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,
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.