Reindeer are magical.
They live in extremely cold climates, swim in ice-chunked water and look clumsy, yet can run 45 miles per hour. More to ponder – both males and females have antlers, yet somehow breed. (Oh, and everyone knows reindeer can fly.)
Here's where you can catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures.
1. Pat a reindeer and watch feeding time
Visit reindeer owned by Sami in northern Norway — Photo courtesy of Sapmi for Northern Norway
Reindeer are gentle creatures with velvety noses made for patting, and you can do so at Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm in Clare, Michigan. In Alaska, visit Reindeer Farm in Palmer, northeast of Anchorage, or Santa Claus House in North Pole. That's near Fairbanks and isn't the real North Pole – but don't tell the reindeer.
Reindeer are ready for patting at Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm in Michigan — Photo courtesy of Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm
You can also head north of the Arctic Circle to Norway, Sweden or Finland for a close-up and personal reindeer experience. Visit a herd owned by Sami (people of Lapland). Or feed reindeer in the wild on a Sami tour from Trømso.
Brace yourself, though. Your first up-close reindeer experience may be on your plate. In Arctic regions, reindeer meat is the age-old means of survival.
2. On Dasher, on Dancer!
Find reindeer-pulled sled rides at reindeer farms in Iso-Syote, Finland — Photo courtesy of Visit Finland
Bob along on a reindeer-led sled. Day trips and overnight experiences from Trømso, Norway or Iso-Syote, Finland include hot drinks, sometimes served in a Lavvu – a traditional Sami tent. Some tours provide super-warm clothing for the Arctic environment, and you may get to feed reindeer.
3. Adopt a reindeer
Hand-feeding reindeer is fun and you might also want to pat that velvet nose — Photo courtesy of Ryan Bertelsen for Northern Norway
Cairngorm Reindeer Centre in northern Scotland's Cairngorm National Park is home to a reindeer herd; daily tours head up the mountain to visit, where you can let reindeer nibble from your hand. If you fall in love, you can "adopt" one of your own. But "Parma," Matto" or "Kota" won't come home with you; you'll get a photo of your hoofed pal, plus your money goes for reindeer care.
4. Reindeer races
King of Reindeer race in Finland shows off the speed these gentle creatures can reach — Photo courtesy of Vitality Gluschenko for Visit Finland
With speeds up to 45 miles per hour, these guys really fly (well, so to speak). A streaking reindeer with driver sailing along behind is quite a sight. Catch reindeer races in early April in Inari, Finland for their King of Reindeer race. Or head to Norway and catch the Easter Festival race in Kautokeino, or a race in Trømso.
5. Not so fast!
Ski with a reindeer, but don't pick one that goes at breakneck speed — Photo courtesy of Trym Ivar Bargsmo for Northern Norway
Norwegian kids have been skiing since they could walk, but we don't recommend hitching up Dancer or Prancer for speed-skiing, even if Santa will let you.
6. Speaking of Santa
Look like the real Santa and Mrs. Claus visiting the reindeer at Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska — Photo courtesy of Santa Claus House
Here's a puzzle. You can see the "real Santa" at Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska. You can also see him in Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland.
He has an office in Rovaniemi and – get this – the whole Santa Claus Village grew up around a cabin built for the 1950 visit of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. Was our First Lady having high-level discussions with Santa, urging him to move to a place more visible to children?
Santa's real whereabouts are puzzling; someone should ask the reindeer.
7. About those flying reindeer. . .
Can reindeer fly? A veterinarian examines reindeer at Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm — Photo courtesy of Rooftop Reindeer
Santa Claus couldn't deliver toys all over the world unless his reindeer could fly. Reindeer running 45 miles an hour seems fast enough for lift-off. Here's more news suggesting reindeer do take flight to lead Santa's sleigh: a veterinarian visits Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm in Clare, Mich. each year to give all the reindeer a check-up.
Healthy reindeer get a certificate for worldwide travel. Sounds like those reindeer are planning a 'round-the-world trip.
8. Reindeer roadblock
Imagine meeting up with a reindeer roadblock on the lonely road from Hammerfest, Norway to North Cape — Photo courtesy of Trym Ivar Bergsmo for Northern Norway
How strange to find reindeer blocking the tunnel to North Cape, Norway–Europe's northernmost point and a desolate spot. Maybe reindeer migrating from North Cape were taking the tunnel as a shortcut south.
9. Shimmering lights
Northern Lights and reindeer, too — Photo courtesy of Rjan Bertelsen for Northern Norway
How magical – seeing both reindeer and the Northern Lights. Tours out of Trømso, Norway include both evening and overnight trips with reindeer sleds trotting out to watch the night sky. Finland's Rovaniemi also has reindeer tours seeking Northern Lights.
10. Magic reindeer
An all-white reindeer means good luck — Photo courtesy of Lola Akinmade Åkerstrom for Visit Sweden
Spot a white reindeer such as one seen in Sweden and you're in for good luck, they say.
How about Rudolph and his magical red nose? Actually, zoologists say many reindeer have reddish noses due to lots of circulation in that area. Apparently Rudolph got an extra dose.
Rudolph, the most famous reindeer of all, may not be the only reindeer with a red nose — Photo courtesy of Rooftop Reindeer
So do reindeer have magical qualities that enable them to fly? Looks like that's for the reader to decide.