A winter market beyond the Arctic Circle

Way back in 1606, the indigenous people of Swedish Lapland first started to hold a Winter Market at Jokkmokk. Today, the event continues with demonstrations of traditional ice fishing, reindeer sleigh races and, if you're lucky, even an aurora borealis.

In the Arctic Circle, preparations are underway in the town of Jokkmokk to celebrate the Winter Market in which, as it has each February for over four hundred years every February, will draw together the Sami people, as this nomadic race now prefer to be called.

Exhibitions of ice fishing, torch light processions, skiing through the woods, a night in an igloo, or a sauna surrounded by snow... These are a selection of the activities that are on offer until February 7, as well as the chance to witness the groups of dancers and singers dressed in their tradition rich blue costumes, reindeer and dog sled races. There will also be local art and native crafts on sale, particularly in leather, wool and horn, and food stalls with their local specialities including elks ausages.

The Jokkmokk market is one of the oldest on record, and certainly the most important for the Sami, a traditionally nomadic people who lived by hunting and fishing and following the reindeer herds. The Sami are now well integrated in modern Swedish society, but this annual occasion evokes the days when the Jokkmokk market was almost vital for survival in the inhospitable environment.

In the early seventeenth century King Karl IX decreed that there permanent markets should be set up in northern Lapland. Back then, the Sami had a winter camp on Lake Talvatis, and so this was chosen as a location to build a church and set up a market. Over time, the market grew in size, with stores where essential supplies could be bought and which facilitated exchanges between Sami and the settlers in this northern region of Scandinavia.

Although the original purpose was commerce, it soon extended to include other elements, too, taking advantage of the growing community, such as the weddings that were held in the church and trials in which the offenders were brought before the authorities.

The market  became so important - here the price of reindeer meat was set and the marital agreements of many young people were arranged - that at one time it lasted for two or three weeks. But as the Sami lifestyle changed, the market lost importance and diminished to a single week, usually the first in February.

Back in the mid fifties, major changes were made, and visitors and tourists began arriving, attracted by the dying traditions, and today, the Jokkmokk Winter Market has become re-established as a multicultural meeting. This year the Winter Market is held from February 2nd to the 4th, and the historical market is from February 1st  to 3rd. For the Sami, it is still a more important event on the calendar than Christmas or New Year. Not only is it an opportunity to celebrate the centuries-old traditions, but, if the conditions are right, you may even get to enjoy the magicalnatural light show of the aurora borealis.