Insider’s Guide: The colourful Folklore of Lapland

Lapland Folklore
For many thousands of years the white expanses of the north were thought uninhabitable by many except for the brave, nomadic tribes that found a way of surviving the changeable climate of Lapland.
Deep within the Arctic Circle, Lapland hibernates underneath a thick white blanket of glittering snow for most of the year. The long winter nights spent huddled around the roaring fires in kota huts were instrumental in building the rich folklore and stories that form the fascinating Lapland culture.

Legends of the Northern Lights
Legends of the Northern Lights

Immediately recognisable, the aurora borealis is often automatically associated with Lapland. Until science intervened, there was no way of telling what caused the Northern Lights. As such they became a source of great mystery and intrigue for cultures across the world.

Many cultures associated them with spirits: the ancient Chinese and Japanese believed they were great dragons fighting in the sky.Norse culture during the dark ages believed them to be the spirits of the Valkyries bearing those slain in battle to the Viking heaven, Valhalla.

In Finnish Lapland they are still called Revontulet, which literally translates to ‘Fox Fires’. As legend goes, the lights were caused by a great fox spirit sweeping his tail against the snow and spraying it up into the night sky. 

In Sami culture, they believed that the lights are created by the souls of the departed, and by disrespecting the Northern Lights (gazing directly at them, or talking too loudly while they danced overhead) you were sure to bring bad luck upon yourself and your family!

Inghams recommends:

For a truly immersive Northern Lights experience, book yourself into the Äkäs Hotel in Ylläs, and join us on the tantalising Northern Lights Walk and Talk excursion.

This guided walk takes you out onto the frozen lake where you will have a good chance of a splendid view of the Northern Lights and hear some fascinating stories told by your guide.  

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Kaamos, the origins of skiing and the Land of the Midnight Sun
Kaamos and the Land of the Midnight Sun

Anyone visiting Lapland during the winter months will probably observe kaamos. Kaamos refers to a period of time from late November to January where the sun barely rises above the horizon during the day.

In daylight hours, the land is in a state of perpetual dawn/dusk. The day is defined by a mysterious yet comforting blue light that hangs over the land. The white snow underfoot feels much lighter than it actually is.

This is also known as polar light. It is a fairly common misconception that during the winter the sun does not rise and it is completely dark. This couldn’t be further from the truth! 

Inghams recommends:

There is no denying that the landscape of Lapland is staggeringly beautiful, and one of the most immersive ways to experience it is through Nordic or cross-country skiing.

It is believed skiing originated from Lapland. Prehistoric skis were found here on archaeological sites. And 10,000 year old wall paintings depicted what looks like a prehistoric form of skiing. The word ‘ski’ even originates from the Old Norse word ‘skíð’ which means ‘split length of wood’.

So why not explore Lapland and experience the kaamos light in the way the Sami ancestors did? Grab a pair of cross country skis and drink in everything at your own pace.

We recommend cross country skiing in Ylläs since the resort boasts over 330km trails, and almost 40km are flood lit at night.  

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The ancient Sami culture
Saariselka Sami Museum

The Sami are the indigenous nomadic tribes that have lived in Lapland for thousands of years. In the past the Sami religion was polytheistic; they believed in multiple spirits rather than a single God. Sami culture was based around shamanism and Shamen were called Noaidi.

Sami culture revolves around a variety of exciting myths, legends and folktales. Stories spoke of great trolls called Stallos roaming the country and forests. They were rather humorously dim-witted, inadvertantly allowing humans to out-smart them on many an occasion!

One fabulous legend tells of a giant wind spirit named Biegolmai who ruled over Lapland and forbid anyone to enter his territory. He had two great shovels - one that covered the land in impenetrable swathes of snow and the other which whipped up a ferocious wind. One day his wind shovel broke, finally allowing the Sami people to move to and settle in Lapland. 

Inghams recommends:

Sami culture is no doubt rich with history and folklore. There is no better way to explore their stories than through our Sami Museum and Inari Village excursion.

Available to guests in Saariselkä, this excursion includes an incredibly scenic drive to the village of Inari, situated on the shores of a sacred lake where the Sami have fished and hunted for centuries.

You can learn more about colourful indigenous people of Lapland by watching visit the Siida Museum and watch the local silversmiths at work.   

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Sacred Sami sites and Ukonsaari Island (Äijihsuálui)
Sacred Sami

The Sami people believe that all plants, rocks, trees and mountains have a soul. And some, particularly distinctive features of the land, became sacred sites called siedi.

Approximately 6.5 miles from the shore of Lake Inari is an area called Ukonselkä where the island of Ukonsaari is situated. The island is considered one of the most sacred sites in Sami Finland and is the site of rituals and religious ceremonies.

The island is easily identified by its large monolithic structure. It is 30m high and along with several surrounding islands is considered the premier archaeological site for the study of Sami culture.

Äijih in the Inari Sami language means old man. It is associated with the god of thunder, and this island was believed to be a place of worship for this powerful god.

During archaeological searches, coins were found on the islands and an ancient fragment of silver and pearl jewellery was found nearby. Such riches aren’t commonly found in Sami culture and the finds have sparked a great mystery as to their origin! 

Inghams recommends:

Get to know the Skolt Sami on the new and exciting Nellim and Russian Border Patsjoki Bridge excursion. The Skolt were forceably relocated to Finland from Russia.

Guests to Saariselkä can experience this all day excursion which features a scenic journey past stunning snowy rolling hills and through the taiga snow forests of Russia.

You will stop for lunch in the Nellim Wilderness Hotel before heading on to the village where the remote Patsjoki river bridge stands in this isolated border crossing.   

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Reindeer husbandry
Sami Reindeer

Sami culture has revolved around reindeer husbandry for thousands of years. Survival during the long, harsh winter months depended on the great number of reindeer that they herded. Reindeer provide the whole community with food, warm furs, and antlers which are whittled into tools.

A folktale that stems from an epic poem, and was recorded by a Sami minister in the mid-nineteenth century, told of how the Daughter of the Sun favoured the Sami people. She brought the reindeer to them, thus founding their way of life.

Reindeer husbandry has shaped the stories, religion, diet and even the clothing of the Sami. Readily identified by its extremely vibrant colours (bright royal blue, post-box red, yellow and hints of green), Sami clothing is adorned with rich embroideries and trimmed with reindeer fur. The tunics are knitted or made of felt, and reindeer fur boots and leggings are also worn. 

Inghams recommends:

Reindeer are delightfully gentle creatures and thanks to their durability in this cold landscape they not only make up the bulk of livestock in the area.

They are strong working animals, but also, in some cases, pets! You can enjoy Reindeer Safaris in Levi and there is no better way to get up close and personal with these docile animals.   

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Father Christmas and Tomte

Everyone knows that Father Christmas lives in Lapland with his workshop of elves and team of reindeer. But the origins of the real Santa Claus in Lapland is a little blurred.

Santa Claus didn’t start appearing in Finnish folklore until the arrival of Christian missionaries during the 16th century. He is often mixed up with another traditional figure in Scandanavian folklore called Tomte.

Tomte is a small elf who resembles Father Christmas in miniature form. He originally started as a spirit of the winter solstice called Jultomten.  Over the years his image merged with the popular American version of Santa Claus, and in Finland his sleigh is still pulled by goats instead of reindeer!

Children in Scandinavia put a bowl of porridge and butter out for him in the evenings, just as it is traditional to leave Father Christmas a mince pie and a glass of sherry in the UK. 

Inghams recommends:

You can visit jolly old Father Christmas himself with one of our wonderful Santa excursions that are available from Ylläs and Levi.

Spend an afternoon helping Santa’s elves with gingerbread baking in the kitchen and enjoy a sleigh ride with Comet. Snow games for young children are included and you are guaranteed a meeting with Santa Claus himself.   

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