RUMSON — Many years before his 7-year-old son Ethan was born, Jerry Casciano made a Christmas promise. This year Casciano made good on that promise by taking his family to visit Santa Claus — in the North Pole. Casciano, a borough resident and professional photographer, took his wife, Lori and his son for a pre-Christmas vacation, traveling to Lapland, Finland, located on the Arctic Circle, which has been designated as Santa’s “home.”
The actual location is Rovaniemi, a city of about 60,000, located in Finland’s northernmost province, bordering the Artic Circle. The city bills itself as the “home” of Santa Claus. And, as Casciano pointed out, when children around the world write letters to Santa and address them to the “North Pole” this is where they finally arrive. Volunteers attempt to respond to about 15 million pieces of mail annually, relying on visitors’ donations to get the work done, Casciano said. “Can you imagine taking a young kid and taking him to the real North Pole to see the ‘real’ Santa Claus and to see where he lives?” Casciano said. “It was really cool.” Casciano’s son thought so, too. “He was just overwhelmed.”
Casciano read an article about Santa and the North Pole in the Sunday New York Times about 15 years ago. After reading the story, “I promised myself if I ever had a kid I was going to bring him to see Santa Claus in the North Pole,” he explained. “I’m not a millionaire; I don’t live in a mansion or anything. I just saved up and swore to myself no matter if I had to sell my shoes I was going,” he explained. “And I got there.” He and his family stayed at the Santa Claus Hotel, operated by the Clarion Hotel chain, and they found the entire location was “just magical,” he said. Though, he acknowledged the logistics of getting there were difficult and took some planning on his and a travel agent’s part to bring it all together.
It seemed to Casciano that the North Pole has yet to catch on with American tourists, as most of his fellow tourists hailed from Europe, Canada and Asia. “It was like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie,” he said, as the family met the local Sami people (the natives), who raise and herd reindeer (which are apparently everywhere—including on the menu); rode snowmobiles and dogsleds; and traveled out at night to see the Northern Lights. And Ethan got to meet Santa on four separate occasions, the 7-year-old said, noting that when he asked the jolly gentleman for the cars from the movie Cars and for Socker Boppers, the man in red told the young man “It is noted.” “It was very cool,” Ethan said, expressing excitement for the coming holiday. “Christmas is the best day, there’s no school.”
“It was cold, it was very cold,” he remembered, and his friends seemed to be just as excited when he got back and told them. “Did you really go to the North Pole?” they asked, Ethan told them, ‘‘of course,’’ because that’s where Santa lives. “He hasn’t stopped talking about it since he got back,” Casciano said, as excited about the experience as his son. Some time in the future, maybe when Ethan is in his 20s, he may be hanging out with friends, Casciano speculated, and one of them might comment on how cold it is, and Ethan can tell them this isn’t cold, compared to the time he and his parents traveled to visit Santa near the North Pole; now that was cold. And that’s the real Christmas present for Casciano — the memories.