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Rovaniemi Journal: Santa in Finland, Where Marketing Triumphs Over Geography

Three 30-year-old women from Macau found it hard to explain why they had come, as they waited for their portraits with Santa to be printed.

“I just wanted to say I saw Santa Claus,” Sukie Wong said. “We didn’t ask for anything.”

One of the women, the Santa confided later, asked him for a boyfriend, which he said was a common request from unmarried Asian women.

At the Rovaniemi Lutheran Church where the local pastors Topi Litendahl and Elina Rask-Litendahlthey work, Christmas Eve services are in several languages, including English, Hebrew and Arabic, just in case any tourists want to stop by. Every year only a couple of dozen do, about the only visible religious aspect to the tourist juggernaut.

“The Santa Claus of tourism and the Christmas of Christian faith, they can coexist quite nicely,” Ms. Rask-Litendahl said.

No amount of commercialization can wipe the Christmas wonder from a child’s eyes. For most of the youngsters coming through, Rovaniemi gives them a thoroughly convincing spectacle, from real igloos and ice furniture outside the downtown shopping mall, to tastefully done log-cabin style towers at the Santa village.

“Grazie grazie, Babbo Natale,” said Serena Rallo, 6, her eyes misting up and her face beaming as she posed for a picture hugging Second Santa. Her father, Vincenzo, an Italian who lives in Paris, was even more excited. “Gentile, gentile,” so kind, he kept telling Mr. Eskeli. “I hope you bring her lots of toys, because she’s really been great this year.”

Source: NYT > World

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