26 December 2013

Doing december celebrations

our first christmas season in finland meant figuring out how we would celebrate in yet another new country, while trying to figure out how the natives celebrate, so we can maybe integrate some of that next year.

we were only able to keep a rough hold on some past traditions for solstice/christmas, but were able to try out some new things that i think we'd like to keep, and we learned some of the finnish ways as well. so, i suppose we found some balance.

to start the month off, we decided to get an advent calendar of haribo gummy candy from the grocery store. it was a big hit (for X, but not so much for us). we decided to count down to winter solstice. advent calendars are much more popular here than in the US, for various reasons im sure. i thought it was a fun idea, but im not sure i want to do it again next year (or at least in the same way), dinner time became a struggle to get X to eat because she was too excited about the candy.

dave also spear-headed the idea and (most of the) follow through to send out holiday cards. its always nice to get them from others, but i always forget how time consuming they are to execute. hopefully those who got them enjoyed them. not sure they will occur every year.

(two outtakes from the winter card pics)

and, all through the month, X and i made cookies. these had to be gluten-free, so i had a stack of recipe hopefuls, got my solstice gift (an electronic food scale) early to help, and we attempted to see what kind of tastes and fun we could get out of it. for the most part the gluten-free aspect didnt mess the process up, but i found we would just binge eat dough and/or cookies and feel terrible afterward. even X would avoid cookies for a few days, until i would reboot and we'd make a new batch. at least we can modify the recipes next year to be less sweet and only choose a few of them, and maybe have definite plans to give them away soon after. i think we ended up making: roll-out sugar cookies, ginger molasses cookies, and oatmeal cookies. i liked the oatmeal ones the best.

(Xs daycare also had a christmas party with a tree unveiling ceremony)

for the actual day of solstice, we made pancakes, ate lunch at stockmann, and gave our gifts to X after it got dark (4p).

(cool masks for solstice)

for christmas eve and christmas, we gave X her gifts from grandparents and friends (spread across the two days), again, after dark. we also attempted a christmas dinner of ham and whatnot but that did not go well (smoke filled the apartment and the food was a couple hours late).

(this is the grey, wet christmas weather we had. its like halifax wanted to send us an in-person greeting card.; X got princess gear from marmee and pal for christmas and then wanted the princess to marry the prince. she made dave dress up.)

as for finnish christmas traditions, there are plenty. its definitely their favorite cold weather holiday and the one holiday steeped in the most tradition it seems. its very focused on keeping up the magic and fun for the kids too. and from what we saw, basically people seem to make their holiday vacation from christmas eve through january 6 (epiphany).

christmas eve is actually the biggest day. for your immediate family you make a table full of casseroles (basically all kinds of root vegetables: potato casserole, rutabaga casserole, carrot casserole, etc), some ham, and lots of variations on fish dishes. the rutabaga casserole called 'lanttulaatikko ' is made of rutabaga, bread crumbs, cream, syrup, eggs, and spices. you sip warm spiced juice (with or without alcohol) called glögi. all these items are part of the christmas eve dinner, but actually the day is scripted right from the morning. you have breakfast as a family, go out for a walk or something outdoors, come in for a hearty porridge lunch and then the dinner prep begins. once everyone is having dinner, a family member will come in dressed as santa (in the days before santa was the gift-giving character, it was a goat or a pig costume) and hand out the gifts to the children. so for finns, santa actually comes to you in person, there is no overnight magic (and parents also probably like not being woken up extremely early in the dark morning to do gifts).

christmas day is then reserved for the more religious families. you get up and do church if that is your thing, or if not, you spend that day quietly at home with your immediate family again, enjoying leftovers and time with your toys.

boxing day, the day after christmas, is then the day you start venturing out of your house to celebrate with extended family. and still no stores are open and the streets are eeriely quiet. being a family without others to celebrate makes this a pretty boring few days. kindly, our landlords and their parents invited us over for boxing day. it was a nice traditional dinner setting and we talked of interesting things. they enjoyed X and after she warmed up to them, she was very talkative and comfortable. i think we all had a good time.

once stores reopened and life started up again, we bought some christmas lights on sale and hung them up. so, belatedly, our apartment felt more festive. and, we figured out where to get christmas trees so we will do that next year, and that should be nicer.

its interesting, finland is the land of pine trees so i was curious to see their christmas trees. they often sell them in small batches outside large shopping stores, one christmas tree area near us was just along the road near a bus stop. and, these trees are small and rather charlie brown-esque. they arent the enormous 20 foot douglas firs you see in some american homes. these trees are also not treated with any chemicals or sprays to make them look nicer or last longer (those chemicals can also be nasty for humans and pets), thus people typically buy them and decorate them as a family on christmas eve and then they are taken down and thrown away on january 6.

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