02 February 2013

Christmas in February

I know I said I wouldn't take a month to blog about Christmas but we haven't had a computer for about 3 and a half weeks so it's not my fault.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'll tell you all about Finnish Christmas. In case you were missing the feeling of it, come here to reminisce.

The Christmas season in Finland starts in October, and I swear I've seen some Christmas themed ads even in late September. I think that's a really fun contrast in comparison with the US, where we don't get anything Christmas-y until after Thanksgiving (about a month and a half after when everything starts in Finland). I bet those commercials really amp the little kids up for the Holidays. When it starts to snow and the ground is eventually covered, everything feels more Christmas-y and stores and homes get really into the spirit of it too.

The days before Christmas break starts schools celebrate the holiday with their students. Two days before there was an assembly for everyone and we sang some Finnish Christmas carols. FUN STORY! There's a song called "Maa on niin kaunis", which means "Earth is so beautiful", but when I was singing it I kept saying, "Mä oon niin kaunis" (vowel inflections are really hard to get right in Finnish okay?!) and so for the whole song I kept saying, "I am so beautiful." So maybe I came across as "The Arrogant American Exchange Student" but oh well. Oops. We all make mistakes. My host mother loves to remind me haha... :P The next day was Joulukirkko (Christmas Church) in the large Lutheran church here with the kids from the sports high school, Klassika. I liked having the combination of our two schools, because the three other exchange students in Kuopio go to that school. I saw just one of them, singing in the choir (it was a crowded church, okay?), but it was still really nice to be combined. Once the church had filled (and it filled fast) the Christmas service began and I listened to the sermon in Finnish and thought it sounded beautiful. I didn't understand too much though. I sat next to my friend Laura and she translated a bit. Then the choir performed and that was gorgeous too. My cool music teacher directed it. All in all, the church service was 45 minutes long and it went by pretty quickly. At the start I was kind of nervous to participate, because I'm not really religious (and the thought of school semi-forcing you to go to church (if you didn't you could stay at school and study) was a little crazy in my mind), but I got over myself and really enjoyed it. I was surprised when it ended. Laura told me that the Russian Orthodox church has services 4 hours long and I suppose I was kind of expecting something more along those lines.

The altar in the Lutheran church. The choirs from Kuopion Lyseon Lukio and Kuopion Klassinen Lukio sat in the front part and performed after I took this photo. 

After the joulukirkko everyone walked back to Lyseo (it's in the center of town and easy to walk everywhere) and we went to our ryhmä. Ryhmä, in the easiest way to explain, is like a homeroom in US schools and it's a place where a teacher (mine is one of the English teachers) explains school news. One of the other exchange students, Kiara from Germany, is in my ryhmä, and so we sit together in the back corner of the classroom and giggle and have things partially translated for us. It's fun. That day the teacher talked a little bit about school and then finished it by wishing us, "Hyvää joulua!" and sent us on our way. I met Laura in the hallway in the line for rice porridge, and we decided to go to Sokos and buy presents and then go to a coffee house to get glögi instead. We ran into our friends and a few hugs and well wishes were exchanged and we went on our way. 

Christmas break started and it was wonderful. My host brother Eemeli was home from Scotland (he's on a college exchange there) and so the house was a little bit more full. The weekend after break started my host mom and I made some braided pulla together and I wondered how it was humanly possible to braid dough so fast. 

I did the one that doesn't quite connect together and my host mom did the one that is perfect. It's hard. The thing about being a Finnish kid is that you know your äiti always makes the best pulla. And my äiti always makes the best pulla.

It was a blast. You can see how we braid the pulla.

Before being baked.

After! They're being cooled.

We decorated the house and tried to get it into the Christmas spirit. We have a chalkboard in the start of the kitchen area, and so me (feeling so terribly artistic), drew a nice Christmas picture.

I was really proud of Santa and his sleigh, even though his weight is not accurate.

On the 24th we woke up and had Christmas breakfast. In Finland, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th and the 25th is just a day of relaxation. My host mom had baked a bunch of joulutorttu (okay if you're debating going on exchange to Finland then this is the thing that convinces you to come here) and made rice pudding (another thing that convinces you to come here) and so when we all woke up at around 10 or so we ate together. My host sister, Anni, was in town for this too. She was a good addition. When eating rice porridge, one must search their bowl for the almond. And if you find the almond, you will have the most luck in the upcoming year! My host mom found the almond. I must say, I was a little jealous.

Then we put up the Christmas tree. Earlier we had gone hunting for it in the forest on a Christmas tree farm (those are the best kind of farms). 

We went to joulukirkko after setting up the tree. Pretty much every Finn goes to church on the 24th, even if they don't normally feel very religious. It's tradition. And it was easy to see, because when you attempt to park near the church, all the spots are taken, and when you attempt to sit in the church, all the spots are taken. Walking to the church, I took some pretty shots of Kuopio.

My host mom found me a spot next to some nice little old Finnish ladies. The service was a lot like how the school joulukirkko was, except this had the addition of a nice little manger scene (that's what those are called, right?) and professional opera singers (they were doing the hymns). At the end, the nice little old Finnish lady sitting closest to me said, "Merry Christmas!" and I said to her, "Kiitos! Hyvää joulua."I think Finnish people can sense when others are not Finnish.

The joulukirkko had started at about 3, I think, and so when it was over it was time to go home and start making dinner. Christmas food in Finland is kind of similar to what we have in the US (or, at least, what I have): meat, casseroles (they are a variety of laatikkos, which literally means "box"), salad, breads, spreads, all that. 

Finnish food, depending on what you're eating, could almost be thought of as cruel and I have endured many things. But maybe one of the hardest things to eat was this:

What you're looking at right now is Finnish sweet Christmas bread with a fish mayonnaise spread, fish eggs, onions, and salt and pepper. Eemeli said that this is a food that grows on you... and so. I tried it. I don't think it will grow on me too much because fish eggs freak me out, but we'll see if upcoming Christmases bring any affection. 

When the Christmas dinner is finished, people open presents. And this is how it is every year! You must wait until after dinner to open presents. I bet little kids go crazy for the waiting. The nice thing about Christmas in the US is that you wake up at 4:50 am screaming and get to open your stocking and it works out pretty okay. Your parents wake up at 6 am because you just couldn't handle their sleeping anymore and then you open presents. Not too much waiting. Oh but Finnish kids! Have to endure decorating the house, joulukirkko, Christmas dinner... I barely made it. When it came time to open presents, the family deemed me to be the tonttu and I had to disperse the gifts.

Eemeli let me borrow his red hat so everything would be more authentic.

There was a large wrapped present by the piano and it was just for me. I opened it to find a Marimekko framed fabric piece. It's absolutely gorgeous! And matches the colors in my room really well.

My bounty.

And that was Christmas in Finland. 

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