This week, my wife and I finally bit the bullet, each sold a kidney and stumped up for a family ticket to Lapland UK. With 7 year old Dylan asking ever more challenging questions – “surely if Santa has to travel that fast he’d just burn in the Earth’s atmosphere, right?” and 4 year old Nathan finally old enough not to shit his pants at the mere sight of a giant, bearded man in a onesie, we figured it was now or never.
Besides, we’d heard good things – and not just on Lapland UK’s own website. Making toys with the elves and cooking gingerbread with Mother Christmas. Tick. A snowy, elven village set deep in the forest. Tick. And a magical door capable of instantly transporting you from…ahem…Ascot to Lapland. Tick. Big tick, in fact, given my fear of flying.
Even the pre-amble was good: a box of personal invitations for each of the boys that you put in the freezer so it feels cold enough to have feasibly come direct from the North Pole.
Thus we pulled eagerly into Owl Car Park – “This car park must be for night time ‘cos owls are nocturnal”; “Alright, Dylan, I get it, you’re clever like mummy. Stop ramming it down my throat you cocky little…” – before taking a fairy lit path through the pine trees and conifers to be greeted by some pretty convincing elves.
Here we waited to venture through the magical door. Unfortunately, things got off to a bad start when some jumped-up-Holby-City-wannabe-extra calling himself the Elf Travel Master mistook my quiet contemplation (is this going to be one of those Christmas lands that ends up as a story in the Daily Mail every year?) for ‘not being cheery enough’. My punishment was to be hauled on stage in front of dozens of people and forced to skip and sing with him.
After 30 painful seconds, a few false grins and one whispered threat about where I was going to jam the horn he was holding, I was released. In we went.
Much as the cynic in me would love to lampoon the next four hours, in truth it was incredible. No expense had been spared – nor should it, given what we paid for the tickets! – and the boys were totally enthralled. Even the 90 minutes of free time in the elven village (a period that would normally be spent trying to distract the boys enough to stop them charging around like they’d just snorted three lines of cocaine) passed enjoyably.
The climax of course – if you don’t count when Anya, our 20-something Scandinavian husky herder appeared – was a meeting with the man himself. And while the wait alongside others in a kind of holding area for over-excited, over-sugared kids was not especially festive, picking our way through snowy paths, following our elf guide (sadly not Anya) past tiny wooden houses and finally arriving at Father Christmas’ home was genuinely magical.
Inside, Mr C had clearly done his homework (i.e. read Laura’s online notes) and spoke kindly and naturally about everything from the boys’ favourite cuddly toys to the things they like doing, and showed them their names in his giant good list book. He didn’t even lose his bonhomie when Dylan started firing questions at him like a terror suspect.
Having seen a procession of dads, grandads and, let’s face it, the occasional pervert take on the role of Father Christmas and paint a mixture of bemusement, awkwardness and outright terror on the boys’ faces over the years, I can honestly say this felt like the real thing. To the point I had to remind myself it wasn’t. Most importantly, Dylan and Nathan were completely convinced and utterly enchanted.
Which I guess is the point. For reasons I won’t go into, this year has not been one we will look back on as being filled with carefree joy and gay abandon. But if ever Laura and I needed a reminder of the kind of unfettered, fairy-tale charm that exists in the world, we had only to look at our sons’ enraptured faces throughout our visit.
As adults and, especially parents, we’re probably all guilty of not making enough time for magic – at Christmas and beyond. There are too many school runs, clubs, bedtimes, homeworks, tantrums, jobs and a whole heap of other crap getting in the way.
So, thanks Lapland UK for bringing back the magic for us, even for a few hours. Just don’t ever, EVER make me skip, sing or link arms with an elf again.
Note: Lapland UK didn’t ask me to write this post. However, if they would like to send me free tickets as a thank you, I will gladly receive (and eBay) them.