We’re privileged to be able to visit the Claus household during its temporary sojourn at the picturesque Alice West House in the Sheep’s Head Peninsula in deepest, remotest, West Cork.
If it’s anything like last year, here’s how it will work: Santa will be there, rotund and merry, clad in his scarlet costume with the big black belt and the huge black boots. He’ll be sitting on an enormous wooden armchair in a magical Christmassy kitchen, listening to a festive sing-song with the Elves and Mrs Claus.
There will be a visit to the local Elf School where little children learn from the Head Elf how to creep into households just like the elves do and how to jump up to look in windows without being seen (all part of the job of checking whether other little children are being naughty or nice.)
Last year there was a beautifully-decorated Ice Palace complete with polar bears and icicles, where the little lad could sit with other children at the long table and make his very own Christmas decoration — hopefully we’ll have this again.
Then it’s a short trip across the road to visit the live crib, complete with real donkeys, baa-ing sheep and mooing cows, not to mention the real-life Mary and St Joseph. And there’ll be hot chocolate and a present for the little fella.
All of this continues, if I recall correctly, for the best part of an hour or more. We didn’t notice the time passing last December, because we were so enthralled by the incredibly magical experience.
Yet this Santa Visit, which is located in a large stone house at the Black Gate, just outside the village of Kilcrohane, is an entirely voluntary and community-based enterprise, run as a fund-raiser by the local Muintir Bháire Community Council.
A large army of volunteers puts many weeks of work into both creating this winter wonderland, and into perfecting the performances of everyone involved. And it’s all done by members of the local community, schoolchildren and upwards.Given the extremely high quality of the lovely toys and gifts distributed by Santa to his young visitors — no cheap rubbish here — it’s a wonder that the Muintir Bháire Community Council actually makes anything at all out of the event. Because last year, for all of this including the gift, the whole thing cost only €15 per child.
I must look like a real meanie of a granny when you contrast that to the €6,500 splashed out by one disappointed caller to the Joe Duffy Liveline Show on a forthcoming Christmas trip to Lapland, to see Santa with her grandchildren.
The granny was upset because, as she explained, this year, it seems, Lapland is all out of snow.
For those who know about these things, seeing all the snow is a truly massive part of the annual Arctic Circle Santa trip enjoyed by the children of, what we might describe as this country’s more affluent families. But, alas, Lapland has a climate crisis on its hands and by the end of November, there had been no snow, something which, apparently, is completely unheard of up there.
And yes, it’s certainly a downer for those who have paid large sums to visit, because without the snow, you can’t experience all those marvellous wintry things like reindeer sleds, snowmobiles or huskies, or the building of decent-sized snowmen. Even the lakes have failed to freeze over.
Following a very hot summer and an unseasonably mild autumn, Lapland had — up to the time of writing, at least — yet to experience any snowfall.But plane-loads of people have already paid thousands of euro for their kids to visit Santa in his snowy Lapland home in the coming weeks.
In what was to me like a re-run of Celtic Tiger Ireland a number of callers to the Liveline show during the week were complaining that their holiday insurance didn’t apparently cover a no-show of the white stuff.
I had a look on the internet and without its covering of sparkling snow, the terrain of the Arctic Circle during the week looked more like Ireland on a mild autumn day than the winter wonderland for which it is renowned. So no doubt about it, a snowless Lapland will be extremely disappointing for people like the poor grandma who lashed out €6,500 to bring her grandchildren there for a few days to experience Santa and the Land of Snow. In fact, as a disappointed, but metaphorically-minded, caller, this issue of No Snow in Santa Season was their personal “mountain”.
It was a mountain they were trying to climb, she said sadly. Well maybe it was, but you know what? It really was a bit hard to listen to.
Given the tens of thousands of people in this country who have no homes and are facing into an utterly miserable Christmas in emergency accommodation with small children, the complaints of a few winter tourists who have forked out eye-watering sums for the privilege of bringing their offspring to visit Santa amid the snow and the reindeer in Lapland is simply not a priority.
How many times have you gone abroad to a hot country and not enjoyed the blazing sunshine promised in the brochure?
Enough, I say. Given the current, awful and ever-escalating state of homelessness in this country, people planning to fly their kids to visit Santa Claus in Lapland this Christmas would be well advised to keep their grumbles about the lack of snow to themselves.
I’m with Fr Paddy Byrne of Portlaoise, who actually called the show to express what he described as his sense of disconnect with this particular topic. In truth, it’s hard to listen to the well-off whingeing about this when you look at the soul-destroying plight of the homeless in this country.
In the meantime, though, we’re all dying with excitement about our visit next weekend to see Santa during his short stay on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. It probably won’t feature any snow either.
But given that we don’t expect it, and given that all that’s required is an outlay of €15 or €20, eh, we’re not complaining…