So, yes. I believe I owe you a few posts about Christmas in Finland. Let’s begin.
I arrived in Finland on the 21st, and as per the Finnish tradition we began our Christmas eating on December 23, which in Finnish is called aatonaatto (the eve of the eve :-)). The 23rd is actually when most of the Christmas decorating took place as well, which is in sharp contrast to most American families, who begin to decorate immediately after Thanksgiving at the end of November. We all decorated the tree together, and I learned that J’s family had certain decorations (silver balls of varying sizes) that were to be placed on the tree just so, and that when J used to try, his big brother would always end up “fixing” them. Luckily now, as adults, they’re a little better at letting each other be (or are they? J’s bro did sort of take charge… :-)). Anyway, in addition to decorating the tree, on that evening it’s also traditional to eat rice pudding into which one almond had been hidden. Of course finding the almond is supposed to bring good luck. The rice pudding we ate was made from scratch, of course, by J’s mother, so she was rather appalled when she herself ended up with the almond! “I wasn’t supposed to get it!” she protested. But it’s OK– with all the work she did to keep us well-fed over the holidays, I certainly think she deserved it. Apparently when J and his brother were young, one of their relatives used to keep slipping additional almonds into the pudding until just about everybody got one.
I’m sure the ways to serve and dress up this pudding vary from family to family. J’s mother set out cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle on top, and J’s brother’s girlfriend requested butter to put on hers. We also drank milk alongside, and I think some people poured a bit of milk into the pudding itself. I had my first helping with just a small sprinkle of cinnamon. The pudding was thick, simple, just lightly sweetened. I had my second helping with a bit of extra sugar to make it more dessert-like. Everyone had second helpings– J’s mother was thrilled that we finished off the whole big pot. The pudding itself was simple, but it represented something more– I was there with J and his family, all of us indulging in a simple comfort food beside the Christmas tree; I was taking part in their traditions and getting to see the Christmas of J’s childhood. And that was just the beginning.