How did the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi become a tourism attraction?
Updated: Dec 20, 2021
The heart of Christmas tourism in Lapland is located in the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi. In 1980s, the choice of the capital of Finnish Lapland as a Christmas destination was supported by its popularity as travel site and a stopover for those heading north. The origins of tourism in the area date back to the late 1920s, when Colonel Oiva J. Willamo erected a landmark around the Arctic Circle as a tourist stop and photo spot. At that time, the location of the Arctic Circle was then determined by mere estimation, without further calculations. Indeed, since the Article Circle moves, it is not even possible to mark a exact permanent locations. (Keskitalo & Schroderus 2012)
Arctic Circle sign in Santa Claus Village (photo by JC García-Rosell)
In 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the former President of the United States, arrived on a visit to Rovaniemi. The purpose of the visit was to get acquainted with the post-war reconstruction of Lapland and Rovaniemi. The news from the high-ranking guest came as a surprise to the local authorities, and there wasn’t much to offer and no places to visit in a town just recovering from World War II. So, the Arctic Circle was suggested as a suitable venue for the reception ceremony. However, in addition to the Arctic Circle sign, there was nothing else to see at that time. As a result, it was decided to build a cottage in honour of the visit. The cottage was designed by architect Ferdinand Salokangas in one night, and built in less than two weeks. The logs for the construction were lifted directly from the Ounasjoki river. The instructions were that the cottage should be big enough to accommodate a larger bus crowd at a time. Despite the hustle and bustle, the cottage was ready to receive Mrs. Roosevelt on Sunday, June 11, 1950. Because of its history, the cottage is known as both the "Arctic Circle Cottage" and the "Roosevelt Cottage". (Manninen 1997, 383; Mäkinen 1983)
Roosevelt Cottage in Santa Claus Village in October 2021 (photo by JC García-Rosell)
After Eleanor Roosevelt, other dignitaries, including heads of state, visited the Arctic Circle. It also became a stop-over for ordinary tourists. The maintenance and development of the Arctic Circle Cottage became the responsibility of the Rovaniemi City Tourist Board. Initially, the cottage was kept open only during the summer months. Tourists could drink coffee there, buy souvenirs and send a postcard with a special stamp from the Arctic Circle. As the number of visitors increased, a new log building was built in 1956. (Manninen 1997)
In addition to the café, souvenir shops and postal service, there was more to see and experience for the tourists. The customs and traditions of the northern inhabitants were on display and in the early 1960s, farm buildings, reindeer and even a “genuine Lappish family” - which did not really exist - were brought to the Arctic Circle for the gaze of tourists. As the number of visitors increased and the facilities became cramped, another bigger log building was built in 1965. The number of visitors continued to rise through 1970s and by mid-1990s, some 90,000 tourists were stopping in the Arctic Circle each year. (Manninen 1997) Since then, the Arctic Circle’s service offering has expanded further, and especially since the area started to become a Christmas tourism attraction. But why Christmas? How did the Article Circle become Santa Claus Village? I will tell about this in the next blog post.
This blog post is based on the introduction chapter of the book "Joulu ainainen? Näkökulmia Rovaniemen joulumatkailuun (Always Christmas? Perspectives on Rovaniemi's Christmas tourism)"co-authored with Heli Ilola and Maria Hakkarainen and published by the Multidimensional Tourism Institute (MTI), University of Lapland in 2014. For more information about the Roosevelt Cottage and a virtual tour visit Santa Claus Village's website.
Keskitalo, E. & Schroderus, K. (2012). Napapiirin liikkumisilmiön hyödyntämismahdollisuudet Rovaniemen matkailussa [Possibilities of utilizing the movement phenomenon of the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi tourism]. Thesis. Rovaniemi University of Applied Sciences.
Mäkinen, V. (1983). Suomen Lapin matkailun synty [Finnish Lapland tourism is born]. In Lappi 1: suuri kaunis, pohjoinen maa [Lapland 1: large beautiful, northern country] (s. 162–177). Karisto.
Manninen, T. (1997). Hallinnosta hyvinvointia – katsaus lähihistoriaan [Governance Welfare - A Review of Recent History]. In M.Enbuske, S. Runtti & T. Manninen, Rovaniemen historia vuoteen 1990: jokivarsien kasvatit ja junantuomat [History of Rovaniemi until 1990: riverside raised and brought by trains] (s. 364–433). Rovaniemi History Committee, Rovaniemi City, Rovaniemi Rural Municipality, Rovaniemi Parish.