My wife Mirja and I have a cabin on her family's land in the Northern Savonia region of Eastern Finland. We visited for Christmas. Here are a few thoughts, in six parts.
There’s an expansive view across the lake from the cabin, and more lights on the far shore every time we visit. It’s just about the ideal temperature for winter, hovering a little below zero Celsius, with just an ankle-high cover of snow.
Mirja’s father Risto is a tree farmer. He has outfitted the old farmhouse up on the road with a particular Siberian variety of Christmas tree. There’s a Finnish pine from here on the farm in the cabin.
Mirja is deep into something she does every first night in Finland. She builds a big birchwood fire, parks by the fireplace and immerses herself in Finnish TV. It doesn’t really matter what’s on. Tonight being the 23rd of December, it’s mostly about Joulopukki (Santa Claus – literally the “Christmas goat”). Well-loved Finnish entertainers are sitting for interviews and performing for Christmas. And Mirja’s enjoying her native language.
There’s a half hour of news: Pictures of destruction in Syria. Extended coverage of tributes to Vaclav Havel, Czech audio with Finnish subtitles. Dispensation not to worry about calories over the holiday and quick lists of ingredients for traditional holiday dishes. And not a single report from a mall.
I sit outside to survey the lake. It’s much less frozen than last time. The ice is only firm very near the shore. On our last December visit we rode horses and a sleigh across the lake. This time you wouldn’t even walk along the edge.
Northern people will know this, but it’s novel to me. Here near the shore, where unfrozen water runs by the ice, there’s a constant chatter, like maybe mice rooting around inside a wall, except sharper. When a big wind blows from one side of the lake to the other the semi-frozen surface farther out sends up a big, more profound rustle.