Let them eat porridge

Growing up in NZ, porridge seemed a very Scottish breakfast to me, thanks especially to a young boy on TV telling us we were making it all wrong.

So I was surprised to hear how popular porridge is in Finland and that it is considered a traditional dish.

Made with oats or barley it’s not unusual for people to visit cafes daily to get their porridge fix, often served with a spoonful of jam.

Apparently you can also buy it at some gas stations and of course, from the porridge truck.

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Elovena seems to be an iconic brand, with a range of flavours available at stores.

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At Christmas it’s traditional to eat rice porridge, cooked with milk for a long time over a low heat. Similar to the coin in the British Christmas pudding, the person who finds the single almond in their porridge is considered the lucky winner.

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Today we visited Seurasaari to walk the Christmas path and knew from last year to take along a bowl to be served some Christmas porridge. My friend’s mother told me that as rice is imported it was considered very exotic years ago and so this dish was traditionally eaten only by the rich.

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Although popular in NZ, I’m not sure we quite match the Finns in our love of porridge – although this bizarre news story suggests some of us may know of the place it holds in their hearts.

New Zealander feeds Finnish hostages porridge

 

Santa for Hire

Christmas is coming and there are a few new traditions for us as we celebrate in the northern hemisphere.

Seurasaari

Seurasaari

For one, the day is celebrated on the 24th December in Finland, which in New Zealand is traditionally a day of last minute shopping as we prepare to open presents and feast on the 25th.

Finnish Christmas fare

Finnish Christmas fare

Another difference here is that Joulupukki (Santa) is expected to appear in every home, to deliver presents himself.

Miko & Joulupukki last year

Miko & Joulupukki last year

In NZ, we put the presents under the tree and leave out a plate of cookies, a carrot (for the reindeer) and a glass of milk or beer for Santa. In the morning we wake to find – Oh! Santa must have been (entering via the chimney) as the cookies are gone, the beer bottle’s empty and there are a few more pressies either under the tree or in our Christmas stockings.

Christmas 2014 in Lappeenranta

Christmas 2014 in Lappeenranta

The fact that Santa himself comes to call in Finland is really nice, but it can create a problem for anyone with a quick-witted child who notices that Santa arrives just as Dad seems to leave….and what about families where there is no suitable male to take on the role?

Christmas elves serving porridge at Seurasaari 2014

Christmas elves serving porridge at Seurasaari 2014

Well, that’s why many people hire a Santa, a big business in Helsinki with websites dedicated to it. Here you can find men who upload photos and a brief description of their experience.

NZ Santa (Source: Reasons to Believe )

Santa in New Zealand (Source: Reasons to Believe )

The best are those who advertise themselves as  ‘sober’, ‘non-smoking’ and often ‘well-masked.’

Although a job is a job after all. A friend of ours who doesn’t celebrate Christmas told us he instead goes to his local pub where all the Santas end their rounds for an after work drink.

Source: abc.net.au

Source: abc.net.au

http://www.joulupukkipalvelu.fi/joulupukit/ – Santa Service website

Walking through a winter wonderland

There are so many new traditions for us here in Finland, especially around Christmas time. On Sunday we headed over to Seurasaari for our first Christmas path.

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2.30pm Helsinki – just before sunset

Seurasaari is an island connected to the mainland by a wooden bridge. We caught a bus there full of families, babies in strollers, children and dogs. We squashed in together and there was a feeling of excitement in the air.

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The bridge was decorated and there was a tree where children could hang homemade decorations. I’m not sure of the significance of these bundles of wheat but they seem to be popular at Christmas time and Saint Lucia holds one in her arms.

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Seurasaari is an open air museum that features buildings in original styles from around Finland. You can wander the island for free or pay to enter different museum exhibits.

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Upon arrival we were greeted by women handing out maps and Christmas cards and there was also a group of carollers.

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The Christmas path followed the main walking track around the island with special events dotted along the way amongst the old buildings.

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Before long we came across a group of forest animals handing out piparkakut (ginger biscuits) to the children.

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Back off dad – kids only

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Soon we came across a sign pointing the way to ‘Lasten puuro’ (children’s porridge).

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I’d read on the website to bring a bowl and spoon and so we lined up like Oliver Twist and Miko was spooned out a share. We joined other families at long tables set with milk and cinnamon mixed with sugar.

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With warm bellies full of rice porridge we set off again and came across a row of buildings bedecked with ginger-bread. Check out the foundations on these houses.

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Look at foundations on these buildings!

The path was decorated all the way around the island with handmade crafts and traditional Finnish pieces. Colourful scarves were tied around tree trunks to show the way.

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 By 3.30pm the light was beginning to fade but lights and candles brightened the gloom.

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Around the next corner we came across a large group of people singing Christmas carols. There was also a large area where people could burn candles.

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Many Finns will visit the cemetery on Christmas morning to light candles just like these on the graves of loved ones.

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Along we walked until we came to a clearing with stalls selling glöggi (mulled wine) and a woman leading children in traditional songs and dances. Best of all was the chance to see Joulupukki (Santa Claus) and his wife – and despite the amount of people – no queue!

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After staying for a while and enjoying the moment we walked on as the sun had dropped quite low and taken the temperature with it.

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We walked through a maze made out of hay bales, but the best was yet to come! We came across a field full of people cooking over fires. We were handed a stick with damper on and found our cooking spot.

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It’s a Christmas miracle that Jonny’s hair did not catch alight

It was soon time to leave and make our way home. We had one of those amazing experiences where, despite the large crowds, a bus pulled up just as we arrived at the bus stop and we managed to get a seat.

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This was a free event and one we all really enjoyed. I would highly recommend it if you’re in Helsinki this time next year.

We will be celebrating Christmas on the 24th December here in Finland. I send a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has read my blog this year, commented, added information and advice. As well as staying in touch with friends & family back home I’ve had the wonderful pleasure of meeting some great Finnish people through my blog and I’m very grateful for these new friends and how they love to show us Finnish life, often inviting us to places & events they know we’ve never seen before.

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I get a few emails from people travelling to Helsinki and have been asked by a teacher if she can share my stories with her Russian students. I also love hearing from people who have lived here and like to share memories about their life in Finland. I’ve even been contacted by a doctor in Israel asking where to buy ice skates in Helsinki! Thank you for all your input.

Wishing you all a very Hyvää Joulua!

xx