Why was I so nervous
about Christmas? Could being away from my family for the first time
and participating in my first Finnish festivities arouse such turbulent
butterflies within my stomach. Perhaps it was the insanity of celebrating
a day early on Christmas Eve, my brain was at a loss and my common sense
Päivi, my fiancée, had briefed me on all the key points
of a traditional Christmas day in her homeland and I had even spent
two solid weeks learning essential festive vocab; my head was beginning
to hurt with too much information. I just wanted it all to begin and
like a child it took forever to fall asleep.
Silently it had filtered into our room as we slept, moving closer and
closer until it was gently tickling our noses and it smelled delicious.
Never before have I awoken to a ham cooking but what a start to the
day. As we emerged there was an offering of riisipuuro, a rice pudding
containing mixed fruits, cinnamon and one lucky almond; I declined in
favour of a simple coffee. As the clock approached midday I was ushered
into the lounge where the family were watching the television. On the
screen was a broadcast from Finlands former capital, Turku, where
the Chief Executive, Paavo Heinonen, read out the Proclamation of Christmas
Peace, which was followed by one minute of silence and finally the singing
of the National Anthem in both Finnish and Swedish. I was amazed at
the substantial crowd who had turned out to listen and participate in
the proceedings despite the minus temperatures.
Immediately the day stepped up a gear as the announcement came that
the arrival of the 8ft real fir was imminent. The tree, which had been
masterfully picked out and cut down by Paivi's father, was now ready
for decoration. I have struggled in the past to decorate an artificial
tree, but when you are being spiked, have very few decorations and have
an aesthetically obsessed fiancée by your side it becomes slightly
harder. Despite all this it looked the business and only encouraged
the family cat to attack low-bearing baubles.
Once the sun had hung his hat up it was time for a solemn part of the
Finnish Christmas as we headed to the local cemetery. It is tradition
for family members to remember the dead and to place a candle upon the
grave of their deceased. My senses were overwhelmed at the simple beauty
that hundreds of flickering flames in a dark, snow-covered graveyard
Out of the freeze and into the steam was next on our agenda and who
was I to argue? Obligingly I grabbed the vihta, a small collection of
birch branches, and liberally beat myself about the body with it, as
the saying goes: When in Rome. Hot, beaten, refreshed and
holding a chilled alcoholic beverage I felt there was something still
not complete with this Finnish Christmas. It was one of those feelings
that you just cannot put your finger on until the doorbell rings. Stood
outside, by a sleigh straining with presents, was Joulupukki, the original
Santa, all the way from Lapland. He was genuinely stood in front of
me, dressed in the correct garb and handing over a sack load of gifts;
my inner child burst out and I felt eight years old again.
Buzzing with excitement I sat down to a veritable feast, my future mother-in-
law had lived up to expectations and delivered a superb Christmas dinner.
Potato, swede, carrot and liver casseroles were on offer, mushroom salad,
eight kilos of ham and a host of Finnish delicacies had been squeezed
onto the table to quash my hunger that had been developing all day.
Finally it was time to open those presents that had been driving me
crazy and, in an act of madness, I was handed the responsibility of
distributing them. My composure remained cool and calm throughout, despite
some criticism from Paivi's Grandma for giving her too many and struggling
with some of the complex words scrawled upon the tags.
With wrapping paper torn off, food moving to my waistline and a glass
of mulled wine in my grasp I tried to uncover why I had been so nervous
over the past few days. Eventually my reasoning led me to the conclusion
that I was just a big kid unconsciously worrying that Father Christmas
would pass me by, again.
© Asa Butcher