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OUR HO HO HOL; Meet Santa on a day trip to Lapland.


CHRISTMAS fan MIKE RYDER took his niece Lyra Clark, five, and her brother Elias, seven, on a day trip to Lapland to see Santa. And while he was there Mike got this exclusive interview with the big man himself...

I just love it when the children fly over to see me. Elias and Lyra told me how they turned up at Gatwick Airport at 5am last Sunday along with a hundred or so other excited children, to find everybody had already got into the spirit of things. There was a giant reindeer and a giant bear shaking everyone's hands and giving out special badges and elves' hats, and even the nice check-in girls from Monarch Airlines were wearing them!

The flight over to Lapland - it's way up north in Finland, in the Arctic Circle and next to Russia - takes about three hours. That's a lot longer than my reindeer take, of course... but then they do have magic dust to help them on THEIR flights.

As soon as the children land at Kittila Airport, at noon local time, the wonder really begins. The children look out at a forest landscape with snow EVERYWHERE. And boy, do I mean snow. You could sink up to your waist in it if you go off the paths, and you can see locals whizzing past you on skis as they go to work.

So the youngsters and their mums and dads get changed into special snow suits and boots (it was minus 15 degrees last Sunday!) and then get into a coach to start their adventure.

First stop was in the lantern-lit forest ( this is the Land of the Midnight Sun, remember, where it gets dark most of the time) where teams of huskies waited to take the children on a thrilling high-speed ride through the snow and ice. Then it's off to meet the reindeer, the gentle giants of the forest, who take them off on another magical ride. And after that there's the snowmobiles... Elias and Lyra told me they were REALLY cool.

After a stop in a wooden hut with a blazing log fire and cups of hot wild berry juice to warm everybody up, there was toboganning down a snowy slope as the proud mums and dads carried on videoing every moment. And you should hear the whoops of joy and see the smiles as the kids whizz down... they'll never see this much snow again in their lives, even if they live to be as old as I am!

But this is all just for starters. Elias and Lyra got back on the coach with Bonnie and Sam, the girls from the holiday firm, and headed off for lunch in a typical Lapland restaurant, with everything from reindeer stew to pizza.

And the mums and dads said Finnish beer is pretty good too.

Then on to the coach again, and after a 20- minute drive Bonnie and Sam told the children to shut their eyes, count to ten, and then open them again... and there was Santa's Village, where I live.

First the youngsters went to see one of the log cabins where the elves stay (and found one of them asleep in a bunk). But she didn't mind being woken up to have a chat. Next stop was the elves' workshop, where some of them were busy at a bench making toys for my Christmas deliveries, with another elf in the corner wrapping them up as fast as she could go. Any toys that I don't need are put in a special store next door called a souvenir shop, where Elias and Lyra got a lovely reindeer and a husky in a carrying basket.

They also popped into my Post Office, where there are clocks round the walls telling the time in cities across the world, and another of my elves is busy stamping postcards which my little visitors can send to their friends back home, postmarked "Santa's Village" of course.

Children can also write to me there with their present requests... so far this year I've had 1,300,000 letters!

Then Bonnie and Sam took the children into my house, where they see my bedroom with my chair and my slippers and a roaring fire. And finally, Elias and Lyra were taken through a special door, opened with a big magic key, to meet ME with Mike and their mummy Nicola.

Their eyes were SO wide as we had a chat, and I gave them a present each to take home (Elias got an MP3 player and Lyra got a floating ducks game).

But then sadly the nine-hour trip was over, and everybody had to head back to the airport for the 8pm Monarch flight home - where they served Christmas dinner on the plane, complete with mince pies, and showed the film Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

Mike tells me that Elias and Lyra said it was the BESTEST day of their lives, so I'm really pleased. I know some silly people think Santa doesn't really exist, but just ask Elias and Lyra... they've met me!

What's the deal?

MONARCH Holidays still have day trips to see Santa in Lapland from pounds 399 per adult and pounds 359 per child, departing Gatwick or Manchester, as well as 3-, 4- and 5-night trips (5 nights departing Gatwick Dec 23, pounds 599 adult, pounds 459 child). Go to or call 0871 423 8642.


Warm welcome... Lyra and Elias in special snowsuits; Santa picks up his post... so far he's had 1,300,000 letters from hopeful kids; Time for a ride on a sled... pulled by one of the reindeer; Then jump on a snowmobile for a really cool experience Pictures: PHOTOLIBRARY.COM/NICOLA HESKETH
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Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 14, 2008
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