My family lives on a farm called Härjebacka, which is near Jakobstad, Finland. Translated to English, Härjebacka means Hare Hill. As you may have guessed, we have hundreds of rabbits! The rabbits are always getting into our gardens and crops! My father says they’re a big nuisance, but I love to watch the rabbits scoot around our yard and have named many of them. We have dairy cows, chickens, and hogs on our farm; we grow many vegetables, but potatoes and rutabagas are the biggest crops.
My father was born in a Swedish speaking city on the southwest coast of Finland; my mother was born in a Finnish speaking area in the north, which is called Lapland. Lapland is where the reindeer herds live. My Uncle Toivo owns a large reindeer herd in Lapland.
Although my parents are bilingual, when my brother and I were very young, we spoke mostly Finnish in our home. When my parents didn’t want us to know what they were saying, they would speak to each other in Swedish. I could understand Swedish better than they realized; it was such fun to pretend I didn’t know what they were saying to each other—especially at Christmas! When I started school, I learned to speak Swedish very well because Jakobstad is in a Finnish and Swedish speaking area. I also learned to speak and write English in school; in Finland, English is also taught in early grades.
Christmas is a very busy time for Finnish families. For two weeks before Christmas, I help my mother scrub and tidy the house for our Christmas celebration—everything must be spic and span. Then we bake oodles of cookies and special breads. My favorite is limpa; which is a sweet, brown bread with syrup in it.
Finnish families take saunas together. A sauna is a cleansing, steam bath and is unique to Finland, although Finnish emigrants brought this custom to other parts of the world. Many Finnish families take a sauna on Christmas Eve, but our family has its Christmas sauna on December 23rd in the evening.
In the afternoon on Christmas Eve, we attend church for Christmas prayer. Daylight is very short in Finland during the winter, so after the church service, it’s already getting dark outside; we bring memorial candles to the cemetery to place on graves. It’s such a beautiful sight—thousands of candles reflecting off the snow! It’s also a very solemn time as we remember our deceased loved ones and ponder eternal things.
Grandma and Grandpa have Christmas dinner with us. Our dinner is ham, lutefisk, and many other wonderful dishes. For dessert, we have plum cake—my favorite!
My brother and I go into the woods with father to chop down a Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve we decorate our tree with cookies, candies, gilded walnuts, flags, and candles. We get lots of snow, and it can be very cold in Finland; to warm ourselves, we drink warm juice with ginger.
Later, on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus (Joulupukki) arrives with all our gifts; we open them on Christmas Eve. Santa arrives on a sleigh pulled by reindeer—perhaps some of my uncle’s reindeer! When my grandparents were young, Santa wore a long, gray dress, but now he wears red clothes. Just before midnight on Christmas Eve, we attend a Christmas concert at our church.
On Christmas morning, parents will go to a church service, but children often stay home during this time; it is a time of reflection for adults.
Christmas in Finland is filled with lots of family time when we share laughter, stories, and listen to Christmas music and hymns.
I have many relatives in the United States. During the late 1800s, many of my ancestors emigrated to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Minnesota, where the climate and terrain is very similar to Finland.
I’m twelve years old now, but when I’m a few years older, I hope to participate in a foreign exchange program and spend a year in the United States as my cousin, Tarja, did last year.
“Hyvää Joulua!” (Merry Christmas!)
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