living together and taking care of kids and old ones.
On Ear Fell or Korvatunturi in the Finnish Lapland, close to the Arctic Circle, is Santa’s secret home with reindeer stables and elves. The cosy, warm and spacious log house is open to all gnomes, animals and friendly strollers. There is always food at the table, and his favourite place, the armchair at the fireplace, is always warm and waiting.
Back home, his day begins with eating rice porridge made by Mrs Claus and he then heads to the office to read the millions of letters and emails—written by children from across the globe—that the elves share with him. “I am partial to the handwritten ones, but I do read the emails that the elves help sort for me,” he says. Despite this preference for snail-mail, he is no stranger to technology. In fact, he will be at the Techfest at IIT Mumbai. While winter is busy with list-reading and toy-making, in summer, his off season, Santa loves walking in the woods and being in nature.
There will always be those who don’t believe in Santa Claus. So what’s his response to those who ask if he is for real? He smiles, puts out his hand and laughs, “Touch and see if I am not.” After spending some time with him, we know it is right to believe in him—more so, in what he symbolises.
And where is Mrs Claus? “She’s at our home in the Arctic Circle,” he says. “Someone needs to look after the reindeer and the elves, but she may come with me next year, and I know she will love it as much as I do. Merry Christmas and a happy new year from both of us!”