| Dec 27, 2007

Christmas Edition - December 20, 2007

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Christmas Edition - December 20, 2007 Have yourself a Finnish Christmas by Jeff GreenWith the advent of winter weather in early December this year, and a good dumping of snow this week for good measure, the last thing anyone has had to worry about is whether there will be a white Christmas.

It is easy this year to conjure up collective memories of pioneer Christmases, with families huddling together around the fire as the wind howls a winter storm.

We have had a tradition in the Christmas edition of the News to look at Christmas traditions from around the world, and this year it seemed fitting to concentrate on the north.

The Nordic countries, particularly Finland, are the source of many of the Christmas traditions that are popular throughout the world today, from Santa Claus, Christmas elves, the yule log (and its relative – the Christmas tree), even the Christmas ham.

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In Finland, the Christmas season includes Saint Lucia Day on the 13th of December. St. Lucia was a Sicilian martyr from the 4th century. One story associated with her is that she fashioned a wreath with candles for her head so she could have her hands free to deliver provisions to other Christians hiding in the catacombs. Lucia was tortured to death by the Roman Emperor Diocletian after refusing to marry an unbeliever. (At left, St. Lucia, Carl Larsson,1908)

Lucia is represented by a young girl, dressed in white, with a red sash. In earlier times, the girl would wear a headdress with lit candles or carry a candle (the candles have been replaced with battery powered lights in the modern era, leading to less burning hair than in the past) as she delivered coffee and saffron-flavoured cakes through the household or village. Star boys, who wear cone shaped hats, accompany her.

Saint Lucia contests, which are similar to beauty contests, take place in some Swedish towns, and the winner represents St. Lucia throughout the town on St. Lucia Day, leading a procession to such public buildings as hospitals and seniors homes to deliver treats.

The Finnish equivalent of Father Christmas or Santa Claus is the “pukki”. In earlier times Joulupukki was a rather frightening figure, who wore a thick fur-lined coat inside-out, a mask and a pair of horns on his head. Joulupukki literally means “Christmas buck”

Nowadays, a relaxed and jolly “pukki” delivers presents to Finnish homes on Christmas Eve, and is often serenaded by children who sing Christmas carols for him. Finns scoff at the idea that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, believing instead that he lives in the northern Finnish village of Korvatunturi (in Lapland on the Finnish-Russian border) with his wife Mother Christmas and the elves.

Christmas elves have a connection to another Finnish tradition. Finnish legend had it that barn elves protected the animals from attack throughout the year, but they were prone to become mischievous around Christmas time. The only way to prevent this was to serve rice porridge or pudding to the barn elves on Christmas. Rice porridge is one of the traditional Nordic Christmas dishes (click link Christmas Rice Porridge).

The yule log pre-dated Christianity. It was a large log that was burned in fireplaces as part of solstice celebrations. In some cases, the yule log was actually an entire tree that would jut out into the room from the hearth as it was burning. As it burned, more of the tree was pushed into the fire until it was entirely burned up.

Finns have their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, but first everyone goes to the sauna. A Christmas ham is a tradition, and also Lutefisk, a special fish dish prepared with lye. Lutefisk is eaten especially on Christmas Day as a light, alkaline dish to counterbalance the heavy, fatty and acidic food served at the main dinner on Christmas Eve.

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