Lapland’s Culture: Reindeer & Sami


There is no other sound except crunching of snow under their feet and tinkling of sleigh bells tied around their neck. I am cozily snuggled in a wooden sled with a rug casually thrown over me. It is half past midnight with temperature dipping to around minus 20 degrees. There is a chill in the air as expected. We are passing through a snow covered forest and the reindeer are gently pulling my sleigh moving in line.
Reindeer, sleigh and snow … that’s what one expects in a Nordic region during peak winter.

Relaxed, I am gazing at the stars, ruminating about these harmless animals and the life in Lapland in general. Lapland brings a picture of its best known creature aka reindeer and Sami people in front of me.

The reindeer.

They are much more than just innocent cute looking animals. As they live in forests, these harmless animals are almost wild but docile and indifferent as well. The reindeer outnumber people in Lapland. There are approximately two reindeer per person in Lapland.

The Lapland reindeer can endure a very cold climate with much snow. Reindeer hooves adapt to the seasons well. During summer, the foot-pads become spongy and provide extra traction possibilities. In winter the pads shrink and tighten. The sharp rim of the hoof can cut into ice to keep the animal from slipping. This also makes it possible for them to dig down through thick layers of snow.

For the indigenous Sámi people of Lapland, reindeer are the lifeline and an integral part of their life and culture. For centuries reindeer have been providing transportation, food, warmth and, of course, company to Sámi people in demanding weather conditions of Lapland. It would not be wrong to say that reindeer and Sámi people are inseparable.

laplands culture reindeer sami @lemonicks.com
Reindeer Safari, anyone?

Sámi people

If we look into the past, it tells us that the Sámi people were nomads and with the change of weather, moved with their herds in search of grazing lands. In the challenging long winters the life is hard, but Sami people have tried to keep the culture alive. Hence, for this reason, reindeer herding is legally reserved only for Sámi people in Finland and in some parts of the Nordic countries.

There are approximately 80,000 Sámi people across the northern parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and parts of Russia. Inari region of Finland, has one of the biggest Sámi communities of Finland, with about 2000 Sámi living in the area. Total Sámi population in Finland, is approximately 9000 strong.

Spread of Sami tribe across Nordic region.

The Sami people are also called as just Sami or Lapps or Laplanders. They are an indigenous Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi. They are the only indigenous people of the European Union. Sámi people do not speak Finnish but their own language. And the native Sámi dialects have hundreds of precise terms for snow, ice, water, fire and other natural phenomena. The Finnish govt. is making all efforts to retain their culture and celebrate their uniqueness.

In Finnish folklore, an element of mystery is associated with Lapland. Many a myth stem from the ancient beliefs of the Sami and survive to this day through word of mouth. In Sami mythology, everything has a soul. Thus, every living and non-living being has a story. They all carry knowledge and wisdom within.
While you are in Lapland, if you are interested to learn more about Sámi people and their culture, make sure you visit the Sami museum, Siida.

Reindeer husbandry

Timo and his beautiful wife Armi

Armi sang a song for me.

According to my local guide Timo, with all the modern technologies in hand, it is not a matter of survival anymore for Sami community. But it is still a major livelihood for many (approximately 10% of the Sámi people) in the region and is considered an important tradition to keep alive.

In Lapland, the knowledge of reindeer husbandry has been passed down from generation to generation and the terminology related to breeding and raising reindeer is very specific to this region. During touristy season, they bring reindeer from the wild and use them for tourism purpose. And that’s how Timo and his beautiful wife Armi live with a mix of traditional and modern culture.

Timo took me to a little hamlet with a couple of log huts and a reindeer farm named Joikun Kota. On a visit to a Sámi farm, you get to learn about their culture and lifestyle.
Lavvu, the Sámi traditional house, is something like a tent or tepee. It is made of reindeer pelts or hides by stitching them together. Inside surface is of reindeer fur as it is soft and warm. With slow fire at the center burning 24 hours, it keeps the residents warm & cozy. The fire acts as a fireplace as well as a cooking area. Of course there is an outlet (like chimney) at the top to ensure the circulation of fresh air.
A reindeer skin rug is used on hardwood or tile floors to keep the surface warm.

Activities involving a reindeer

Reindeer were the primary means of transportation in Lapland till snowmobile dominated the scene.

In modern days, reindeer are used for safaris and other activities. On a safari tour, if you wish so, you are able to drive your own reindeer sled for a stretch of a 2-3 KMs in the forest. It’s not too fast and trust me, it’s a fun ride!

Since number of reindeer is more than the people in Lapland, it is obvious that low fat reindeer meat is a strength in the region’s cuisine. Similarly, dried reindeer meat is a Lap delicacy. It is as popular as it was in olden days.

So if you eat non-veg, Reindeer is the local delicacy you must try in Lapland. Souvas, the signature dish of Sámi, is a lightly-smoked reindeer meat which is cooked over slow fire. The thinly sliced hot smoked reindeer meat is served on flat bread with lingonberry jam and is a winner hands down.
The people of Lapland have always made the best of whatever is seasonably available in nature. Besides reindeer, they have berries, potatoes, freshwater fish and wild herbs in their traditional cuisine.

Coffee being prepared in traditional way.

After my delicious meal, I had a strong cup of coffee, also prepared in the traditional manner. A coffee pouch made of reindeer leather was put into a copper kettle over the fire. There is a certain etiquette for drinking your coffee. Ask your hosts to teach you. 🙂

The reindeer skin is lush, elegant, and soft to the touch. Reindeer skin is also used as mats as they keep the surface warm. The hide is also used to make bags, pouches, throw, rugs, wall hangings, mittens, hats and shoes.

I also visited a Reindeer Park and had the opportunity to feed the reindeer. Imagine, reindeer eating from your hand! I have done it! They eat mainly lichen, moss, hay, grass and other plants.

Facts about reindeer:


1. The reindeer antlers can grow as much as 2 cm in a single day! And every year the antlers fall off. In the old days, the antlers were used to make tools or handcrafts.

2. Don’t touch them while feeding or any other time. Also, don’t click pictures with flash on. Reindeer feel intimidated.

3. Reindeer are well adapted to the Arctic climate. Their hooves and food pads change between seasons as per the conditions on the tundra.

4. Nordic region is extremely cold and how do reindeer keep themselves warm? They have two layers of fur with a tremendous insulating capacity. While the inner layer is woollier and dense, the outer one is long-haired with hollow, air-filled hairs.

5. They are ‘earmarked’ by their owners. Small carvings or cuts are made in the reindeer’s ears. These marks are ancient marks of their family. It allows the herders to recognize their herd when they cross over to other territories.

6. Do not ever ask a Sámi how many reindeer he has. He won’t tell you. It’s considered a bad omen to count the number of reindeer one has.

7. There are allocated reindeer parking areas and parking a reindeer is much easier than parking a car. 😀

There are several reindeer safari with or without a meal. Depending on your budget and time you can choose one. You can do a day safari or night (which I highly recommend). During night safari, rejuvenate yourself with a bonfire, coffee or soup and an interesting session about life in Lapland before you start your return journey.

Have you been to Lapland? Would you want to go there?

Getting there:

Getting to Lapland is fairly easy once you are in Finland. There are regular Finnair flights from Delhi to Helsinki. From Helsinki you may drive down or catch a flight to Ivalo. I would recommend you catch the flight to save on time.

Stay: I stayed in Holiday Club Saariselka. In my opinion, it is the best place to stay in Lapland. Very family friendly place, they have all in-house facilities for you to experience. They also arrange for all your outdoor activities.

If you want to travel places with us, I suggest you to join us on my Facebook travel page.
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35 thoughts on “Lapland’s Culture: Reindeer & Sami

  1. I have always wanted to visit Lapland! It’s seriously my childhood vision of the North Pole! I love that there are reindeer there too. Interesting facts about the reindeer, that’s funny there are reindeer parking spots! I would love to go during Christmas one year!

  2. When I think of Lapland I immediately think Christmas and Santa Claus. 🙂 Cool to read about the history of the actual people from there. Reindoor activities look fun – but minus 20? Brrr

  3. What happened to the reindeer’s horns? Why are they cut?
    Lapland has always been on my travel Bucket List, I hope to visit it sometime soon.

  4. What a fascinating post. I was riveted as I read about the Sami people’s culture and belief. Reading about how they believe that every being has a soul, rang a bell, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Reindeers and stretches and stretches of snow, the stars twinkling in the sky and being in Lapland, nothing short of a dream, I must say.

    1. Yes, I felt, there are quite a few similarities between our cultures. Like ‘nazar lagna’ if you count your babies or animals? 😀

      Indeed a dream destination.

  5. I love this post and your fantastic narration of Lapland 🙂 I was in Finland last year (Helsinki) and I so want to visit Lapland on my next trip. This post served as the right dose of motivation I needed 🙂 and how I love Reindeers 🙂

  6. I do not know the number of reindeer outnumbered the people in Laplands and their antler grow that fast. That is so cool. I also amazed by how both reindeer and the Sámi survives the harshest climate and the people there makes the best use of the nature resources in the season. They are very strong and have a brave heart. I would love to visit the Laplands one day to get to know more of the nordic culture and the lifestyle. Thanks for the great post on the culture of the reindeer and the Laplands, it is an eye-opening reading for me.

  7. I have to admit, I have enjoyed reading much this educative post on Lapland, Sami people, their lifestyle and reindeers! Thanking you. Hope to meet some some day some Sami people and Santa Claus in Lapland!

  8. Lapland is sure a fairytale land that we used to see in Disney shows in the childhood. Got to learn so much about reindeer and Sami people in this write-up that now I would love to personally experience this experience. Thanks for this incredibly nice blog! 🙂

  9. Great to see such an such sights from the edge of the world. It almost feels like a different planet. I love to read about unique, secluded populations in remote places. The reindeer seems very friendly and innocent. Wish we had them here at home.

  10. This is the first time I’ve read about the true culture of Lapland, I have only read about Santa Claus or the Northern Lights and Ice Hotels before. It’s good to read about the culture and way of life of people living in the far north and sometimes extreme conditions. We see a reindeer as the animal which pulls Santa’s sleigh but in reality it’s a lifeline for those living up there.

  11. I was also in Lapland (Finland/Norway) earlier this year and it was great to learn about their culture and food. I spent two weeks in the cold looking at snow, northern lights and reindeers and this was more thrilling than walking around New York or Paris. 😀 Love reading your post and brought back so many memories 🙂

  12. One day, I ‘ll have to visit Finland. I was in Norway once, and was quite surprised at how readily available reindeer (and whale) was to eat. Perhaps it was one too many readings about Rudolf, but I felt a little uneasy about it. Venison is delicious, so I could probably be talked into it. Besides, it would be rude to my Laplander hosts to refuse their specialty.

  13. I didn’t realize there were more reindeer than people or that their antlers can grow so much in one day! Lots of interesting facts–thanks for sharing. Reindeer are so cute and Lapland looks like an amazing region. Glad to hear they are working to preserve the traditional culture too!

  14. Such an interesting article with useful information. Reindeers are so fascinating animals. I haven’t had a chance to see one in real life. But I’ll make sure to visit Lapland sometime soon to change it.

  15. This is the beauty of travel writing. I had no sense of what Lapland was all about, and you definitely peaked my curiosity. Great read. Keep on counting memories not places! 🙂

  16. Rarely does a travel blog post educate me. This was one of those occasions. Thanks for sharing all the info. Every thing or being has a soul and a story…cultures around the world aren’t that different, are they?

    “Reindeer safari” – do they really call it that?

  17. I loved my time in Lapland, though regrettably I didn’t include a cultural visit to meet some of the Sami people. I would love to head back though – reindeer were the highlight of my time, I think I unknowingly ate reindeer on pizza during my time there!!

  18. How interesting. I just adore those cute reindeer and had no idea there were so many of them. This is the first mention I’ve ever seen about the people of Lapland so thanks for giving me some history and info about them. Looks like a fun trip!

  19. It is such a magical experience to have a close encounter with reindeer! I didn’t know that it is a bad omen to ask the owner how many reindeer s/he owns – good to know!

  20. The first reindeer looks so sad without his antlers, but woah, what a cute face. I love that they outnumber humans 2-1 too! And I’ll remember to keep in mind not to ask how many reindeer a person owns – thanks for the tip!

  21. Now, this is different. Never heard of this place. All we need is Santa. The part about the reindeer’s hooves sounds interesting. It’s like All season tires on a car. It’s interesting how we are always trying to copy what nature already mastered. Great place I’m gonna add it to my to go to list!!!

  22. This is such a lovely post! Lapland really does sound like a magical place to visit. The reindeers are so cute too. Sounds like you had the most amazing experience!

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