We got off of the ferry the evening of December 22nd and how time flew toward Christmas Eve, the biggest day of Christmas time in Finland.
We had stayed in Pasi’s parents’ apartment before, five years ago. But Hunter hadn’t. His bed was the sofa bed in the living room. Understandably, he was a little nervous to sleep in that strange, open space—especially feeling as displaced as he had been in the last few weeks since we left
Cutting the Tree
The morning of December 23rd was easy. Pasi had stocked the refrigerator with delicious options for breakfast and had given us permission to take our time. When we were ready, we followed them to "the summer cabin" (the curtain photo is from the entryway of the cabin) to cut down a Christmas tree. (I borrowed a warmer coat from Monica.) This was, of course, a welcome ritual, since we usually choose a tree at home on our friends' farm or with Forest Service permit. It was a great way to get some fresh air and let Hunter run around awhile.
Soon after the tree was set in its stand, we were off to shop at a large mall, flowing with people, decorated for the holidays, and full of interesting things to consider buying. We separated into two groups: boys and girls. Supposedly, we all knew what we were supposed to be looking for and for whom. This proved to be an highly unsuccessful venture because we were having to spend Euros, each Euro worth more than two American dollars. We did get a few things as well as learn where stores and items were. We thoroughly exhausted ourselves before it was finished. Hunter enjoyed finding children's play areas in two places and required some time at each at least once. We rested our weary feet while he played.
Playing was of the highest importance for Hunter. Pasi and Monica had received toys on loan from friends and neighbors for our stay and Hunter was pleased with the toys, as well as his favorite playmate, Pasi, who was also trying to help in the kitchen, keep up on Phil's technological needs and many other things.
Decorations and Cookies
Monica, barely on holiday from work as a teacher at the end of a semester, had quickly flown into the work of food preparation and home decorating. Phil and Pasi decorated the tree while Monica prepared both Swedish and Finnish delicacies for our meals. She even had time to teach Hunter how to make gingerbread cookies. He got an early Christmas present, then, a cookie cutter train engine. I felt utterly useless and only drove Phil and Pasi crazy urging them to space the decorations out a bit more , meanwhile snapping photos. I did put the camera down to cut a few cookies and help with the dishes, which eases my conscience as I write this.
We were all weary from holiday-making. Hunter had figured out that the big gift-opening day would be the next day, but seemed fine with the wait as long as he was kept busy making cookies, playing with Brio trains and, when we were all thoroughly tired, watching movies. Pasi is an avid Donald Duck comic book and movie collector, so he introduced Hunter to Donald Duck. It was amusing to hear Hunter laugh so hard. But I have to say that Hunter has been ruined forever. He now wants to watch Donald Duck every day.
It was extremely late when we went home to our cozy apartment. We slept well (because Hunter has not yet begun to anticipate opening presents to the point of waking too early).
Declaration of Peace
Christmas Eve was to be a new adventure for us in most every way. After breakfast and some quick gift-wrapping, we hopped in Pasi and Monica's car and headed for downtown Turku, joining throngs of people, from every direction in Turku, to converge on the town square. The cathedral was on our left, the state house in front of us, and we waited for the mayor to appear on the balcony of the state house. We heard him read from the Declaration of Peace "in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord" (in Swedish and Finnish) from an age-old scroll, the disturbance of which was worth more than the usual punishments. When he was finished, the whole throng of people sang "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" in Swedish and Finnish. Chills went up and down my spine (and not just because it was cold out there, either). While Pasi and Monica don't usually do more than watch this event live on television, we were grateful to have fully participated in the event. It was sobering, reassuring and thought provoking. For more information on this declaration of peace and the transcript, see http://www.turku.fi/Public/default.aspx?contentid=43603&nodeid=9279
Like any major event, a parade, a popular playoff, fireworks, there was quite a blockage in traffic for awhile. Monica, who was driving, felt this blockage intensely because we were to be at her parents home, where we would have the traditional rice porridge with fruit sauce for lunch. She knew her parents were waiting.
Rice Porridge and the Lucky Mandel
When my daughters were little, Pasi gave them a book about Christmas in the Finnish Lappland called, "Santa Claus." It was in that book that I learned about the tradition of eating porridge and finding out who would be the "lucky one" to find an almond (mandel) in their bowl. Now we had a chance to experience the fun, ourselves! I was glad Phil could eat quickly so that I could watch him finish a bowl and eat another just in case he got the lucky mandel. Hunter, I'm sad to say, was not terribly charmed with rice porridge, so he ate very little that meal. It was difficult to figure out if he would get the lucky mandel. One by one, people finished their bowls of porridge and found no lucky mandel. I ate slowly, enjoying watching and trying two different fruit sauces on my porridge. It seems I was the last to finish and finally to discover my last bite to contain a sneaky mandel! What fun! and what a complete surprise. In that slow cooked, creamy, almost pasty porridge, there was no way even to see the mandel before I bit into it.
Monica and her parents exchanged gifts. We took more photos and enjoyed each other awhile longer, grateful for a light lunch before moving on to the FEAST we would have in a few hours. The river, Aurajoki, flowed below Monica's parents' apartment so that we had good views of the sail ships, fishing boats and the buildings along the shore. It was a little sad that it was only a grey, misty day and not a brilliant snowy one, as is considered normal at Christmas time.
Monica drove us back to our apartment where our car was already loaded with gifts and ready to go. But we decided to take a little break (giving Pasi and Monica a much needed break, too), maybe take a nap, before we headed over for the big festivities. We also made a quick stop at the walking street to buy one of the things on our list that we'd been unable to find. (The photo of Phil on the stairway has nothing to do with anything except catching him making a fancy setup for a photo before dinner.)
Christmas Eve Dinner
Festivities, they definitely were! The table was set with a huge platter of salted salmon, three kinds of pickled herring, some sardines, anchovies, sour cream, caviar, a tossed salad and toast. Hardly used to so many fishy options, we hardly knew what to do! Pasi was already salivating for the feast his palette was conditioned to enjoy. We made sure to tuck in quickly after Pasi read to us from the Christmas story in Luke. He read it from the Bible my parents had given him when he lived with us in The States. Around the house, there were yummy munchies set up in beautiful displays. It was the beginning of putting on weight during our time away from home, even though most of the Swedish and Finnish foods are extremely healthy.
After dinner, Hunter finally asked, " Now is it time to open presents?" To his delight, our answer was a definite, yes! Pasi had told us, before we arrived, that if we wore Christmas hats, he'd throw us outside. We managed to forget our hats. But they provided hats for us, anyway! Hunter loved helping Pasi hand out the gifts as much as he loved opening his own gifts. Pasi and Monica were so generous in their giving to us that we felt deeply offset! We made it up to them, though. I hope.
Of course, the most fun for the young at heart is setting up the toys one gets for Christmas! Monica and I enjoyed looking through some new Antik magazines while Pasi worked in the kitchen. It would be another late night, but our hearts were as full as our stomachs!