In Christmas time now I realise that I miss my family and home. So let me tell you my story about the real traditional Finnish Christmas. And to all of those who don’t know, The Santa Claus is NOT from the North Pole, he IS from Lapland, Finlad.
I had the best Christmases when I was a kid. The perfect ones. I’ll tell you now how our family Christmas flowed perfectly planned but unplanned in harmony and peace, or at least how I remember it. The pictures are not from my Christmas as all the pics are at mom’s in Finland in paper version.
“Twas the night before Christmas…” and my family traveled to my grandparents house in the countryside. The snow was covering everything and hanging heavy on every tree branch. The house was a pittoresque red, wooden house my grandfather had built with his own hands. They had lived there happily all their life. The smell of food which hit us when we entered the house was amazing. My grandma was the best cook in the world! There was no such day that a visitor would come to the house without food being ready on the table and them being fed.
Grandma had already decorated the lovely house with all Christmas stuff and candles. Grandpa had went to the woods fetched the real Christmas tree from someone’s “backyard” and now we kids would decorate it with such enthusiasm. We covered it with sparkling balls and stars and hand-made ornaments. We finished the tree with gold and silver ribbons and real wax candles.
On Christmas Eve when we woke up, we would go downstairs and the day would start. Grandma had already made our favorite “linnunsilmävelli” (translated: “bird’s eye porridge”). She put a nob of butter and some sugar on it, yum. Then we would go and watch the cartoons and “Joulupukin kuumalinja” (Santa’s hotline) on tv. We couldn’t miss the Snowman on Christmas Eve ever as it’s the best Christmas cartoon ever made with beautiful music.
Then we would normally have Christmas lunch. The whole day was built around food, so that is the whole thing about Christmas. And presents. For lunch we had the traditional rice porridge with cinnamon powder and sugar on top. The adults would have this disgusting “lipeäkala” (lye fish or lutefisk). It was some slippery and smelly fish they wanted on Christmas. The smell would cover the slow-roasting ham smell coming from the oven.
After lunch we just hung out or if we were naughty, we would sneak upstairs into the attic and look for our presents :D. They were usually there and we were so excited to see them, which packet was for whom, but we were so scared the adults would find us so we normally just would take a sneak peek of the amount of the presents. We also had afternoon tea time every time we visited grandma. We would drink milk tea and eat all her delicious fresh bakes; bread rolls, cinnamon buns, cakes, tarts, cookies etc. I loved those tea times!!!
When the day was turning into evening, we would all put our winter gear on and go to the cemetery with “potkukelkka” (kicksled). Boy, it would just fly on the half icy half snowy ground! But the best thing was to sit on it while someone did the hard work. The cemetery was like a couple of kilometers away so it was a good group excercise before the huge Christmas dinner.
The reason we would all go to the cemetery was tradition basically. During Christmas time people go to light candles on their loved-ones tomb stones and pay their respects and reminisce the dead. And our relatives were buried in that cemetery so we would visit their graves. The graveyard looked so beautiful with all the candles.
When we returned home from the cemetery, we would go to Christmas sauna. Which was basically just finnish sauna. But our sauna was the traditional wood-burn sauna in the other building, detached from the main house. It had so much character! We carried the water from the dwell which was situated in the yard. And the yard was decorated with lit ice lanterns we had made earlier by filling plastic buckets and freezing it outdoors. In the sauna we would throw so much water on the sauna stove to get really burning hot, then run outside and roll on the powder snow.
Next up: the Christmas Dinner! That was and still is the highlight of the Christmas Eve. I don’t know how they did it, my grandma must have been cooking for weeks and also my mom and aunt. I don’t think their Christmas was relaxing at all ;D. But they cooked so much that we had everything on the table and more. Fish, ham, cassaroles, salads, more fish, cakes, breads, tarts, cookies etc.. I can still smell that roasted ham which had been in the oven for the last 20 hours. And the fish, cold-smoked, tartar, herring, smoked fish you name it. We had it.
Even though food is the most important part of Christmas these days, back then it was the presents. After stuffing ourselves completely, we gathered in the living room with the lit candles balancing on the Christmas tree and other glimmering lights, excited waiting for Santa to come. Well, we were old enough, so they would just secretly fetch the presents from the not-so-secret location and we would start reading the names on the packets and hand out each one by one. Sometimes we had placed the presents earlier under the Christmas tree waiting to be handed out. There were so many presents! And they weren’t like iPhones and s***, they were utilities and some little things wrapped in cute paper and ribbon. They could be the woollen socks grandma had knitted with her own hands. Or a box of chocolates. Or the one toy I had wished for the past year.
After opening all the presents and the joy followed by that, we would chat and eat more chocolate and drink steaming glögi and sit in the cozy living room. Later on we would have our evening tea time before going to bed and sleeping in the peaceful house, where not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Merry Christmas to all my loved-ones, I miss you ❤