Having circumnavigated the globe hundreds if not thousands of times, Santa Claus is arguably the ultimate traveller.
Every December 24, Mr Claus – known to some as Father Christmas, Kris Kringle or Papá Noel – heads out in a magical sleigh pulled by flying reindeer to deliver presents to the children of the world, miraculously visiting every one before they stir the following morning.
We spoke to him ahead of his busy winter schedule to discuss his favourite festive destinations, which country’s children leave the best snacks, and who has topped the naughty list this year.
Where was your last trip?
Mrs Claus and I took a weekend break to Copenhagen (Lonely Planet’s best city to visit in 2019, I understand?) ahead of our hectic winter season. I felt right at home among the sea of beards, flamboyant outfits and circular specs. I didn’t realise I was such a trendsetter...
Where is your next trip?
My next trip will be my annual Christmas Eve circumnavigation of the globe.
Aisle or window seat?
When I’m not flying by sleigh, aisle – it’s important to prioritise access to a bathroom when you’re 1,748 years old.
Do you have any travel habits or rituals?
I always make sure I’ve got a good boxset downloaded onto the tablet.
Be honest: how do you travel around the whole world in a single night? What’s the secret?
A well-rehearsed routine, meticulous planning and a strong team behind me. There’s also a whole thing where I can conjure loopholes in the space-time continuum – but mostly it’s about being efficient.
What’s your favourite stretch of the journey?
Flying over a silent New York City in the early hours is ethereal. I also stop off to stretch my legs and enjoy a moment of reflection atop Everest; wonderful views, I’d recommend a visit.
In the UK children leave you mince pies and in Denmark it’s rice pudding, but which is your favourite Christmas Eve snack?
Mince pies are always appreciated, Swedish coffee is becoming increasingly important and Chilean Pan de Pascua fruitcake is delicious. I’ve never cared all that much for rice pudding, but the stodginess comes in handy, especially as the next stop is Ireland, where children traditionally leave out a pint of Guinness for me. The journey becomes a lot more… wobbly after that.
What’s the worst thing that’s gone wrong during your deliveries?
I’ve been bitten by dogs, fallen from roofs and been tied up on more than one occasion – you do walk into some interesting situations when making house calls on Christmas Eve.
Who’s heading up the naughty list this year?
In a year that included mass breaches of online privacy, alleged presidential sex scandals and a new Kanye West album, competition is pretty fierce. I have made my list, but I’m not telling.
Have you spent an extended period on the road?
During the 60s I took a year out to follow the Hippy Trail, embarking upon winding bus journeys through Iran, sleeping in grotty dorms in Kathmandu and dancing until sunrise on beaches in Cambodia. For a time I wore braids in my hair and would answer only to the name Sunflower. What a time to be alive.
Do you ever think about relocating operations somewhere slightly warmer?
I’ve always fancied Southern Spain, but the elves can’t hack the heat. Even during the off-season they only venture as far south as the forests of Iceland and Ireland – they’d boil during the height of a Mediterranean summer. It’s a shame because I look magnificent in Speedos.
Getting serious for a moment, some would argue that you’ve become the poster child of commercialism. How do you feel about that?
The giving of presents during the winter months is a practice that long predates me, and I believe showing loved ones that you care about them – in whatever shape or form – is an essential part of all festive celebrations. Additionally, gifts don’t need to be purchased items, you can make presents by hand or organise an experience that can be enjoyed together. And if you have a problem with that you can talk to my PR team.
Which destinations would you recommend for travellers looking to get into the festive spirit?
A number of European cities host elaborate Christmas markets during December, with notable examples in Tallinn, Munich and Budapest. Lapland – my disputed homeland – is also perennially popular with festive pilgrims. However, as someone who tends to avoid large crowds, I’d personally consider opting for a more offbeat Yuletide break, like an Antarctic cruise or surf holiday in Sydney.
What’s your favourite festive tradition?
It’s amazing to see the different customs countries have adopted for celebrating the festive period. In the UK, people lock lips beneath mistletoe, in Venezuela locals have started rollerblading to Christmas mass and in Iceland ‘trolls’ leave gifts in children’s shoes. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for the old Norwegian superstition of families hiding their brooms on Christmas Eve to ensure they aren’t commandeered by witches.
As the master of fast travel, what’s your advice to travellers wanting to visit a destination with very limited time?
Snacking on the go seems to work for me, but isn’t great for the waistline.
Quick, an asteroid is going to hit the earth in one week! Which is the one travel dream you’d rush to fulfil?
Glastonbury Festival, England. I’ve got a thing for drum and bass at the moment.
Counting down the seconds until you can get to grips with a stocking full of pressies? Follow the bearded one's annual Christmas Eve odyssey via Google’s Santa Tracker.