Christmas in Finland
Bing Crosby sings “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas . . . Just like the ones I used to know.” I love that I can say, “yes” I’ve had a white Christmas of my own. Have you ever had one?
I was fortunate to have my one and only White Christmas in 1983 when I was 13 years old. My mom took my sister Andrea & I to Finland to be with our Finnish family for the holiday. It was truly amazing even despite the fact that I literally thought I was going to die from the cold! What is a So Cal girl doing in the Arctic Circle??? Minus 40 degrees is unimaginable to anyone who lives here & that experience was when I decided that Hell is NOT hot- it is VERY COLD! The pain I felt physically has been unmatched in the 29 years since. To top it off it is dark there all day – the sun just touches the horizon for a brief moment then it goes back down. Twelve noon in Finland seems more like the moments just before sunrise in So Cal. But it was the most gorgeous Christmas experience I have ever had . . .
Here are some of my special White Christmas memories:
• Santa’s Visit – Santa Claus or “Joulupukki” as he’s known in Finland, visits every home on Christmas Eve. Families have a wonderful time feeding him traditional Finnish treats & telling him what their wishes are. Here, we have to go to the mall to visit Santa but there, he comes to you twice! Once to visit then again to load up the tree with gifts.
• The Candy Stand – My cousin Kimi took my sister and I on a walk in the snow & darkness to buy candy & look at the fireworks for sale. We threw snowballs at each other on the walk, slipped on the ice covering the ground & laughed hysterically the whole time despite the language barrier. Kimi thought it would be funny to get his American cousins salmiakki or salt licorice. It comes in various strengths & we had grown up on the mild version of this black licorice – no problem, right? Boy, were my sister & I surprised when he gave us the strong recipe. Andrea & I were jumping around, drooling, screaming & in our faces total pain from popping a piece of the candy in our mouths! We chased Kimi all the way back to the house while he laughed at us.
• OPEN WINDOWS IN -40º ! – Finns love fresh air. They are very health conscious & enjoy the outdoors all year round for the freshness of nature. My grandma (Mummu) would open all the windows in her home to let in the fresh air each day. I must admit it was incredibly refreshing even though it was so dang cold! Ever since I’ve had my own home, I find that I do the very same thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s cold & raining, I open the windows & enjoy the amazing crisp air flowing thru my house. It must be in my genes…
• My Uncle Pepe & Aunt Arja watching over us as we played outside – I could only stand the cold for a few minutes but my sister was out there for hours. Pepe & Arja made sure she had her fill of the snow- showing her how to sled, make snow angels & tossing snowballs. Pepe even played with us on the frozen lake at the family’s summer cottage (mökki)! We tried ice-skating, ice fishing & riding a bike on the ice- it was truly amazing. The mökki only has an outhouse, no indoor bathroom so you can imagine sitting down on a frozen seat to do your business. Pepe & Arja even helped us navigate the outhouse! They are the most fun & loving aunt & uncle a kid could ask for!
I will always be grateful for my White Christmas with my Finnish family. My cousins Susu & Samu were very young so we didn’t get to really play with them much but is was wonderful to be with them. My Uncle Pekka also came over for Christmas & I must tell you how amazing he is. He is mentally handicapped but is fully independent. He lives on his own, has his dream job as a chef, has mastered the public transportation systems & is engaged to be married! So inspiring…
My White Christmas was much more than just an extremely cold & snowy holiday far from home. I learned about the importance of family. No matter the physical distance, cultural differences & language barriers- FAMILY IS HOME. I love my Finnish family, I miss them terribly & love them with all of my heart. They are the most amazing, wonderful, comforting, welcoming & loving people I have ever known. I only wish I could travel to see them more. My heritage is something I am proud of & I want my Finnish family to know how much I love them. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful group of people to share my bloodline with.
To my Finnish family- Mummu, Pepe, Arja, Paula, Olska, Pekka, Kimi, Camilla, Emma, Susu, Safir, Aisha, Aaliya, Amira, Samu, Maiju, Luka, Cassu- Rakastan sinua enemmän kuin voin sanoa. Ajattelen sinua usein ja kaipaan sinua niin paljon. Vyyhti teitä siitä, että perheeni!
(My mom said that the last sentence is crazy [hullu]!! – it’s supposed to mean “I love you more than I can say. I think of you often and miss you so much. I’m thankful for my family!)
Merry Christmas or Hyvää Joulua!