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Experience Economy
The Storification of Santa Claus Office

Santa Claus is one of the greatest brands ever to exist, and everyone wants to be associated with him. Lab8 in collaboration with partners conducted storification work aiming at re-designing the experience of Santa Claus Office.


Mário Passos Ascenção

principal lecturer
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 19.01.2021

Santa Claus, as one of the most prominent figures of Christmas, is one of the greatest brands ever to exist, and everyone wants to be associated with him.

Lapland is often seen as the ‘Santa tourism superpower’. Michael Pretes recounted how the Santa business in Rovaniemi started in 1980s when Finnish tourist authorities launched a new tourism strategy for Lapland and designated it ‘Santa Claus Land’.

However, the growth and diversity of visitors in Lapland has made it harder to guarantee an experience anchored on the core values – authenticity, giving and caring, surprising and creativity, and constant presence – established by the Rovaniemi Christmas brand in 2010.

Haaga-Helia’s Service Experience Laboratory LAB8, in collaboration with researchers from Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, conducted storification work aiming at re-designing the experience of Santa Claus Office. This work was part of the research project ‘The Box: Imagineering Future Services’ funded by Tekes – Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.

Team members involved with the storification of Santa Claus Office were from Finland, the Netherlands, and Portugal. Very soon it became evident there were different understandings of Christmas and Santa Claus among the team members.

Storyworlds are worlds evoked by stories

Most of us intuitively assume that our Christmas reality is everyone’s reality.

However, each person’s Christmas is uniquely actively created and part of a selected storyworld. Sometimes various storyworlds as in the case of multicultural families or groups. These storyworlds are made of existents (characters and props/objects), settings, physical laws, social rules and values, events and mental events such as characters’ reactions (Ryan & Thon 2014).

In storification, the process of applying story structure, tools and techniques to products, services, experiences and brands, a storyworld functions as a collective shared imaginary universe.

Interestingly, not all Christmas existents belong to the same storyworld. The angels, Christmas star, the holy family, the three wise men and ‘presépio’ (aka nativity scene) belong to the Nativity storyworld. Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, reindeer, and Santa’s elves, belong to the Western Christmas storyworld. Ded Moroz, his granddaughter and helper Snegurochka, and his equivalent counterparts, Qïš babay (Winter Old Man), Yamal Iri (Grandfather of Yamal), Chys Khaan (Master of Cold) belong to the Slavic Christmas storyworld.

In addition to the three main storyworlds, we have smaller expansions, as in the Alps, where Krampus, a horned, anthropomorphic figure assists Saint Nicholas by scaring children who have misbehaved. Or those created by visual and performing arts and corporations. For example, the way Santa Clauses dress around the world is highly influenced by Haddon Sundblom’s advertising images of Santa Claus for Coca Cola from 1931 to 1964.

Storification – storymaking to make sense

The three main Christmas storyworlds and their variations created by individuals and groups lead to each becoming the ‘other’.

When storifying experiences, we move from othering and otherness to empathy. This interactional process of ongoing mutual positioning, makes each team member define the ‘other’ and situate him-/herself in terms of one’s relationship to the ‘other’ (in this case a different Christmas storyworld). It is a process that creates ‘disorienting dilemmas’ which through cognitive and affective empathy lead to mean-making on the influences, relationships and sources of knowledge of each Christmas storyworld.

Our storification work included more than fifty interviews with various stakeholders, dozens of on-site participant observations, online reviews analysis, and a handful of workshops.

The final narrative concept orchestrated for the Santa Claus Office was named ‘Santa Time’. The story emphasized Santa as a magical timekeeper, and it created the foundation to bring alive the Rovaniemi Christmas brand values along the guest journey and touch-points of the Santa Claus Office.

Further reading:

  • Pretes, M. 1995. Postmodern tourism: The Santa Claus industry. Annals of Tourism Research, 22, 1, pp. 1-15.
  • Ryan, M.-L. & Thon, J. N. 2014. Storyworlds Across Media: Toward a Media-Conscious Narratology. University of Nebraska Press. London.
  • Poets of Hospitality on Facebook