The history and culture of Lapland

There’s more to Lapland than its festive myths and the northern lights. This region in the far reaches of northern Europe encompasses some surprising history if you know where to look, and those tales of old continue to inspire its people today.

We think you’ll feel similarly inspired when you find out more for yourself, so we’ve put together a quick guide to Lapland’s traditions that will have you up to speed ahead of your trip.

Celebrating the Sami people

To fully appreciate the culture and traditions of Lapland, you’ll first need to know a little about the Sami people.

Although Lapland shares its natural beauty with the country it resides in – Finland – as well as Sweden and parts of Russia, the region as a whole has historically always been the home of the Sami people. Their traditional clothes are colourful, often vibrant red and blue, and made of thick fabrics to help keep the cold at bay.

Sami culture has had a profound effect on Lapland’s growth into the winning destination we love it as today. There is a nomadic spirit in the Sami people that played out in their historic reindeer herding and annual rituals, in which moving from the forests to the northernmost coastlines during the summer was a major part of life.

The arrival of tourism in Lapland has done its utmost to ensure that the Sami way of life is not disrupted, and happily that seems to have been a successful venture. Modern conveniences and traditional values have an interwoven relationship here.

Reign of the reindeer

They say that there are more reindeer in Lapland than there are Sami people. The keeping of reindeer for food, clothing and other uses extends far back into Lapland’s past, and it’s a definitive element of daily life even today. Most, if not all, of the reindeer you’ll meet in Lapland are tagged, which shows who owns the animal.

Reindeer farming is handled the same way in Lapland today as it has been for centuries. In fact, animal lovers will be happy to know that the animals enjoy complete freedom of movement during the majority of the year. Because the reindeer each have a tag, it’s no problem at all for a Sami reindeer farmer to call up his neighbour to let them know if one of his or her reindeer has wandered into the wrong territory. The welfare of these animals is high on the agenda of the Sami people, although you’ll still get the chance to get up close and personal during your visit. In fact, a reindeer sled ride is a magical experience not to be missed.

Crafts and superstitions

Sami people have developed their cultural identity through living in complete harmony with nature. That’s had a superb effect on the kind of handicrafts they make here, which are still seen today.

Tools, cutlery and clothing are all formed by smart use of the materials given to the Sami people by Mother Nature. And perhaps the most well known form of duodji – the local word for craftsmanship – is the kuksa. It’s a rustic yet elegant drinking cup made from the burl of a birch tree. The burl is a kind of deformity or unusual lump that sometimes appears on tree trunks, so the fact that the Sami people have made a pretty drinking cup from it shows how they see potential in what the rest of us see as imperfection.

In fact, there’s an almost shamanistic quality to the traditional beliefs of the Sami people. They have historically believed that every facet of nature has its own spirit, while the northern lights themselves are held as a connection to the spirit world. Folklore here is rich with tales of the unknown, from the gazzi spirit guides each person is said to be born under the watchful eye of, through to the arne – the spirits that guard secret treasure hoards.

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