In traditional Sami culture, there are few things as important as the reindeer. Sami people (known in English as Laplanders) have relied on reindeer for food, clothing and shelter since time began. Although the importance of reindeer to Sami people has changed little over thousands of years, the role of the reindeer in traditional Finnish society has changed with modern life. Today, most of Europe’s two million reindeer live in Russia with a further 600,000 divided across Finland, Norway and Sweden.
I’d love to say that we decided to take a reindeer safari ride in Lapland to learn more about the importance of this animal in traditional Finnish culture. But really, we were travelling with three young children and all anyone was interested in was meeting Santa’s sleigh team.
We booked a reindeer safari experience with Snow Fun Safaris and met at their office on a chilly afternoon for the bus ride to Hyyverova. Here, we met Hannu and his reindeer. A tall, imposing man he also had the warmest smile and welcomed us all with great gusto and lots of Finish greetings – fortunately we had our guide, Katja, on hand to translate. Hannu has spent his entire life living with reindeer and quickly turned out to be the star of the show.
First, however, we were taken to our sleighs and covered with reindeer skins before heading off into the snowy pine forest. This could have been a serene, peaceful experience; gliding through a silent, snow-covered forest with only the sounds of the reindeer to accompany us. Instead, however, my youngest decided he did not like the idea of being pulled by a reindeer in a traditional Sami sleigh and so ensued a rather tortuous 20-minute tantrum. When he finally calmed down, however, it was a wonderful experience sliding through what felt like the middle of nowhere in our very own sleigh.
When we had finished the 4km loop among the trees, the kids were allowed to feed the reindeer their favourite snack, lichen.
What really made this experience special, however, was our time talking with Hannu. Dressed in a blue boiler suit and a reindeer skin tunic, Hannu invited us into his Lappish teepee where he told us about his life. Our guide, Katja, interpreted his jovial stories into English for us although, he was such an animated storyteller that it almost didn’t matter if we couldn’t understand him!
And what a fascinating life! Hannu has led a life so very different from anything we have experienced; from travelling to school by reindeer and a household where TVs were non-existent (the horror on my children’s face!) to becoming a reindeer herder himself, Hannu’s stories entertained and charmed every one of us. We were give a cup of hot, homemade berry juice and an arctic cloudberry tart made by his wife as we sat around the fire and listened to his tales.
Much to the children’s delight, Hannu answered any question asked and even revealed that he does lend some of his reindeer to Santa if he needs them. Given that we were just a week away from Christmas when we met Hannu, the kids were thrilled by this idea!
Having arrived for our reindeer experience more interested in the reindeer than anything else, we left enchanted by our time with Hannu. This was a truly unique experience and a wonderful way to learn more about traditional Finnish culture… as well as Santa’s reindeer!
How to Book at Reindeer Safari
We booked our experience with Snow Fun Safaris, who offer a number of different trips in Finnish Lapland.
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Disclosure: We were offered a 10% discount on this tour. All opinions are, however, entirely my own.