Have you sent your letter to Santa yet?

People from all over the world send gift request letters to Santa Claus in Lapland (Korvatunturi), In the North part of Finland, where Santa Clause, also sometimes referred to as Joulupukki, resides.

Joulupukki (yule goat) is the Finnish version of the traditional Santa Claus legend. Unbeknown to many, it may be he who receives their requests.

In olden days, Joulupukki were thought of as ugly evil old men with goat-like appearances wearing goat-skin coats. Joulupukki demanded respect from children whether they deserved it or not, and would scare innocent children at Christmas. It would have been very unwise indeed to ask for a present, you wouldn’t even have considered it in the first place. In fact it has been said that the Joulupukki demanded that the children gave them presents, they certainly didn’t give any. Can you imagine that! Finnish history certainly portrays a very different picture of the Santa we all know and love.

Over time Joulupukki lost it’s ugly goaty face and became a gift giver. Today’s version of Joulupukki portrays a rather tubby aged man wearing a red goat-skin coat with an uncanny resemblance to the traditional Santa that has become known in the West. However, unlike the Santa whom we expect to arrive at night time when all the children are fast asleep, the Joulupukki Santas roam about freely during the day handing out presents to children. They use walking sticks and travel around Finland in sleighs which do not fly. When they meet children they usually engage them in conversation asking if there are any well behaved children around. Then Joulupukki Santas would leave presents under the tree. However, you may end up with a sack of coal if you have been naughty.

The Joulupukki Santa had to be redefined, or how else would today’s children receive their Christmas presents. The idea of going back to school after the Christmas holiday and not being able to ask “What did Santa bring you?” is unheard of. So Santa took over the gift giving duties and obtained a flying sleigh with flying reindeer to guide it, Rudolf being the favourite. Santa also recruited lots of elves to help in his Lapland toy factory.

In Finland, everyone tries to be home for Christmas, including the fishermen who try to get their boats into the harbour by December 21st, St Thomas’ Day. Their houses are cleaned and made ready and Christmas trees are bargained for in the square or market. Christmas Eve is very special indeed as the trees are brought in to decorrate. The day traditionally begins with rice porridge and plum fruit juice. At midday, the ‘Peace of Christmas’ is broadcasted over radio and television. Because it gets very dark early in most parts of Finland around Christmas time (about 3 pm) it is now tradition to go to visit the graves of family members. Candles in hanging lanterns are left around the graves, shining in the snow. Others choose to have a sauna.

The main Christmas meal is eaten in the early evening. Lutefish (salt fish) is the traditional starter, but not many have that nowadays. The main meal would be leg of pork baked slowly in birch-bark boxes in the oven, served with mash potato and vegetables. Baked rice pudding with spiced plum jam is for desert. An almond is hidden in it and whoever finds it will have good luck for the whole of the following year.

It is not till after the meal that Santa arrives to enquire if there are any children living in the house. Of course the children reply with a very loud ‘YES’. Christmas Day is a much quieter affair spent at home. On Boxing Day people go out and about, skiing or skating on the frozen lake or river.

Hyyaa joulua or Merry Christmas to you all

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