Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 November 2019

Santa Claus and Disneyland at 28: you're never too old for some childlike magic

Sometimes, embracing nostalgia can be just what the doctor ordered

Journalist Sophie Prideaux with Rovaniemi's elves. Sophie Prideaux / The National 
Journalist Sophie Prideaux with Rovaniemi's elves. Sophie Prideaux / The National 

I recently found myself surrounded by elves in the middle of an enchanted forest. Of course, elves are not real. I know that. But after half an hour in their company, I almost started to forget. With their prosthetic noses, glowing skin and ethereal manner, they managed to create a world in which seven adults – from all corners of the world – left their serious brains at the door and let themselves get lost in a cloud of magic so rarely found in adulthood.

I sang along as they taught us songs, I didn’t roll my eyes as they joked about red and green traffic lights being Christmas ornaments, and I’m not ashamed to admit I even performed a dance at one point. Anyone who knows me would struggle to imagine that, especially if I tell you that it involved flapping my arms like a penguin. But here we are. Sometimes, when the world is in turmoil and our everyday lives are filled with stress and seriousness, reverting to a level of childlike glee is just what the doctor ordered.

I should point out that I was part of a tourism group visiting Rovaniemi in Finland – the official home of Santa Claus. When I saw on the itinerary that we would have the chance to meet the man himself, my heart did a little leap. Even though I knew it was coming, the moment still came as a surprise. We were in an elf hut, built into the side of a hill deep in the Lappish forest, exploring Santa’s control centre. We were told the elves’s workshop lay below our feet and after peering through a telescope that extended beneath the floor, we could indeed see them working away. Our faces lit up, but it was nothing compared to the moment a door slid open to reveal Santa waiting for us in his grotto.

At 28, I thought my days of visiting Santa were over, or at least until I had some little believers of my own. But there I was telling this jolly man what I wanted for Christmas, giddy alongside the rest of the group.

I had the same feeling when I first visited Disneyland, at the age of 26. I never went as a child but, in my opinion, it’s never too late to start. It is just as common to see groups of friends and couples enjoying the parks as it is to see children. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia they are chasing, or that feeling of escapism, but these safe spaces are built purely to spark joy – and who doesn’t need that in their lives every so often?

Most people travel so they can have a break from their real lives, so they can meet new people and experience new things. But sometimes, it’s nice to get reacquainted with old faces, or experience things that take you back to a happy memory you to leave your reservations at the door and be in the moment.

I tried to remember a time, after leaving Santa’s grotto, when I felt a level of such childlike excitement in recent years. Perhaps I had, only to mask it with layers of worries or stresses or fears of judgment. When I got home, I told everyone how magical it must be to visit Santa in Finland as a child, how it’s something you would cherish for ever. But the truth is, magic isn’t only for children.

Updated: October 10, 2019 04:36 PM

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