As awkward questions go, “Is Father Christmas real?” is up there with some of the worst.
So when my seven-year-old son Elliott blurts it out on the packed flight en route to Rovaniemi in Finland – AKA the hometown of the big man himself – I find myself flapping about, trying to exert damage limitation.
With at least one of my kids on the verge of becoming a Santa cynic, this is probably the last year that a trip to Lapland would truly feel out of this world for both Elliott and his sister Molly, four.
There’s a lot to take in, but Canterbury Travel’s three-night Magical Interlude tour includes flights, transfers, activities, full-board accommodation, snowsuits and boots as a complete package, which is perfect for stressed-out parents wanting to plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Arriving in Finland, there’s a 90-minute coach transfer, but we’re kept entertained by our tour guide Tasha, who teaches us the words and actions to the crazily catchy Elf Song – which we’ll go on to sing approximately 284 times over the course of our trip.
The song features each of Father Christmas’ helpers — Snowy Bowy, Wendy Wood, Tricky Dicky, Noisy Nod and Speedy Sam — who we’ll meet over the next few days to give us clues on his location, while we try some snow-based activities along the way.
Following a stop-off for heavy-duty snowsuits and boots, we arrive in the ski village of Pyhä, at the bottom of a huge slope, 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
Thick with snow, log cabins with light glowing from the windows are dotted between pine trees, like a scene from a Christmas card.
Pyhä Luxury Cottages are sleek, but ideal for families, with a small kitchen, floor-to-ceiling glass-panelled room with log burner, and a low-lit bathroom complete with sauna.
The heated porch is perfect for drying clothes, and there’s a sledge on hand to transport the children around, which is a great touch.
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After settling in, we walk to Huttuhippu restaurant five minutes away, where we’ll have breakfast and a three-course dinner each evening.
I have to try the reindeer fillet with game sauce and rowanberry brûlée with salted caramel ice cream.
The kids brave the sautéed reindeer too, served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam, and it is a surprising hit.
The next morning, we’re tasked with finding Father Christmas. In December, daylight only hits between 10am and 2pm, which comes as a bit of a shock.
A coach transfer takes us to a snowy, rustic cabin for some games with the elves, which the kids love.
Next, it’s off to Santa’s very own post office.
We had “just missed” the man himself, but we stumble across his helper, Snowy Bowy.
Before our trip, each child had been asked to write a letter to Father Christmas.
In the most magical experience, an elf working away in the post office suddenly finds Elliott’s under a pile of post.
He is rendered speechless. A husky safari is up next.
LOOKS LIKE REINDEER
Sipping hot berry juice beside a wood fire, we learn all about the dogs and get to pet a particularly friendly one before taking the reins.
Zooming through the dark, snowy forest at sunset is exhilarating.
I have to say, I doubt my sledging capabilities as I grip on with all my might, but the huskies have it under control.
Afterwards, we drop into a nearby reindeer farm to feed the deer and learn about the traditional Sámi culture – the people who have tended the animals for hundreds of years.
In a perfect end to the day, we enjoy a wonderful reindeer sleigh ride through the woods.
The next morning, we join a group for a brilliant game of snow tobogganing, followed by a tug of war.
After a warming lunch of meatballs and mash in a log-cabin restaurant in Luosto, we head to the middle of the forest for the main event.
Being on a snowmobile-driven sleigh, climbing a pine-lined, snowy track is just enchanting.
We catch sight of a huge wooden house and are greeted by the elves.
Then we meet Mrs Claus, who shows us through to a magical door.
You can guess what comes next! Elliott’s face when he claps eyes on Father Christmas will stay with me forever.
And of course, he has both Molly and Elliott’s letters that they had written to him a few weeks earlier asking for the present that Santa has now in his hands!
(Don’t tell the kids, but parents have to bring the present, gift-wrapped, and the powers that be will ensure Santa gets it in time for your visit to the house.)
After a one-on-one with Father Christmas, guests 15 years and older can take a snowmobile out for a spin, up and down a snowy hill – terrifying for me, thrilling for my husband Mark!
The kids can even join in the fun trying out mini Ski-Doos. Back at the cabin, some hot chocolate is the perfect way to end the day.
The kids are wide-eyed as they tell and retell the story of meeting Santa.
The next morning, we are presented with certificates for finding Father Christmas, plus a CD of Elf Song (I wasn’t sure whether to feel grateful or weary about that particular gift!).
On the coach transfer back, after three nights of searching for Santa, I can breathe a sigh of relief: Elliott returns as a fully signed-up member of the “I believe” club.
Adventures to Lapland for a family of four cost from £4,099 for two nights with Canterbury Travel (Canterburytravel.com).