Since 2004, Taxi Stockholm have offered a Santa Claus door service which allows Stockholmers to book a Father Christmas to visit their families and drop off their Christmas gifts direct to their homes.
Kosovo-born Arapi is one of a fleet of 25 Taxi Santas who have the enviable job of visiting houses across the city dressed in the famous red suit and white beard, with the goal of inspiring festive delight among the parents and children he meets.
Initially, it was the pull of romance which brought him over to Sweden: “My girlfriend back home in Kosovo was Swedish, so I moved over to be with her. This was all the way back in 1994! The relationship didn't work out in the end, but by that point I'd got a real soft spot for Sweden, so I stayed here. And nearly 25 years later, I'm very settled and happy in my 'new' country.”
Being a Taxi Santa for the past 10 years has given him a unique insight into the Christmas habits of Swedes. “In terms of celebrating Christmas, Sweden feels quite different from Kosovo, particularly in the fact that Sweden has a tradition of celebrating on the eve of the 24th of December. Once it snows in Stockholm it really feels like a traditional winter wonderland. Kosovo is a multi-ethnic country, so it's a bit of a mix of traditions. You can't compare Christmas in Kosovo with Christmas in Sweden. They're worlds apart; both beautiful in their own ways.”
Old Santa meets modern transport methods. Photo: Taxi Stocholm
“Over the holidays I love the Swedish focus on family – spending time with those closest to you is really what the season is about. That, and the fika culture – it's a brilliant way to approach taking some time out to enjoy a treat with those around you.”
When it comes to work, Arapi is equally enthusiastic. “I think being a Taxi Santa in Sweden is the happiest job out there. I love the energy of it – and it's so rewarding working with the kids; they're the high point of what I do. Some of the children are very clever, they ask so many questions, like how old are you, Father Christmas?. I have to tell them, 'So old that I can't remember my age!'”
“You end up meeting lovely people in this line of work. Once I delivered gifts to a guy who I ended up chatting to and getting on well with – I stayed for a quick drink after dropping the presents off and it was like chatting with an old friend. I had lots more gifts to deliver that evening around Stockholm, so I couldn't stick around – the busy life of Santa at Christmas!”
Outside of the Christmas holidays, Arapi pursues work as a (non-costumed) taxi driver, transporting some of the great and the good across Stockholm and beyond. Don't expect him to spill stories of his famous passengers, though – he takes the privacy of his clients very seriously: “I've been driving taxis since 2001 – three years ago I became a VIP driver, which I enjoy hugely – it's the gold standard taxi in Stockholm. Sometimes we even pick up celebrities – but I can't tell you who! Being discreet is a very important part of the job.”
READ ALSO: Sweden cancels Santa World Cup in Lapland
Arapi is keen to stress the value of learning Swedish in helping him to settle in the country he now considers his adopted home.
“When I arrived, I was really keen to assimilate, so I learnt Swedish quickly, through SFI (Swedish for Immigrants). That helped a lot. I really believe that it's so important to learn the language of the country you're living in, so you can get under the skin of the culture. It helps you understand why people are how they are – Swedes are innovators, open to new ideas and pursuing alternative ways of doing things. The fact that it doesn't cost to study here means that people are liberated; able to become who they wish to be.”
“It is a beautiful country – particularly Stockholm; I see it as the capital of Scandinavia. Sweden is truly the perfect country for foreigners, you're free to be whoever you want to be. And the air is so clean and crisp – it's a literal breath of fresh air!”