A white Christmas in Finland can be unforgettably beautiful. Every house and apartment is decorated with lights hanging in the windows. For a few short hours, the orange sunlight glitters off snow-covered fields, and filters through trees so thick with frost that they appear to be candy-coated. Finland is also allegedly home to Santa Claus and his elves, though why he would have moved there from the North Pole is still a mystery. Let’s just say it’s unlikely to have been for tax reasons.
Location: Somewhere near Isokyrö
Christmas is a very special time of year in Finland, and just like in nearly all Christian countries (and some Buddhist ones), the holiday is enthusiastically celebrated. A white Christmas in Finland can be unforgettably beautiful. The days are short, and the further north one goes, the shorter they are; and the more brutal the climate gets. It’s a time of celebration, giving, family unity and light in the darkness. And songs about little birds freezing to death.
Every house and apartment displays advent candles (real or electric) on the dining room window sill and star shaped paper lights hang in the windows. For a few short hours, the orange sunlight glitters off snow-covered fields and filters through trees so thick with frost that they appear to be candy-coated.
Finland is also allegedly home to Santa Claus and his elves, though why he would have moved there from the North Pole is still a mystery. Perhaps the move was forced, due to global warming and the melting of the Arctic ice? Let's just say it’s unlikely to have been for tax reasons.
The country actually has no tradition of Santa Claus. Sorry to shatter your illusions. In Finland, the duties of Santa Claus are have always been performed by a kind of gnome- like forest sprite, called the Joulutonttu, or Jultomten by Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority. But that is a fairy-tale for another Christmas.
The point is, no matter whether the gifts are handed out by a bearded American who used to live at the North Pole, or whether by a team of specialised Christmas trolls (who often turn up drunk), Christmas is important to the Finns.
Christmas decorations in Finland tend to be simpler and somewhat understated when compared to the decorations of North America, Great Britain or Australia. They are often made from natural materials and tend to combine only three colours, red, white and green. And of course Finnish families gather around the Christmas table, as it groans under the weight of Finland’s own traditional Christmas foods.
The team at Kyrö take a few days off to be with their families, and a few of them have shared a little bit of their Christmas with your faithful Rye Correspondent.
Martta may be known for her rather unsuccessful summer holidays, and it may be because of that, that she loves Christmas. And she loves everything about Christmas, she says; except one. We were lucky enough to catch her decorating traditional Christmas gingerbread, “pipparkaku”. Christmas-proper for Martta starts at midday on December 24 th .
“There is a tradition that Christmas peace is announced at the old capital of Finland, Turku.”
“I always watch it on the TV,” Martta says, “and celebrate the beginning of Christmas time with sparkling wine.”
That tradition dates back to the 13 th century. At noon on Christmas Eve, peace is declared; and the announcement has been broadcast on Finnish television almost every year since 1935. The one exception was 1939, while Finnish troops were away in the snowy wilderness of Karelia, fighting the invading Russians in the Winter War.
“When I was a child I always wanted to have snow at Christmas,” Martta says.
– My favourite Christmas food: Swede casserole. Typically for Christmas Eve dinner people eat first fish and baked potatoes and after that vegetable casseroles and ham. But I am rebel and go straight ahead to Swede casserole and cold smoked salmon.
– My favourite thing about Christmas: I think I’m supposed to answer family and friends but actually I love presents (giving and receiving) even more.
– My most enduring Christmas memory: My parents tend to leave things to the last second. One year we were still missing a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. We went to find a Christmas tree salesman but they had already closed because it was so late. Luckily we noticed a trash container where there were unsold Christmas trees dumped. So we took one of those. It was a horrible tree!
Sanna is Kyrö’s marketing genius, and lived and worked outside of Finland for many years before returning to the brutally short summers and long winters of her home.
“I am decidedly a lousy Finn when it comes to Christmas food,” Sanna says, “as I do not like any of the ‘laatikko’ that go with the traditional Christmas meal.” (Laatikko is the Finnish word for casserole – but can also mean a box). “I make an exception with potato laatikko, if it is made by either my mum or grandmother. The rest I do not touch and my absolute least favourite is swede. That stuff is just wrong – and I even think there may be a childhood trauma associated with the flavour.”
Sounds like Sanna and Martta would be perfect Christmas dining companions! There’d certainly be no fighting over the swede casserole!
– My favourite thing about Christmas: tradition and doing things following a familiar ‘formula’ year after year. Especially when I still lived abroad, it felt fantastic to fly home just before Christmas and know – to the minute – exactly how the next few days were going to be spent.
– My least favourite thing about Christmas: the super depressing traditional Finnish Christmas music. We used to argue about this with my dad every year when I was younger. I would sneak CDs into the family hi-fi that were (as my dad put it) ‘silly American rubbish’ when all he wanted to listen to was things like ‘Varpunen Jouluaamuna’ – which is basically about a poor little bird freezing to death. For me, it’s jingle bells, all the way!”
And of course Christmas is a time to enjoy a few beverages with family and friends. The weather in Finland around Christmas, although sometimes beautiful, is almost always lousy. Which makes Koskue, Kyrö’s barrel aged gin, an obvious choice. But why not add a bit of Christmas spice? A Koskue old-fashioned puts a fresh touch on a sophisticated and simple classic mixed drink.
Hot Kyrö Gin&Juice
4 cl barrel aged gin
8 cl cloudy apple juice
slice of apple
Heat the apple juice (you can add various Christmas spices, if you want! Like vanilla, carnation, star anise, cinnamon), pour into glasses and add barrel aged gin. Garnish with cinnamon stick and apple slice (or dip the slice into cinnamon powder!)
So, whatever you may be doing for Christmas, from everyone in the Kyrö family, Hyvää Joulua ja onnellista uutta vuotta! See you in 2019!