He’s beloved by children from around the world. Each year on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus – or Saint Nicolas, if you prefer – loads his sleigh, harnesses the reindeer and begins his around-the-world tour, delivering gifts and spreading joy to millions.
But exactly where Santa begins this journey – and what passport he, Mrs. Claus and all the elves carry with them – is the subject of heated debate, the outcome of which could have wide-ranging implications on who controls the North Pole and all its resources.
At a time of year when politicians and Christmas enthusiasts from across the globe are clamouring to lay claim to Saint Nick, Global News took a hard look at Santa and the different opinions of where he’s from.
“I do not live in Canada,” said Santa Claus, in an exclusive interview with Global News. “Currently, I’m from North Pole, Alaska.”
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Claus – that’s actually his legal name – was born in Washington, D.C. He changed his name to Santa Claus in 2005 to help with his work promoting children’s aid and social-welfare programs.
He now spends much of his time working at 125 Snowman Lane as an elected member of the North Pole city council.
Despite claims to the contrary – he insists he is not Canadian.
“Well, I think when Mr. Harper was in office he claimed that I was a Canadian,” Claus said, joking about a decision by the Canadian government to issue what he calls ‘magical Santa’ and his wife Mrs. Claus, Canadian passports.
“As it happens, I was born in the United States. I would love to have dual citizenship with Canada but that never happened.”
Unlike Claus the city councillor, “magical Santa” and his wife Mrs. Claus – the ones who decide who’s been naughty and nice – do have Canadian citizenship. They even have Canadian passports.
It all started in 2013 when Paul Calandra, Conservative MP and Parliamentary secretary to then-prime minister Stephen Harper, stood up in the House of Commons and declared to the world Canada’s intention to defend Santa Claus and the North Pole. A little more than a week later, the government issued Santa and Mrs. Claus Canadian passports.
“All of a sudden the Liberals are suggesting that Santa Claus is no longer Canadian and that they would abandon the North Pole,” Calandra said.
The statement – which took aim at Justin Trudeau after he said any claim to the Far North must be rooted in science – was widely seen as an effort by the Conservative government to exert sovereignty over the high Arctic, including Santa’s alleged home at the geographic North Pole.
But who controls the North Pole is itself up for debate.
Earlier this month, a team of Canadian and Swedish researchers studying rocks deep beneath the Arctic Ocean announced preliminary results that show Canada’s geographic boundary could extend well beyond the pole.
The research is important because it will help inform Canada’s official claim to the United Nations for control over Arctic territory.
Five countries – Canada, the United States, Denmark, Russia and Norway – have the right to submit a claim to the UN for control over the Arctic.
Only Russia and Denmark have submitted their official claims. Canada is expected to make its submission to the UN sometime in the next two years.
Competing claims to Santa Claus
Debate over who controls the North Pole isn’t the only battleground for ownership of Santa Claus.
Several countries – including Canada and the United States – have well-established programs where children from around the world send Santa a letter with their wish list and hopes for the future.
“We work very closely with Santa. He’s been one of our biggest customers for many, many years,” said Jon Hamilton, spokesperson for Canada Post. “We pick up the letters and we have a special distribution right to Santa himself.”
Hamilton says this includes delivering letters to Santa at his “Canadian address” at the North Pole, with the postal code HOH OHO.
“I think the rest of the world knows Santa is Canadian,” Hamilton said. “We get letters from Russia, from Japan, from China, from Morocco.”
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Finland, meanwhile, has its own longstanding relationship with Jolly Old Saint Nick.
Known as Joulupukki in Finnish – Santa Claus is said to live in Lapland, a remote area of the country’s northeast.
According to Vesa Lehtonen, Finland’s ambassador to Canada, Santa likes to eat casseroles and many types of fish – foods common throughout Finland. His reindeer like to eat reindeer moss – not carrots – he says.
“The most important tradition is that on Christmas Eve Joulupukki personally visits every family that is waiting for him,” Lehtonen said. “When he hears his favourite Christmas carol, he knocks on the door and comes in.”
While insisting Santa lives in Finland, Lehtonen says any claims about his citizenship are simply untrue.
“What would Santa need a citizenship and passport for?” Lehtonen said. “He’s older than states and above such bureaucracy. After all, he can fly over borders with his reindeer. And for Santa, every child in the world is equally dear, regardless of citizenship.”
Santa’s home in Finland is so well known that hundreds of thousands of people flock to see him there each year. This includes Chinese President Xi Jinping, who met with Joulupukki during a visit to Finland in 2010.
“Santa doesn’t want to be inaccessible,” Lehtonen said. “He has an office in Rovaniemi where millions of people travel to meet him.”
Canada, meanwhile, continues to insist that Santa Claus is Canadian.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says Santa’s and Mrs. Claus’ passports are valid for 10 years. Should the couple choose to reapply once their current documents expire, he says improvements to the country’s passport application process will make it easy for them to be approved.
And while privacy concerns make it difficult for Immigration Canada to comment on the Claus file directly, Hussen said he can confirm that “Santa and Mrs. Claus reside in the North Pole,” where they always have and always will “remain Canadian citizens.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Claus both embody the compassionate, humanitarian, and giving nature that Canadians are known for throughout the world,” Hussen told Global News. “They’re evidently so proud of their country, they wear red and white all the time.”
But back in Alaska, Claus says Christmas is bigger than any one individual – or country, for that matter.
“Santa Claus isn’t necessarily a person, it’s more a frame of mind,” he said. “Anyone who’s celebrating love, celebrating peace, celebrating goodwill and charity, all those things are wonderful and they can be attached to any particular tradition or holiday people might want to celebrate.“