Moon Cakes and Bonfires

The past few years I’ve been adventuring around the world during Christmas. Back here in Finland, my family’s Christmas is full of rich traditions such as gobbling down a huge plate of assorted cheeses and answering all the questions wrong in grandpa’s Christmas quiz. We have a traditionalized fight about when to start opening presents that everyone happily forgets once they get a glimpse of the dinner table. Last year however, there was no cheese, presents or quiz. The garden was lit with Chinese paper lanterns. Little 4-year old Roshi and I sat watching the huge bonfire send up dancing sparks into the quiet night and munched on moon cakes. We eat meat and not just one type of meat, but pork, lamb and chicken, which was a big treat for the girls at Waasta, the rescue home for girls I was working at. It felt strange for a traditional Christmas girl like me to be so far from the Christmas-y things I loved, but strange in the best possible way. It made Christmas a polygonal thing, one that I could celebrate anywhere and in various different ways. I have to fall back on a cliché, and say that traveling gifts you with new perspective. Our celebration by the bonfire was about being together, revelling in the fact that we were fortunate enough to enjoy three different kinds of meat. After my personal experiences of breaking away for cherished traditions, I’ve been more attentive to hearing from other people. It seems that now a days it’s not uncommon to hear of a Christmas spent drinking mojitos in Cambodia or ladling soup at a charity event. While the underlying reasons for the diversity of modern Christmas can only be guessed at, the fact is that this stereotypically traditional celebration is quite the shape shifter. © Inka Vappula

Christmas on a sparkling white beach, eating a bowl of tom yam kung while enjoying a fish foot-massage, seems to many people a preferable option to the multitude of things that cause the infamous “Christmas stress”. At the turn of the century Finnair started flying to Bangkok, and the exotic islands of Thailand quickly became the new “go-to” package holiday destination for sun-deprived Finns. In 2004, due to high demand, the airline doubled weekly flights to both Southeast Asia and the USA for the winter months, breaking a new record of eight million annual passengers. During December, a Finnair aircraft lands in Bangkok ten times a week, dropping of a sickly pale group of Finns. Clearly, when given the option, a large number of people don’t need or want to have a white Christmas and it really isn’t much of a surprise. Not having to worry about preparing an impressive Christmas dinner and buying presents for those cousins, who are never happy with your gift anyway, is an appealing thought. If a relaxing holiday is what you’re looking for from Christmas, than it’s certainly a good idea to start browsing the selection of

Another Christmas “trend” that seems to be gaining support in growing numbers is the simplify-your-holiday- trend. Come November, and every television commercial is offering you a vast and ever-increasing array of things your partner, child, mother, friend and cat can’t live without. It’s the excess of stuff that leaves you gasping for air in department stores. According to Statistics Finland, a Finn spends around 400 euros on presents and as a nation we pour a staggering 100 million euros into Christmas flowers. Do not be afraid, for we are not the worst of the lot. The YouGov Spending intentions survey for 2013 found that people in the UK are planning to spend £599 (721 e) on presents and a whopping £822( 990 e) in total. In the Western world, Christmas is good news for retail and as a reaction to this consumer-fest there are those who deliberately react against materialism. In passing conversation, a friend of mine told me that this year her family is trying out something new. Every gift needs to be hand-made, recycled or bought from a second-hand store. Some go as far as not buying any presents at all and make the jolly season about friends, family and a good meal.

Volunteering in local charity organisations is an important aspect of the holiday season for many sympathetic souls. According to Yle, short, fun shenanigans are popular, but long-term investments of time are often met with reluctance. The Yle article also states that Christmas is a rough time for children from low-income families, as they hear their peers talk about presents, they can only dream of receiving. Inequality and difference are more starkly contrasted against the Christmas backdrop. If volunteering tickles your fancy, but you’re unsure of how to get started, click on these words, and you will be directed to a listing of several organisations in Helsinki.

Finally there are those for whom Christmas is synonymous with double pay. These are perhaps the less sentimental bunch, observing the jolly madness from afar, chuckling at the oddities of our Christmas crazed homeland and calmly going about their business as usual.

Last year, Christmas could be summed up in moon cakes and bonfires, this year it’s about community and hand-made gifts for me. Whatever your Christmas celebration consists of is completely up to you, because a holiday is in the hands of its maker. At the end of the day, Christmas is a season of light and peace in the middle of the long and dark Finnish winter. So whether you’re spending this season frying in the sun, feeding stray cats or nestled in the folds of a comfy blanket listening to Sinatra, I wish you a very jolly time!

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