Next time you’re in Helsinki, just ask a Finnish member of the Church where Santa Claus lives. He’ll give you a sly grin and say, “Finland, of course.” Forget all that nonsense about the North Pole. The Finns know that Santa Claus really lives in a mysterious village on the slopes of Korvatunturi (“ear mountain”) in faraway Lapland.
Hmm, I say. I’m not completely convinced, but I can see my Finnish friends’ point. It seems fitting that they should claim Santa Claus as a fellow citizen. Just like Mickey and Minnie, Laurel and Hardy, Christmas and snowcapped Finland seem to go together naturally. In fact, Finns love Christmas. In the deep of winter, when the sun blinks and bows out by 3:00 P.M., members of the Church rejoice in the special Christmas promise of eternal light.
Finnish members enjoy many of their country’s traditional holiday celebrations. They eat plenty of good food, including a type of Finnish bread called pulla. They decorate trees with straw stars, apples, candles, glass balls, and candy. They visit friends and family. They sing. And, in true Finnish fashion, the enjoy a joulusauna, or Christmas sauna.
At the heart of their celebrating, however, is the remembrance of Jesus Christ, and Finnish members use the season, like mission president Mel Luthy and his family, to live even more fully His teachings. On Christmas Eve in Finland, families often visit the graves of loved ones and leave lighted candles in the snow. An elderly sister, a widow, wished to travel from Helsinki to Porvoo so that she could visit her husband’s grave. She had, however, no means of transportation. The Luthys volunteered to share their holiday with her by driving her to the distant cemetery. It turned out to be a magical night—candles glowed and light danced. All was calm. All was bright.
Christmas had come to Finland!
Finnish families are busy on the 24th—selecting and decorating their tree, preparing feasts, visiting friends—and so they start the morning with a hearty bowl of traditional rice porridge. Each child hopes he is the one lucky enough to have the single almond in his bowl. Make this easy breakfast for your own family this holiday season.
2 cups water
6 cups milk
1 1/4 cups rice
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 whole almond
Combine the water and milk. Bring to a boil.
Add rice to the milk and water mixture.
Simmer until cooked.
Add the salt and one whole almond. Serve with ground cinnamon, sugar, and milk.
Yield: 10 servings
Ornaments made of straw or wheat are very popular throughout all of northern Europe. Here’s a fun and easy wheat-weaving project for you to try on your own.
Twisted Rope Wreath
16 straws of wheat
Clean wheat. Cut your straw above the first joint and slide the leaf sheaf away.
Soak wheat. You must soak the cleaned wheat in COLD water for 15–30 minutes. See that the wheat is completely covered by the water.
Begin project. While your wheat is still damp, tie it in a bundle beneath the heads (a clove hitch works well). Divide the wheat into two equal groups. Hold one group in your left hand, palm up. Hold the second group in your right hand, palm up. You will need tension to twist the straws tightly enough and you can do one of three things: (a) Have a friend hold the heads for you. (b) Place the heads under a casement window. (c) Bend over and gently place the heads under your own foot. Now twist right hand group to the right, away from your body for about 1/2 inch. Lay the right hand group on top of the left hand group. Change hands. Twist again on right hand side, away from the body. Repeat this process over and over again until you have 7 inches of twisted rope. Tie so the rope won’t lose its shape. Bend the rope into a circle and tie both ends together. Decorate with a bow. Dry over a tapered soda bottle. Fan out heads.
Are your little brothers and sisters driving your mother last-minute-crazy? Help her out (and have yourself a great time) by doing what some rural Finnish children do on Christmas Eve—feed the birds! Fill a basket full of bread crumbs, sunflower seeds, suet, and anything else the birds in your neighborhood might like. Then take your brothers and sisters for a nice long winter walk and let them scatter “gifts” under trees and on sidewalks.