To start of talking about how my family and I would spend our Christmases it is important to note the far reaching displacement of our extended families. To keep it short I grew up in Tanzania, and had basically all of my family in either Finland or Zimbabwe (apart from the odd ones in Australia). So when it came to planning for Christmas it would most likely be based on what part of the world we were in.
(Note: As we would generally not be in Finland during Christmas my family would get a photo with the Official Santa Claus in Rovaniemi during the summer and usually on my birthday so I will put 7 of them of the 18 or so photos I have.)
As we generally went to Finland during the summer I have only recently had the pleasure of spending my Christmases in this part of the world. Most likely it would be either in Dar-es-salaam or Harare and I have to say they were quite memorable times.
As Dar is where I would say was my “Home town” for a lot of my life I can start from there. Christmas time was always a relatively busy time for my family but that is what made it such a pleasant time of year! There were always school events to attend or dinners to go to or the rushing around town looking for those couple of last ingredients for Christmas dinner/ present “that I could have sworn was half the price last time I checked in the other store”. But this just added to the Christmas experience since I love all the planning and prepping that is required from Christmas. Now our Christmases were never fantastically big or extravagant but it definitely all culminated on the 24th of December as this was when the Finnish half of me began to celebrate.
The 24th was not exactly like any other part of our Christmas holidays as my mother would generally wake us up at a time that was not strictly necessary for someone so deep into a holiday routine. The preparations for Christmas dinner would start from then as, again, the Finns have their dinner on the 24th so we would be held up in the kitchen all day. As we had many friends or family around for a lot of our Christmases they would be recruited into any and all tasked that needed to be done (my mother was to say the least persuasive with these matters).
One major aspect of the Christmas eve day that I somehow took an interest to was the setting of the table. I’m not entirely sure how this came to be but I remember spending a good hour or two placing glasses and plates just so and obsessing over fancy napkin folding. Looking back I may have just be doing this to avoid any of the work that took actual effort and skills but to this day I still preffer to set the Christmas table. That evening we would eat entirely too much, move entirely too little and probably cap off the night around the Christmas tree (which was always real and always had lights that were more akin to a rave than a soft glow).
Christmas Day began with opening presents in the morning (such is the way of the Zimbs) and that was the extent of the planned activities for the most part. Our days would be spent at home picking away at the leftovers and maybe having a friend or two come over. As I remember in Dar we didn’t exactly get too many snow flurries as here in Rovaniemi I do distinctly remember that just about every Christmas day we got at least a tiny bit of rain to break trhough the south of the equator summer heat.
Another notable thing we ended up doing on Christmas day was that we would go to the beach or the island to spend the day snorkelling and eating Christmas leftover sandwiches.
Heading down to Harare for Christmas was also a great experience as we were obviously with even more family and so the Christmases were filled with a lot more rushing eating and, as we were with the Zimbabwean part of my family, significantly more talking. The days played out roughly the same although with more emphasis on celebrating on Christmas day.
The First time I celebrated a Christmas that I was old enough to remember in Finland was 2014 when I had just spent my first 6 months away from home as an isolated 18-year-old in a very different kind of December weather than I ever experienced before. As I was older this time Christmas meant even more prepping with driving around family and the same scavenging for foreign ingredients in supermarkets. Celebrating here was much more traditionally Finnish as we spent Christmas eve cooking and getting a Christmas tree from the forest. We still kept a few Zimbabwean things such as Christmas crackers (which might I tell you aren’t exactly in abundance in Rovaniemi).
New year’s eve was also a celebration but much more social than Christmas as in Dar we tended to have friends round or head to one of the hotels for dinner and to watch fireworks. In Finland it was also very social but with dangerous self-controlled pyrotechnics mixed in. In general, they both consisted of evenings of hanging around and chatting waiting for the time when we inevitably rush to get sparkling wine or to a place that we could see fireworks from since no one was paying attention to the clock.
Looking back, I’m not sure any of these experiences could be outdone in my opinion and now in Finland having a great year round connection to the Christmas season the it reminds me to place even more importance on the experiences rather than the time of year or activities. Even with such different locals and most of the time being away from my family and friends it means I can look back and understand how lucky I am for having those times I did to celebrate such an amazing time of year.