Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Images of Christmas 2008

I've been so busy the last month.. and I truly don't know where it's gone to! In fact...WHERE has 2008 gone so quickly? I am sure that time is speeding up on this planet!

I hope that you all had a lovely, peaceful Christmas. We was just the four of us, the two dogs and four mad cats - no rush, just nice. We were also visited in the evening, by the friends we met in Pyhä. (see previous blog)

I am sitting here, with Mojo the cat across me, resting over my arms as I type.. as my own personal warmer! It's snowing a blizzard out there, so I am glad to be indoors. We had thought about travelling to Luosto, 40kms away - to watch the annual fireworks display - to see in the New Year 2009, but we decided against it. We drove down to town earlier and that was enough! Good though that it is snowing we have actually had a few relatively warm days, where the snow fell off the trees and melted on the land.. leading to lots of wet slippery ice. In just a few hours.. it was gone.. the wonder of a snowstorm!

So, I am just relaxing now, with some cherry alcohol, listening to the local fireworks going off in the background. One good thing about Finland, is that fireworks are only allowed to be set over New Year.. and the Finns, good folks that they are, stick to it religiously. Nothing like the UK, where often it can seem like a good quarter of the year is filled with fireworks! Poor animals...

I've been thinking that I would share with you a host of images that I have taken around Christmas.. and there is a WHOLE load.. but pretty.. so relax and just view.... and may I wish you all... A VERY HAPPY, HEALTHY AND PROSPEROUS 2009!

My Love to you ALL...x

Has Santa been???????....

Outside my home...

A walk around the forest next to my home... (Kaamos winter colours 11am)

Kaamos time 10am!

Our outside tree and door decoration

The beautiful tree on the way to town... *photo by my friend Amel*

Handmade chocolate tree decorations that I made!
Very pleased with them too! Yummy!

You will see on the tree.. that there are lots of little Tonttu (Elves) made from tree branches, wood, pine cones etc. Red Tonttu shapes are a traditional decoration on Finnish Christmas windows.

We have a tree with red decorations and traditional Finnish Straw Christmas decorations..including the Olkipukki Goat of course! (see Octobers blog)

Some fake flowers that I had wanted for my Christmas present. Tiimari - a local chain store, sell these huge flowers (easy to care for.. as I kill most plants!)..and sell different types of flowers as they would come into season, had they been real.. I got these and the whopping glass vase too.. now to make sure the cats don't have it! Really lovely to look at.

Finally, some beautiful sunsets...

Oh, and my personal favourite... which was actually a sunrise attempt, as the sun won't come over the horizon again fully, for a few weeks yet. I LOVE 'Kaamos' time!


Saturday, December 20, 2008

An unexpected trip to Pyhä, Pyhätunturi.

I didn't get a chance to run a blog in the week, about somewhere I went to last weekend, although I meant to.

Last Friday night, I went to Pyhä. The last time I was there was in the summer, when we were on our language course. We had spent our final group activity day there..and also in Luosto..roaming over the fells. It is so different in these places summer and winter, like different worlds even.

It was just the two of us going, which was really made a change. My husband had heard from someone called Jarkko, whom he used to work with at the Husky Farm. He was coming to the area to work with the huskies again, collecting some of the dogs and then moving off to Suomo to work with them there. So, he said that he would only be in Pyhä for the one night. Hence why we made the unexpected trip out.

The Pyhä-Luosto Husky Farm is about 60kms away from where we live now.. and just outside Pyhä village itself. It was where my husband had his first Finnish job. He loved it.. he loves dogs, works really well with them..and loved the husky sled running too. I am sure that he can speak 'Dog'. We lived closer to the area then, in Luosto itself.

It was a beautiful night, the trees burgeoning with snow... and snow 'diamonds' glistening everywhere. It was also lovely and cold. Everywhere was crystallised!

As we went through and then past Luosto, the sister village to Pyhä, a HUGE white rabbit/hare (called a Jänis in Finnish) ran across the car's path.. it zoomed across the white road, down and then up the embankments of snow to the right side of the car and up, up into the trees! It was lovely! Like several creatures here, they change their colour with the seasons, so you don't see so many during the winter.

I posed a question.. 'Do you think that there is anything symbolic about a white rabbit running across your path?' - (As in the UK it is meant to be good luck when a black cat does it!) 'Do you think it MEANS anything'.. 'Yes' said my husband dryly.... 'It means you are in Lapland!' LOL...

Outside the Pyhä Hotel, Pyhätunturi.
(Pyhä by the way..means Holy in Finnish)

Both Pyhä and Luosto are the ski resorts of the area.. I could be wrong, but I think Pyhä is a little higher than Luosto.. but neither are huge.. ideal for starting to learn skiing. In the photo below you can see the start of the ski lights.

We met up with Jarkko at the Pyhä Hotelli..and caught up with news. Seppo, who still works at the farm was also there for a short while but had to disappear. We also met a couple of girls too. Asta and Anniina, who were both working in the area. Anniina was going off to Suomu with Jarkko the following day. It was an interesting evening, where were shared our story with them.. as they were obviously very surprised to find an english couple speaking Finnish.. and wanted to know more. As you can tell, both the girls are avid snow lovers! Asta ski'd home!

The place was nicely decorated.. old ski's and basket up high on the walls, reindeer fur skins etc..

Plus, I noticed that the hotel's seating was decorated with noitarumpu symbols! You can just see the blue seating pattern...

He enjoyed seeing his friend - it's a shame that Jarkko lives so far away, down south in Helsinki!

It was a really nice evening.. and I just thought that I would share some local views with you. I had wanted to take more photos on the way home..but we ended giving a lift home to a few people.. so I didn't like to ask to stop the car several times for me to just click away! However, we did stop off in Luosto.. there were a few people milling around, as a new round of tourists had arrived that night. So here are the pics.

The Amethyst Spa Hotel, Luosto.

The Hovi, Luosto. Although this is a tourists restaurant (of sorts), this is mainly where some of the tourists get their clothing/skidoo equipment..

A log cabin in Luosto

Whilst I know that in the UK, blue tree lights are all the rage.. it seems that in this area at least...the multi colour with blue style are the favourites.. We saw quite a lot of them!

You can learn more about Luosto and Pyhä from this web address. You can choose Pyhä or Luosto sites. Click the British flag for English language. You can even enter log cabins virtually.. and have a look around!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pikkujoulu & Luciapäivänä Pre Christmas Party on Lucia Day!

Happy St. Lucia Day from Finland!

There is a curious combination of Pagan and Christian traditions in the Nordic countries. Light plays a large part in many of the celebrations here (what with the ever shortening days) and so on December 13th, we have St. Lucia's day to celebrate the patron Saint of light and the blind. The day of St. Lucia traditionally marked the longest night. I found it a bit odd that she is a Catholic martyr and that Catholicism is not that well established here, but there you go! She was a Sicilian lass apparently.

The story tells that St. Lucia died a martyr's death asserting her Christianity by refusing to marry the Pagan husband that her parents had chosen for her. Her eyes were torn out but subsequently miraculously restored by the Virgin Mary. This was around the year 300 and she became a Saint in Siracuse, Italy, around the year 400 in Siracuse. She was mentioned in the 1200s "Legenda Aureassa" which was translated into several languages.

To be honest, it is more a Swedish celebration, (the picture above says 'God Jul' which is 'Happy Christmas/Good Yule' in Swedish) but then, there are many Swedish people and Swedish speaking Finns in Finland. Swedish is the second official spoken language here, so it makes sense that the patronage of St. Lucia has come here too. Lucia represents the return of light that will end the long winter nights and serves as a symbol of hope and peace for the Christmas season.

In fact the first Lucia Day celebration in Finland was only a few decades 1950 when an association by the name of Folkhälsan introduced Barbro Reine as Finland's first official St. Lucia at the Svenska Teatern, which is a Swedish speaking theatre.

Lucia Day has since spread to some English speaking countries, such as Australia and Canada..probably due to migration of Finnish and Swedish people. However, the first Nordic knowledge of a Lucia Day celebration is from Sweden, Western Gotland in the year 1746..(which was actually a part of Denmark before 1645!). What a web! At that time of 1746, Lucia was not shown wearing the crown of candles..but she did wear angel wings.

To honour this day, one girl from each town (and often in each school), is elected to be the St. Lucia and sing in her honour. Many villages and towns vote for their own Lucia via their local newspapers or there can be a school wide vote.

The girl wears a simple white dress with a red sash. On her head she wears a crown of lingonberry twigs, lit with candles and she carries a sheaf of wheat. (In some areas they still use real candles, but I think more often, for safety, they are now electric or battery operated!) The crown is said to represent an Angels halo. On this day in Sweden, the eldest daughter will play the role of St. Lucia by preparing and serving fresh bakes with coffee to her family at sunrise. That might sound very early..but it isn't - as the crack of dawn isn't so early at this time of year!

Helsinki hosts the St. Lucia of Finland. After her crowning, the St.Lucia will traverse, carefully, down the Helsinki Cathedral stairs and then move on to the Parliament House in a long procession through the streets. It all culminates at the Swedish theatre, where it all started so many years ago! Here the St. Lucia celebration is held.

In years past, the girl would go from one farm to the next carrying a torch to light her way, bringing baked goods, stopping to visit at each house and return home by break of daylight.

Lucia's original feast day fell on the shortest day of the year, when the winter solstice was then December 13, by the Julian calendar rather than December 21 - which it became later, linking the winter solstice to the far older Yule of pre-Christian times. BTW, Solstice in Latin means 'Sun stands still'..did you know that?

I love the feeling around this day.. and wish that I could attend an event.. but most are held either down south, or in Sweden. I'd love to arrange going to Helsinki one year.. as they have a Lucia Marketplace the next day too! Ah well.. maybe next year!

Here are a few Lucia related items, vintage pins that would have been purchased on a parade day.

Here are some youtube links I found to share with you.

Santa Lucia in Sweden

Delightful children!

Dark, but atmospheric parade...

St. Lucia in Helsinki

St Lucia waving!

This years Finnish Lucia was crowned at 5pm in Helsinki and was the first ever brunette Lucia! Her name is Sonja Sjöblom. Here is her Lucia candidate video from youtube.

And this image of her from the folkhalsan website.

Pretty eh?

From this link, you can read more about the Swedish Theatre and their charitable work of the Lucia event.;273;14384;14387;14388;14404

You may have noticed that the title to this blog read Pikkujoulu & Luciapäivänä... and that I've not talked about Pikkujoulu! What is Pikkujoulu.. well, it is a preChristmas party held by many businesses or groups of friends, to welcome in the Christmas spirit. It literally translates as 'Little Christmas'.

Last year, the ulkomaalaiset (us foreigners!) arranged our own Pikkujoulu at a local pizzeria...there aren't that many places available to go to.. and we wanted somewhere quiet. So, we went to the Alariesto Pizzapaikka...and we agreed to go back again this year! Unfortunately they ONLY sell pizza...nothing else..but it is nice pizza! Mine was a whopper - complete with smoked Reindeer and blue cheese toppings - amongst others!

There were meant to be more of us, but as it ended up, due to sickness, work or one thing or another, it ended up being just the four of us. Myself and Sally (English), Amel (Indonesian) and Agi (Hungarian). There should have also been a Finn, an Indian and a Russian person too... but oh well.. it happens!

As like last year, I got the job of arranging the party games... it's a bit of fun! I took some English Christmas Crackers too - as those don't exist in Finland. Here is Agi and Amel having a pull. Agi had not seen them before and Amel first knew of them only last year. I guess it's just a British thing.

I didn't mention anything about it being Lucia Day when we booked the party (I wasn't sure if they knew of it) and so I used a Lucia theme in the party games! We played several party table games. Each game winner won a battery operated candle (but I didn't say why) and then the winner of the most candles finally got crowned our Ulkomaalaiset Lucian 2008! :D (The candles all got put back into the crown) They also got some sweets for each game won.

We all took our own gift, played a game of 'Left and Right' where the parcels got passed around, back and forth, until the person holding the gift at the end, kept that particular pressie! Nice, simple fun! We all enjoyed it. I got Amel's present - and it was great! I won some lovely warm legwarmers.. just what I need, especially when sitting at the computer, believe it or not.. as I do get a little cold sometimes. (So, right now I am lovely and cosy! Thanks Amel!) I gave a gingerbread house making kit - which Sally won and was delighted with. We also played some drawing games with our eyes closed..Oh..and Animal Bingo.. funny!

As you can see, there is a nice painting on the wall..of Saami reindeer men.. phew but..nice price too..1350€!! Painted by one of the more recent Alareisto family, famous in this town for their art. There is also the Alareisto Galleria in Sodankylä in which hangs art by the most famous Alareisto member, Andreas.

Here are Sally, Agi and Amel with the candles they won.

Amel won the most, so she was duly crowned our very own 'Ulkomaalaiset Sodankylän Lucia!' Doesn't she look grand! :D

It was a fun, friendly evening! We agreed that we should do it more often!

After I got home, I lit my new present to myself.. a St. Lucia candleholder that I bought recently secondhand.. I am SO delighted with it! Happy Lucia Day folks!