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Long after Santa hangs up his boots for the holiday season, his trusty reindeer friends are still hard at work.
In regions bordering the Arctic Circle, reindeer play a key role in many festivals that usher in the lengthening days of spring. From pulling Norse skiers to running with costumed Alaskans, the antlered creatures show off their agility, speed and power throughout the Easter season. Let the real reindeer games begin.
Hetta, Enontekiö, Lapland, Finland
The Sámi people, native to northern Scandinavia and Lapland, have traditionally hunted and herded reindeer. During Heahtá Márjjábeivviid, the annual celebration of St Mary (23 to 25 March), top Sami athletes compete alongside the creatures who are crucial to their survival. Reindeer lassoing competitions test the skill and speed of herders, and reindeer races, where the animals pull a skier behind them, showcase the reindeers’ speed and strength. All events are held atop the frozen Lake Ounasjärvi.
More than 100,000 reindeer and 3,000 people live in Kautokeino, about 80km north of Hetta, where the Reindeer Racing World Cup kicks off every February. A total of six races are held throughout the northern Scandinavian region, including two 1,000m jaunts in Hetta and a short 12m street race further north in Badje Máze, Norway. The final 1,000m race occurs back in Kautokeino in April. The reindeer are harnessed with a long rope that is grasped by a single skier who is pulled along at speeds topping 60kph. Visitors have the chance to race in the Tourist Division by signing up on the final day, but they must compete in sleds instead of on skis for safety.
The Fur Rendezvous festival (better known as the Fur Rondy) has celebrated the start of spring in Alaska since 1937. This year’s event (24 February to 4 March) hosted a number of offbeat festivals, like outhouse racing and the Mr Fur Face beard contest. The Running of the Reindeer, a silly homage to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, has been the crowd favourite since it started five years ago. About a dozen tame reindeer (often called caribou in North America) are let loose along a one-block track, as costumed participants run with them in a mad dash to the finish line.