Finland’s northernmost part, Lapland covers a total area of nearly 90,000 km2, or almost a third of the total land area of Finland. Lapland is bordered in the west by Sweden, in the north by Norway, and in the east by Russia. The capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi, lies on the Arctic Circle, at the confluence of the two great rivers of Lapland – the Kemijoki and Ounasjoki – with a central region having a population in excess of 65,000.
In 2010, Lapland was home to around 185,000 inhabitants, but due to the wide expanses, the population density is only 2 persons/km2. Today’s inhabitants of Lapland are mainly a mix of people from all over Finland, affectionately termed as “rail imports”. The indigenous inhabitants, the Sàmi, represent a minority of only 7,000.
Sámi are officially categorised as the only remaining indigenous people of Europe. In accordance, the Sámi have benefited from a number of statutes to safeguard the passing on of their traditions to the following generations. Finland is home to approximately 7,000 Sámi, of which over half live in the so-called Sámi municipalities of Utsjoki, Enontekiö, Inari and the northern regions of Sodankylä.
Climatic change is quite dramatic in Lapland. The bright snow of the spring, the nightless night of the summer, the vibrant autumnal colours of ruska, and an almost half-year long winter with its abundance of snow and twilight times make the landscape continually experience change. The special characteristics of Lapland are emphasised by the snowy winters and warm summers made possible by the Gulf Stream.
Spring of glistening snow
The skiing seasons begins as early as November, but the best times are from mid February to late April. During this time, Lapland bathes in sunlight, which combined with below zero temperatures makes the springtime snowdrifts into weight-bearing snow.
May and early June is the time the snow and ice begin to thaw, filling the great rivers of Lapland to the brim, exploding nature to life at unbelievable speed. The scents of hagberry, globeflower, lily of the valley, burnet rose and other flora, and the displays of hundreds of thousands of birds fill Lapland.
Due to the movement of the Earth, the sun shines throughout the night in Lapland during midsummer without even setting below the horizon. This period of summer is known as the nightless night. The nightless night is a very important time of growth for vegetation as it expands its vegetation significantly during this time.
At the end of August and early September, the nights get darker, bringing along freezing night-time temperatures, which helps to cause ruska – when the flora of the Lappish countryside takes on especially vibrant autumnal shades. Ruska’s most spectacular and special part is the ruska evident along the ground when the undergrowth takes on its own vibrant array of autumnal shades.
Lapland’s colourful autumn is followed by the darkest time of the year – the twilight period. During this time the sun only shines in Southern Lapland for a few hours a day, and further north, the sun can’t be seen at all. The twilight period is also synonymous with days when the temperature falls below zero, sometimes as low as –40 degrees Celsius.
Northern Lights (aurora borealis)
The frozen heavens of Lapland’s autumn and winter frequently offer a fantastic display of northern lights. This living carpet of colour that splits the sky is in constant motion, occasionally appearing to fall to earth. This spectacular light phenomenon is created by particles carried by solar winds hitting the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Due to its location, Lapland has received cultural influences from all directions. The indigenous tribes of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia each had their own culture mixed with the southern agricultural culture bringing its own traditions. Adding a bit of spice to this broth were the religious movements, Arctic Ocean harbours, gold rushes, large timber yards, the Lapland War, and the post war reconstruction.
An essential part of the culture of Lapland is gold panning, which caused the Lapland Gold Rush. The gold rush reached its peak in the beginning of the twentieth century and after the war at the end of the 1940s. Gold panning is still practiced in various spots in the wilds of Lapland.
The reindeer has traditionally been an essential part of the Sámi way of life. This semi tame farmed animal descended from the deer wanders the wilderness during the summertime, and gathers in large herds during the wintertime at grazing grounds, from which they are rounded-up once a year into a reindeer enclosure. Here, the newborn calves are marked and the animals due for slaughter are separated.
One of Lapland’s familiar trademarks is the kuksa, a wooden drinking vessel that has stood the test of time, despite the metal, porcelain and paper cups. The practicality of the kuksa is based on how easy it is to use, its heat insulating qualities, lightweight structure and durability. Even coffee tastes much better when savouring from your own kuksa by the wilderness campfire.
The sheath knife has always been a necessary item taken along when traversing the countryside. The Lappish broad-bladed version is called leuku, “Lappish Leatherman”, that has not merely been a knife, but a multipurpose tool for wandering the wilderness.