Santa feeding his reindeer
Photo by: Visit Rovaniemi

Santa Claus & his Reindeer

Have you ever wondered how Santa Claus chooses his reindeer? And why reindeer? And how you can experience a magical reindeer ride yourself?

You can’t separate the magic of Father Christmas from the magic of his reindeer. His furry helpers are in all the stories, the art, and the minds of Christmas lovers. But where did they come from? How does Santa choose them? And how can you meet Santa’s reindeer in person? Let’s find out!

The Story of Santa’s Reindeer

No one knows exactly when Lapland’s most famous resident decided that reindeer were the best transportation. And if you ask him yourself, he’ll probably just tug his long whiskers and become wistful. But we do know a few facts about Santa Claus’s reindeer. The first is that he has more than one but less than a million. How many exactly, though, he won’t say. (And in Lapland, it’s impolite to ask anyone, even Santa, exactly how many reindeer they own.) The number is somewhere between not enough and too many. For most of the year, Santa’s reindeer are fairly indistinguishable from their brothers and sisters (save for one special red-nosed fellow), as they form herds and roam the great northern wilderness. But in autumn, Santa Claus and his elvish helpers gather the herds and separate the fastest, the most clever to begin training for the upcoming Christmas season. They train by sprinting, long jumps, and memorizing starcharts.

Santa Claus & his reindeer
Photo by: Visit Rovaniemi

Your Own Magical Reindeer Ride

With 200,000 reindeer spread across Finnish Lapland, it’s not uncommon to come across them, both in wild and not-so-wild locations. Virtually every Lapland destination has reindeer farms and reindeer herders who offer their services and stories, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Salla Wilderness Park. This is less a reindeer farm and more an old forest where you can spend a day wandering among the trees and following the reindeer herd within. And if you feel like humming the Jurassic Park theme as you pass through the tall gates, go ahead.

Here are some more ways you can experience reindeer magic in Lapland:

A reindeer cyclone in Savukoski-Korvatunturi, Finland
Photo by: Visit Savukoski-Korvatunturi
A curious reindeer at a farm in Inari-Saariselkä, Finland
Photo by: Panu Pohjola | Inari-Saariselkä
Santa Claus reindeer ride in Rovaniemi, Finland
Photo by: Visit Rovaniemi
Reindeer herders in Ruka-Kuusamo, Finland
Photo by: Ruka-Kuusamo
Enjoying a reindeer ride in Lapland
Photo by: Lapland Material Bank

On your marks!

Because the Arctic is not the most friendly environment on Earth, reindeer must grow big and strong. Santa Claus works with Finnish and Sámi reindeer herders to single out the top specimens and draft them into his special Christmas herd. Males are usually bigger and faster than females, sometimes weighing up to 180 kg! But what does Santa look for in a reindeer? He wants them strong, with long bodies and big feet. Big feet means more speed. And big noses! The bigger the better, because big nostrils allow for more air, which usually means a more fit animal.

One way Santa spies potential recruits is by visiting reindeer races, a popular Lapland tradition. He loves to spend a sunny day watching the fastest reindeer in Lapland speed down the track, across frozen lakes or even through city streets. The fastest reindeer can run at speeds over 16 meters/second! (Almost 36 mph.)

Reindeer race in Lapland, Sata Claus Reindeer
Photo by: Markus Kiili | Lapland Material Bank
Reindeer race in Lapland, Sata Claus Reindeer
Photo by: Markus Kiili | Lapland Material Bank
Reindeer race in Lapland, Sata Claus Reindeer
Photo by: Markus Kiili | Lapland Material Bank

Ready to meet Santa and his antlered associates in person? Begin planning your next antlered adventure!