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China flies in Finnish Santas

It's a busy time of the year for Finns in the Santa trade, as they fly around the globe to spread the Finnish Christmas tradition.

Kiinaan pukiksi lähtevä Valtteri "siviilit" päällä.
Valtteri - before his transformation into Santa.

While the rest of the country enjoys a break this Christmas, some Finns must work hard to help Santa through the holidays. After all, there is no way Santa can deliver gifts to the entire world on his own. Some are even ready to travel to the other side of the globe to do their share.

Valtteri is from Tornio, a town on the Swedish border in northern Finland. This year will be his eighth year helping out Santa in various ways.

"Years ago, my friends were doing similar work and I got a call that elf assistance was needed. So off I went to Rovaniemi to be a cheery elf for the tourists. I eventually moved up in the ranks to become Santa’s number one sidekick, standing next to his chair," he says

Valtteri works for Rovaniemi-based ProSanta Ltd, a company producing all things Santa-related since 1997. ProSanta activities aren’t limited to just Finland, however, as they extend all around the world, even to China.

"China is one of the countries ordering a lot of holiday services and they want Finnish Santas. That’s how guys like me end up going there - to bring them a Finnish Christmas," says Valtteri.

Valtteri has clocked up previous Santa experience in shopping centres, but he has also travelled from home to home, distributing presents to good children for years.

"In Shanghai I will be a shopping centre Santa. I'll greet passers-by and talk with them about Christmas, about their anticipation of the season and their gift wishes."

Gov't supports Santa exports

Santa's potential as a Finnish export product has also been noticed by the Finnish government. In December parliament approved 300,000 euros of funding for advertising in China, all to promote Finland's expertise in the Father Christmas business.

Asia is a particularly attractive growth market, thanks to the excellent links provided by the national carrier Finnair. The lack of any historical cultural baggage also provides an interesting opportunity: Santa could become a year-round character, rather than just a Christmas thing.

"In Europe Christmas is traditionally seen as a short period. But in Asia Father Christmas could be promoted as a completely separate character," Petri Paarnio of Santa Claus Licencing, the firm that holds the rights to market the Santa Claus name in Finland, told AFP.

Telling children's stories in Finnish

One would think the language barrier would be as great as the Great Wall, as Valtteri doesn’t speak any Chinese.

"For this gig our client has asked us to speak Finnish. They say it sounds so magical and Christmas-like. So I guess I’ll tell some stories to the kids in Finnish."

"But I should learn a little Chinese as well. I’ve got a cheat sheet with some basic phrases like Merry Christmas in Chinese. Now I just have to learn them before I leave," says Valtteri.

His own Christmas will have to wait

Valtteri will spend three days in China being Santa as part of a week-long visit.

"Of course my own Christmas will be put on the back burner because of my trip, but we have made plans with my family to celebrate afterwards. My brother is actually going on the same trip with me, so half of our family will be Santa Clausing in China this Christmas," laughs Valtteri.

There were a few years when Valtteri made a conscious decision to have Christmas Eve off, even though he worked every other day of the season in Santa-related activities.

"For me, Christmas is a very private time – for settling down and spending time with family."

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