While it seems that the clock is just ticking away, yet another holiday is approaching us, and man, we Finnish people don't fool around that holiday. The decorating, presents and most of all food is taking over our lives for at least a month ahead of time. I have to admit that I am not going to quite the whole distance with any of it this year, we are trying to keep it more about family and spending time together. But there are some things that you just have to have, or it is not Christmas. Well, snow isn't high on my list anymore after moving to Texas and the presents are really on the lowest of our priorities this year, though I feel a bit quilt about it, but the upcoming lay off will make me hopefully think it was better this way.
Most of the Christmas foods are fairly inexpensive but take a long time to prepare and since I don't live in Finland anymore, I can't get them ready made from the stores. The must-haves are ham, beet root salad called Rosolli, carrot casserole, rutabaga casserole and sweetened potato casserole (which this year we are switching to mashed potatoes, waaaaay easier, and for my American family a little more familiar tastewise ;o) ). Gingerbread cookies and Glogg (kind of spiced glow wine) are appetizers, and prune cream is the dessert. This is very simplified list of the must-haves, on top of all this most families have other meats, fish served several different ways, all kinds of side dishes, ton of cookies and cakes, coffee, wine, cheeses, fish roe and cold cuts, mountains of candy and sweets.
The traditional Christmas in Finland is celebrated on Christmas Eve, and since that is when Santa leaves to deliver all the presents for the nice kids (lucky for Finns Santa Claus lives in Finland) they are the first ones to get their presents. The Christmas has started usually already few weeks ahead of time with frantic baking and decorating. The night before Christmas Eve is when the ham is baked in the oven, this generally takes hours and hours, depending on a size of a ham, quite often the typical size is around 40 pounds. On the morning of the Christmas Eve the typical breakfast is rice pudding with some fruit compote. Typically people go to the grave yards to light candles on the graves of their loved ones, some people go to the church at 5 am to sing Christmas carols. The traditions vary, and it depends also which part of Finland you live. But everyone agrees on one thing: when the clock hits 12 o'clock at noon, the work seizes and from then on it is Christmas peace for all.
The Finnish Christmas is filled with traditions, starting from the foods. Every family has their favorite foods, but they are always add on for the ham and casseroles. The foods are what used to be available in the dead of winter hundred or two hundred years ago, the root vegetables in a cellar and then the fattened pig got butchered just for the holidays.
Finns tend to love all the traditions, and also decorating follows the old style. The typical decorations are made out of straw, pine cones painted with silver or gold paints, candles and what ever the kids were able to come up with, like snow flakes cut out of paper. The colorful and loud decorating is still today frowned by many. But the times are changing and today the candles are changing into electric lights, though many still insist on lighting up real candles even in a tree.
I miss my family especially around the holidays and I try to hold onto the traditions for the sake of feeling closer to what used to be my normal, and that was close to my family. My mother in law and my sister in law's family has made it feel like I am where I belong, and I miss my family less because of that. But holidays are always bitter sweet, since we have the same tradition Americans do, we are supposed to spend it with our families. I have been lucky in last 10 years that I have lived here, I got to spend two of the Christmases with my youngest brother who visited me twice, and there is no better Christmas present than that.
Now that Finns celebrate the Christmas on the Eve and American on a Christmas Day, and since I still want the Finnish Christmas foods, we have started a new tradition, two days of Christmas! I make the Finnish foods and everyone comes over on Christmas Eve, and then on the Christmas Day we mooch on somebody else's house. :D I love it, suits me, since the Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and this way I get twice the fun!
This year feels different, not just because we aren't buying the presents, but because we know it might be the last Christmas for a long time that we are spending all together. I am bit upset and sad about that, but I guess we will just have to make it to Texas for the holidays.