Christmas Star” can’t let grueling hours wipe away her smile as she escorts a group of about 45 tourists through the Lapland forest.
“Sometimes I work from 8 in the morning to 10 at night,” says the 21-year-old “elf,” whose real name is Riikka Niukkala. She’s an employee of Arctic Safaris Oy, a tour company in the Rovaniemi, a town on the Arctic Circle.
Snow creaks under boots as the group from Britain strolls through the candle-lit woods. Christmas Star leads them to a log cabin to warm up by the fire, her red felt costume and pointy hat caked with snow.
Elves are working flat out in this northernmost region of Finland as more and more tourists flock to the area that locals claim is the true home of Santa Claus.
The number of visitors to Lapland has tripled in less than a decade, with an estimated 110,000 people expected to brave the cold this holiday season, according to state-owned Finavia, which maintains Finland’s airports.
Photo by Gael Branchereau.