On Location: An Interview With A Reindeer
Did you know reindeer could talk? No – neither did our blog editor, until she met one in Lapland. It’s amazing what a bit of Christmas magic can do…
Hello, Mr Reindeer.
Do call me Smiling Lips, please. It’s Hymyhuuli in Finnish, but I don’t expect you to be able to pronounce that.
Oh, sorry. Hello Mr Smiling Lips.
I’m a lady reindeer. And my name, by way of explanation, was given to me by my owners – Satu and Markku Nikodemus – many years ago when I was just a trainee. Their children were playing on the swings, and I wanted to see what they smelled like, so I came in for a sniff – but they ran inside shouting “Mummy, Mummy, that reindeer is smiling at us!”. I can assure you I wasn’t – I merely wanted a sniff.
Oh, I see. So how long have you been at this farm?
All my life. I’m 8 years old, which is about 50 in human years. I only stay here in the winter, though.
Where do you go in summer?
Wherever I fancy. Us trained reindeer roam freely in summer while the weather is nice. We like to be in our natural habitat until winter. I do have some less refined, ‘wild’ reindeer friends who come and go as they please all year round, though. That sort of bohemian lifestyle just isn’t for me.
How far do you travel, then?
I went as far as 100 kilometres south a few years ago – lovely place. I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who ended up at a village 150 kilometres south of here. The farm owners in the village called mine, and suffice to say he returned shortly after that with his tail between his legs. I think that’s probably why our owners fitted a few of us with tracker devices last year – so they could keep tags on our whereabouts. It was a silly idea – we ended up stopping at one place for days just to trick them, then dashing off 50 kilometres down the road when they started to worry. Such fun.
How do you know when to come back for the winter, then?
What a silly question. We head back home when the cold sets in, the days grow shorter and the snow starts. Most of us are back by November – by which point there are only about 5 or 6 hours of daylight each day – but there are always a few tardy types who arrive as late as December.
How do Satu and Markku know it’s you?
They know the trained reindeer by sight – we all grew up on the farm and each of us has a name. But we also have markings on our ears to show who we belong to. Every reindeer does – all the calves get their markings in the summer, at the end of June or start of July when the days don’t get dark here at all. There are more than 5,000 different combinations of markings.
How many reindeer live at this farm?
That would be like me asking you how much you earn. Or how much you weigh. It’s considered a rude question in these parts.
Oh, I’m so sorry.
Apology accepted. What I can tell you, is that there are more reindeer in Lapland than there are people. And that as well as trained reindeer like myself – who pull visitors around on the sleighs – there are racing reindeer here in Purnumurkka.
Indeed. It’s a very big thing in these parts – the season starts at the end of January or early February, with races held on the weekends in various villages. The winners from each race earn points and the 12 highest scorers qualify for the king race on the first weekend of April. It’s a kilometre-long track, on a frozen river, and a man or woman skis behind the reindeer. The record is 1 minute 30 seconds.
That sounds pretty fast.
It is. But why the hurry? It’s far too brash for me – I much prefer to pull visitors around the forest on a sleigh, so they can see how beautiful Lapland is at a much calmer pace. It used to be the norm for people to travel in this way, you know.
Yes – up until the 60s that’s how everybody got around. There weren’t many roads, and if there were, there were no cars on them. Everything changed in the 70s – these days everyone is in such a rush, it beggars belief.
But of course you can fly, too…
Well I am a reindeer… and before you ask, yes, I do know Rudolph. He’s a bit of a character, that one – you don’t get a song written about you if you’re a shrinking violet, do you? And then there are the carrots…
Yes – he’s the only reindeer I’ve ever known who eats carrots. The ones you humans leave out for him on Christmas Eve. Disgusting.
You mean you don’t like carrots?
I most certainly do not. I have a very sensitive palate and a refined sense of taste. In the summer when I’m in the forest I eat around 200 types of plant, and lots of mushrooms. And in the winter I mainly survive on lichen. So please, don’t leave me a carrot out on Christmas Eve. Though I wouldn’t mind a nice glass of port…
Katie travelled to Lapland on Santa’s Wonderland 3-night trip with Thomson. She met Smiling Lips and her owners, Markku and Satu, at Purnumurkka Reindeer Farm.