In Finnish Lapland, tourists fill Santa's sack with cash
Finland's Santa Claus Village is a winter wonderland for tourists
In the run-up to Christmas, tourists from around the world flock to Santa Claus Village, an amusement park in Finnish Lapland, where temperatures can hit -15 deg C.
They buy souvenirs from pricey gift shops while a bearded Santa receives hundreds of admirers a day throughout December before embarking on his world tour to deliver gifts.
Holding their winter beanie hats in their hands, visitors wait patiently in line for a brief encounter with Joulupukki - the Finnish word for Santa Claus - and a photo opportunity in exchange for hard currency.
According to folklore, Santa lives in a secret place in the middle of the snowy pines of the North Pole.
But the question is where?
Since 2010, Rovaniemi, capital of Lapland, has marketed itself as Santa's "official home".
Situated a few miles from the city, the Santa Claus Village is located in front of a gas station.
Tourists rush to cross the Arctic Circle, marked by a white line, to meet Santa in his wooden home with a pointed roof.
But entering his private cottage is out of the question as Mrs Claus is reportedly protective of their privacy.
In a large room, the white-bearded old man sits in an armchair next to a chest full of letters.
Each year, he receives more than 300,000 visitors, a deluge he embraces with humility.
"I am very happy. I am not exhausted but, of course, I get tired once in a while" he said.
And how does Santa regain his energy?
Santa said: "I love to take a nap every now and then. Fifteen minutes sleeping and then all is very good."
Japanese tourists Shizuka Kawahara and Saki Itoi, who are in their 30s, flew for more than 24 hours to hug Santa for a few seconds.
Their precious moment was immortalised with a photograph taken by an elf.
The price for one shot starts at €30 (S$48).
Tourists also have the opportunity to go on a reindeer sleigh ride. A snow "safari" of 400m costs €14 a child and €18 an adult, an exotic experience for many foreigners who seek to discover the arctic landscapes steeped in pink light.
The -13 deg C does not discourage the plucky visitors bundled up in their ski suits.
"Everything that has been told to me during childhood, it has come true," said tourist Perpetua from Dubai, describing the break from the year-round desert climate as "heaven".
Italian tourist Max added: "We expected magic and this is what we found.
"Everything seems to be magic - the lights, the place, everything here."
But Italian student Miriana, a 24-year-old on a university exchange programme in southern Finland, was less convinced.
"The place is really nice. But I think nevertheless that it is a bit commercial," she said. - AFP