Christmas In Finland (1883)

CHRISTMAS IN A SEABOARD PARISH IN FINLAND

Every Finnish sailor, if he can by any means manage to do so, spends Christmas at home; and so all the ships and boats which are not on long voyages return before the frost sets in. During the time they are at home the vessels are repaired, the people preferring to do such work in their own country rather than abroad.

When St.Thomas’ Day (Dec. 21) draws near, the whole country-side is upside down ; the houses are turned inside out, for this is the time of the great yearly cleaning, when the furniture is scrubbed and polished, and every nook and cranny of the house thoroughly looked into.

Then come the dark-green pine branches, that are stuck in the pictures, &c, and the prickly juniper, that is laid as a border on the floor round the stove.

Nor is this all : on every side there is baking and brewing, roasting and boiling ; pigs must be slain, and all manner of good things prepared for the coming festival of peace and welcome.

On Christmas Eve the branched Yule candle is lighted, and the floors are strewn with, straw. The good folks are all dressed in their best, and each member of the household wishes the master and mistress of the house ” a happy Christmas” (en glad Jul).

Every one then sits down on the bench that runs round the room, whilst the master reads some portion of Scripture, after which a hymn is sung, and then all stand round the heavily laden Christmas table until the master has said grace. Supper begins, and soon the rice porridge, Yule fish, pork, and puddings tremble and grow less before the onslaughts of the hearty and robust throng.

Supper over, grace is said, another hymn sung, and then the master gives his servants the usual Christmas gift of a good parcel of tobacco. This is the time when the sailors who have just returned home delight and astonish their attentive and openmouthed hearers with their wondrous tales of what they have seen and heard in foreign lands.

It is on Christmas Eve, also, that the journey to the eight o’clock service at church on the morrow is arranged, a service at which every one who possibly can wishes to be present ; and it must be borne in mind that many of toe people live at great distances from the church, so that their attendance often involves a journey of thirty or forty miles, and that with rough and almost impassable roads, through long stretches of wild pine forests, over deep and treacherous snow, and often miles of frozen sea that sleeps between the numerous islands.

If it so happen that the ice is not very strong, then the difficulty of the journey is increased, and the sledges must be driven full speed over such parts as are weak. Such a journey needs preparation and careful consideration as to the best route to take.

All night long the Yule candles burn, and scarcely has Christmas Day begun before the church bells ring out in the clear, frosty air. Soon comes the tinkling of the sledge bells, and blends its sweet, clear sound with the glad tones that clang out from the old church tower as the panting steeds gallop across the smooth, bright ice, bringing up a crowd of worshippers to the ancient house of God, which is lit up by hundreds of candles.

The service finished, the Bledges race off over the glassy, f rozen seas on their homeward journey, showing that even the horses have had their Christmas fare, and are sharing in the gladness and joy of the season.’*’

Upon the arrival at home the rest of the day is spent, as a rule, quietly and peacefully, in many homes the master reading portions of Scripture to the assembled household.

In Abo, the day before Christmas Day, the town band  comes to the Town Hall at midday and plays. A window is opened in the hall, and a red cloth hung over the sill. A town official, in his robes, then reads a declaration in Finnish and Swedish, to the effect that no one must disturb the Christmas peace by drunkenness or rioting, the punishments from this time to Knutdag (January 13) being doubled. He then wishes the assembled crowd ” a happy Christmas “; after which the band plays ” Vart Land ” and ” Suomis Sang,” and then all disperse.!

In the houses of the better class, when the Christmas tree is lighted, a ring is made round it, by the young folks taking hold of hands, and all run round, singing :—

“Jul och ljus och friijd,   –   Upp till Himmels hojd;

Muntra flickor, raska gossar,   –   Lat 089 skamta, sjunga.

Bort med tankar tunga !   –   Bort med niid, och fejd.och fara !

Jul och ljus och friijd

Upp till Himmels hojd;   –   Hej och hej ea lustigt bara! “

“Christmas, and light, and joy,   –   Up to the heaven’s height;

Happy girls and healthy boys,   –   Let us joke and sing.

Away with all heavy thoughts

Away with want, and quarrels, and hatred !

Christmas, and light, and joy,   –   Up to the heaven’s height;

But no daylight is shining yet,

For the stars in heaven are twinkling.”

They then go on to another house, and so through the village.

In the afternoon a beautifully carved wooden cross is fastened upon the front of the roofs, over the door, of nearly every cottage, so that all may know that Christmas peace and joy dwell within.

For old and young Christmas is a happy and joyous time, for now has come the well-earned holiday after the heavy toils of autumn.

Eating, drinking, and dancing follow each other in quick succession all Christmas round. The young maid meets once more her heart’s beloved, who with the spring winds will go ” to plough the billows blue,” and the young swain whirls his laughing companion round in the boisterous Ting dance. Of these dances, which are very great favourites, there are many varieties, but the following may be taken as a fair specimen.

The largest room in the house is cleared, nothing being left save the benches round the walls for the hot dancers to rest upon and gain breath for a fresh gallop. Light is supplied by a wooden crown filled with candles, hanging from the ceiling, and branches round the waits.

The musicians are generally a fiddler (sitting in a comer, the master of the ceremonies now and again marking time with a vigorous stamp of his foot on the floor) and a clarinet player, who supply the spirit of the dance. All being ready, a ring is formed by the assembled guests taking hold of hands, one, however, going into the middle of the ring, while the rest run round singing a rhyme, e. g.:—

” Det brinner en eld,  –  Den brinner sa klar,

Den brinner i tusende kransar.  –  Kunde jug den iiran fa

Att med min skona dansa.  –  Kviinp dig om, tag mig i hand.

Och dansa mod mig meru.”

“It burns a fire.  –  It burns so bright,

It burns! in a thousand rings.  –  Could I have the honour

To dance with my beauty  –  Turn round, and take hold of my hand,

And dance with me more “

The last two lines are sung twice, and when they come to these lines, the one who went into the ring at first and has chosen a partner by this time from the ring, turns round, and dances according to the words. If a man went in first, he (when the verses are finished) goes back to the ring, and the lady chooses a new partner, and vice versa.

But the happiest days must come to an end, and so must Christmas.

“Tjugunde dag Knut, iir jul ut,”* says the proverb, and woe betide man if it be not danced out; so on Knut Day the people enjoy themselves to their hearts’ content, as upon the last day, when they can give themselves up to pleasure and jollity.

Christmas over, men and women must go to work, and the winter fishing, tree-felling, and seal shooting begin in right good earnest. And, as one who has experienced it, the writer may add, the trne Finn not only goes to work for himself, but also on all occasions and places to help and assist those who may at any time need his aid* W. Henry Joxks.

Thornton Lodge, Goxhill, Hull.

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