Finns milk Santa for all he's worth
Agence France-Presse in Helsinki
As a brand, Santa Claus has one major flaw: he appears for only a few weeks at the end of each year.
But if Finland has its way, he will start appearing year round.
Petri Paarnio, of Santa Claus Licensing, the firm that holds the rights to market the Santa Claus name in Finland, wants to see him bring joy to children's hearts but also to generate business all year round and all around the world, starting with China.
Santa Claus Licensing and Finnish tourist authorities feel the brand could spawn a multimillion-euro industry including computer games, international events, theme parks and merchandising.
As it is, thousands of tourists flock each Christmas to the Arctic city of Rovaniemi, the capital of Finland's northernmost Lapland, in search of the "authentic" Santa Claus experience.
But the sparsely populated area, which claims the North Pole's most famous resident as its own, is not content with only filling hotels, activity centres, stores and restaurants over the holiday period.
"Father Christmas is Finland's best-known brand but we've not made the most of his image as Finnish," Paarnio said.
Though the country is in the grip of recession and budgetary austerity, the Finnish parliament this month gave the green light for €300,000 (HK$3.15 million) in funding to promote Finnish Santa Claus in China.
Selling Santa has been made easier by national airline Finnair's increased links between Helsinki and Asia. "We've always had very large numbers of Japanese visitors, but China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore are growing in importance," Paarnio said.
In contrast to the roly-poly American Santa, the Finnish variety has no black boots or belt but wears light brown boots made in Lapland. He also wears a long red cloak - not the red suit of the well-known American character - and sports a much longer white beard.
"The length of his beard is strictly regulated and he's in much better health - he is slimmer," Paarnio said. "Moreover, he doesn't say 'ho, ho, ho' like his US counterpart."
The challenge, however, will be to convince consumers that the Finnish Santa is the real thing.
And trying to put a market value on Father Christmas may be seen as offensive in a country that takes the festive season very seriously.
"It might go against the values he stands for," said Finnish stock market analyst Mikael Rautanen.