December 12 – Ghost of tipi past

Unzipping door number 12 of our outdoor ADVENTure calendar we took a step back in time, to take a look at the origins of the tipi and it’s connection with nature, and surprisingly, Christmas.

Our tipi has Nordic roots, and it’s design is based on that of the Sami people in Northern Scandinavia. Traditionally the Sami are reindeer herders, and are semi-nomadic, moving throughout Scandinavia with their herds. Although originally a shamanic culture the Sami now observe the Christian calendar, including Christmas.


Late night tipi (Photograph: Gina Maffey)

The fact that Sami herd reindeer presents a tantalising link to stories of Father Christmas and his flying deer – “Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer, and Vixen! On Comet! On Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!“. There are theories that the origins of the presentation of Father Christmas predate the Christian calendar and are rooted in shamanic traditions particularly the Evenki (another indigenous Arctic people) who saw flying reindeer after eating a red and white mushroom.


One writer has also suggested that the jolly red and white bearded American Santa Claus – made famous by Coca-Cola – and his elves, may also have his roots in the Sami heritage. The artist commissioned by Coca-Cola had Finnish parents. However, when the writer proposed this idea to Sami researchers it was deemed to be ‘preposterous’.


Sami family, 1900, first tent is a goahti and the second a lavvu, structures similar to the well known North American tipis (Photograph: unknown, public domain).

It is near impossible to find the origin of the tangled mess that has become ‘Christmas tradition’, let alone establish if the tipi has any claim to that origin or not. Yet it is strangely comforting to think that many of the things that we do to mark the festive season have boreal, outdoor and green roots.


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