Not simply the creatures that pull Santa’s sleigh, reindeer are an iconic creature in Finnish Lapland. A highlight of Lapland holidays is to take a reindeer-drawn sleigh ride, and a visit to a reindeer farm offers an even more comprehensive look at these gentle and majestic Arctic mammals.
It is believed that reindeer were perhaps the first animals to be domesticated; a letter dating from the ninth century, from Norway’s King Ottar to England’s Alfred the Great, mentions Ottar’s fine herd of more than six hundred reindeer.
Reindeer are slightly smaller than their North American cousins, the caribou.
Lapland is home to as many reindeer as it is to humans! There are approximately two hundred thousand reindeer in Finland; Lapland is home to over six thousand reindeer herders. These animals live wild in the Arctic wilderness, and are frequently seen feeding close by roadsides and homes. A few times a year, they are rounded up by their herders. (In Lapland, every individual reindeer is owned by a herder; husbandry of this animal remains a major income source for many Lappish residents).
Reindeer are an integral part of Lapland’s culture. Herding has been a way of life here for many hundreds of years; these creatures are obedient, curious, friendly, and gentle, and are not difficult to fence, feed or train. Used for pulling and carrying for at least two millennia, they have extreme strength, and sharp hooves which allow them to walk on ice and snow. They shed their huge antlers in the winter, and grow new antlers in their place each year.
Many reindeer farms have been operational for generations; often are family run, and some welcome visitors. The Indigenous Sami people farm reindeer; rounding them up to confirm ownership and conduct an annual slaughter for meat and skins – traditionally they are used for the manufacture of ropes, clothing, bedding, and yarangas (tent coverings for winter). They are also a valuable animal for transportation and tourism.
Sleigh is the traditional mode of transport for the local Sami people; reindeer have been used to help people get from place to place in Lapland since ancient times. A sleigh ride through snowy forests is an enchanting, peaceful, and atmospheric experience. More adventurous locals even race sleighs, and a popular local Lappish sport is to be drawn on skis by a running reindeer!
A sleigh ride and visit to a reindeer farm when enjoying a Lapland holiday is an experience not to be missed. You will fall in love with these gentle giants.